Lorna Doone/Chapter 69
The coat of arms, devised for me by the Royal heralds, was of great size, and rich colours, and full of bright imaginings. They did me the honour to consult me first, and to take no notice of my advice. For I begged that there might be a good-sized cow on it, so as to stamp our pats of butter before they went to market: also a horse on the other side, and a flock snowed up at the bottom. But the gentlemen would not hear of this; and to find something more appropriate, they inquired strictly into the annals of our family. I told them, of course, all about King Alfred; upon which they settled that one quarter should be, three cakes on a bar, with a lion regardant, done upon a field of gold. Also I told them that very likely there had been a Ridd in the battle fought, not very far from Plover's Barrows, by the Earl of Devon against the Danes, when Hubba their chief was killed, and the sacred standard taken. As some of the Danes are said to be buried, even upon land of ours, and we call their graves (if such they be) even to this day 'barrows,' the heralds quite agreed with me that a Ridd might have been there, or thereabouts; and if he was there, he was almost certain to have done his best, being in sight of hearth and home; and it was plain that he must have had good legs to be at the same time both there and in Athelney; and good legs are an argument for good arms; and supposing a man of this sort to have done his utmost (as the manner of the Ridds is), it was next to certain that he himself must have captured the standard. Moreover, the name of our farm was pure proof; a plover being a wild bird, just the same as a raven is. Upon this chain of reasoning, and without any weak misgivings, they charged my growing escutcheon with a black raven on a ground of red. And the next thing which I mentioned possessing absolute certainty, to wit, that a pig with two heads had been born upon our farm, not more than two hundred years agone (although he died within a week), my third quarter was made at once, by a two-headed boar with noble tusks, sable upon silver. All this was very fierce and fine; and so I pressed for a peaceful corner in the lower dexter, and obtained a wheat-sheaf set upright, gold upon a field of green.
Here I was inclined to pause, and admire the effect; for even De Whichehalse could not show a bearing so magnificent. But the heralds said that it looked a mere sign-board, without a good motto under it; and the motto must have my name in it. They offered me first, 'Ridd non ridendus'; but I said, 'for God's sake, gentlemen, let me forget my Latin.' Then they proposed, 'Ridd readeth riddles': but I begged them not to set down such a lie; for no Ridd ever had made, or made out, such a thing as a riddle, since Exmoor itself began. Thirdly, they gave me, 'Ridd never be ridden,' and fearing to make any further objections, I let them inscribe it in bronze upon blue. The heralds thought that the King would pay for this noble achievement; but His Majesty, although graciously pleased with their ingenuity, declined in the most decided manner to pay a farthing towards it; and as I had now no money left, the heralds became as blue as azure, and as red as gules; until Her Majesty the Queen came forward very kindly, and said that if His Majesty gave me a coat of arms, I was not to pay for it; therefore she herself did so quite handsomely, and felt goodwill towards me in consequence.
Now being in a hurry—so far at least as it is in my nature to hurry—to get to the end of this narrative, is it likely that I would have dwelled so long upon my coat of arms, but for some good reason? And this good reason is that Lorna took the greatest pride in it, and thought (or at any rate said) that it quite threw into the shade, and eclipsed, all her own ancient glories. And half in fun, and half in earnest, she called me 'Sir John' so continually, that at last I was almost angry with her; until her eyes were bedewed with tears; and then I was angry with myself.
Beginning to be short of money, and growing anxious about the farm, longing also to show myself and my noble escutcheon to mother, I took advantage of Lady Lorna's interest with the Queen, to obtain my acquittance and full discharge from even nominal custody. It had been intended to keep me in waiting, until the return of Lord Jeffreys, from that awful circuit of shambles, through which his name is still used by mothers to frighten their children into bed. And right glad was I—for even London shrank with horror at the news—to escape a man so bloodthirsty, savage, and even to his friends (among whom I was reckoned) malignant.
Earl Brandir was greatly pleased with me, not only for having saved his life, but for saving that which he valued more, the wealth laid by for Lord Alan. And he introduced me to many great people, who quite kindly encouraged me, and promised to help me in every way when they heard how the King had spoken. As for the furrier, he could never have enough of my society; and this worthy man, praying my commendation, demanded of me one thing only—to speak of him as I found him. As I had found him many a Sunday, furbishing up old furs for new, with a glaze to conceal the moths' ravages, I begged him to reconsider the point, and not to demand such accuracy. He said, 'Well, well; all trades had tricks, especially the trick of business; and I must take him—if I were his true friend—according to his own description.' This I was glad enough to do; because it saved so much trouble, and I had no money to spend with him. But still he requested the use of my name; and I begged him to do the best with it, as I never had kept a banker. And the 'John Ridd cuffs,' and the 'Sir John mantles,' and the 'Holly-staff capes,' he put into his window, as the winter was coming on, ay and sold (for everybody was burning with gossip about me), must have made this good man's fortune; since the excess of price over value is the true test of success in life.
To come away from all this stuff, which grieves a man in London—when the brisk air of the autumn cleared its way to Ludgate Hill, and clever 'prentices ran out, and sniffed at it, and fed upon it (having little else to eat); and when the horses from the country were a goodly sight to see, with the rasp of winter bristles rising through and among the soft summer-coat; and when the new straw began to come in, golden with the harvest gloss, and smelling most divinely at those strange livery-stables, where the nags are put quite tail to tail; and when all the London folk themselves are asking about white frost (from recollections of childhood); then, I say, such a yearning seized me for moory crag, and for dewy blade, and even the grunting of our sheep (when the sun goes down), that nothing but the new wisps of Samson could have held me in London town.
Lorna was moved with equal longing towards the country and country ways; and she spoke quite as much of the glistening dew as she did of the smell of our oven. And here let me mention—although the two are quite distinct and different—that both the dew and the bread of Exmoor may be sought, whether high or low, but never found elsewhere. The dew is so crisp, and pure, and pearly, and in such abundance; and the bread is so sweet, so kind, and homely, you can eat a loaf, and then another.
Now while I was walking daily in and out great crowds of men (few of whom had any freedom from the cares of money, and many of whom were even morbid with a worse pest called 'politics'), I could not be quit of thinking how we jostle one another. God has made the earth quite large, with a spread of land large enough for all to live on, without fighting. Also a mighty spread of water, laying hands on sand and cliff with a solemn voice in storm-time; and in the gentle weather moving men to thoughts of equity. This, as well, is full of food; being two-thirds of the world, and reserved for devouring knowledge; by the time the sons of men have fed away the dry land. Yet before the land itself has acknowledged touch of man, upon one in a hundred acres; and before one mile in ten thousand of the exhaustless ocean has ever felt the plunge of hook, or combing of the haul-nets; lo, we crawl, in flocks together upon the hot ground that stings us, even as the black grubs crowd upon the harried nettle! Surely we are too much given to follow the tracks of each other.
However, for a moralist, I never set up, and never shall, while common sense abides with me. Such a man must be very wretched in this pure dearth of morality; like a fisherman where no fish be; and most of us have enough to do to attend to our own morals. Enough that I resolved to go; and as Lorna could not come with me, it was even worse than stopping. Nearly everybody vowed that I was a great fool indeed, to neglect so rudely—which was the proper word, they said—the pushing of my fortunes. But I answered that to push was rude, and I left it to people who had no room; and thought that my fortune must be heavy, if it would not move without pushing.
Lorna cried when I came away (which gave me great satisfaction), and she sent a whole trunkful of things for mother and Annie, and even Lizzie. And she seemed to think, though she said it not, that I made my own occasion for going, and might have stayed on till the winter. Whereas I knew well that my mother would think (and every one on the farm the same) that here I had been in London, lagging, and taking my pleasure, and looking at shops, upon pretence of King's business, and leaving the harvest to reap itself, not to mention the spending of money; while all the time there was nothing whatever, except my own love of adventure and sport, to keep me from coming home again. But I knew that my coat of arms, and title, would turn every bit of this grumbling into fine admiration.
And so it fell out, to a greater extent than even I desired; for all the parishes round about united in a sumptuous dinner, at the Mother Melldrum inn—for now that good lady was dead, and her name and face set on a sign-post—to which I was invited, so that it was as good as a summons. And if my health was no better next day, it was not from want of good wishes, any more than from stint of the liquor.
It is needless to say that the real gentry for a long time treated my new honours with contempt and ridicule; but gradually as they found that I was not such a fool as to claim any equality with them, but went about my farm-work, and threw another man at wrestling, and touched my hat to the magistrates, just the same as ever; some gentlemen of the highest blood—of which we think a great deal more than of gold, around our neighbourhood—actually expressed a desire to make my acquaintance. And when, in a manner quite straightforward, and wholly free from bitterness, I thanked them for this (which appeared to me the highest honour yet offered me), but declined to go into their company because it would make me uncomfortable, and themselves as well, in a different way, they did what nearly all Englishmen do, when a thing is right and sensible. They shook hands with me; and said that they could not deny but that there was reason in my view of the matter. And although they themselves must be the losers—which was a handsome thing to say—they would wait until I was a little older and more aware of my own value.
Now this reminds me how it is that an English gentleman is so far in front of foreign noblemen and princes. I have seen at times, a little, both of one and of the other, and making more than due allowance for the difficulties of language, and the difference of training, upon the whole, the balance is in favour of our people. And this, because we have two weights, solid and (even in scale of manners) outweighing all light complaisance; to wit, the inborn love of justice, and the power of abiding.
Yet some people may be surprised that men with any love of justice, whether inborn or otherwise, could continue to abide the arrogance, and rapacity, and tyranny of the Doones.
For now as the winter passed, the Doones were not keeping themselves at home, as in honour they were bound to do. Twenty sheep a week, and one fat ox, and two stout red deer (for wholesome change of diet), as well as threescore bushels of flour, and two hogsheads and a half of cider, and a hundredweight of candles, not to mention other things of almost every variety which they got by insisting upon it—surely these might have sufficed to keep the people in their place, with no outburst of wantonness. Nevertheless, it was not so; they had made complaint about something—too much ewe-mutton, I think it was—and in spite of all the pledges given, they had ridden forth, and carried away two maidens of our neighbourhood.
Now these two maidens were known, because they had served the beer at an ale-house; and many men who had looked at them, over a pint or quart vessel (especially as they were comely girls), thought that it was very hard for them to go in that way, and perhaps themselves unwilling. And their mother (although she had taken some money, which the Doones were always full of) declared that it was a robbery; and though it increased for a while the custom, that must soon fall off again. And who would have her two girls now, clever as they were and good?
Before we had finished meditating upon this loose outrage—for so I at least would call it, though people accustomed to the law may take a different view of it—we had news of a thing far worse, which turned the hearts of our women sick. This I will tell in most careful language, so as to give offence to none, if skill of words may help it.
Mistress Margery Badcock, a healthy and upright young woman, with a good rich colour, and one of the finest hen-roosts anywhere round our neighbourhood, was nursing her child about six of the clock, and looking out for her husband. Now this child was too old to be nursed, as everybody told her; for he could run, say two yards alone, and perhaps four or five, by holding to handles. And he had a way of looking round, and spreading his legs, and laughing, with his brave little body well fetched up, after a desperate journey to the end of the table, which his mother said nothing could equal. Nevertheless, he would come to be nursed, as regular as a clock, almost; and, inasmuch as he was the first, both father and mother made much of him; for God only knew whether they could ever compass such another one.
Christopher Badcock was a tenant farmer, in the parish of Martinhoe, renting some fifty acres of land, with a right of common attached to them; and at this particular time, being now the month of February, and fine open weather, he was hard at work ploughing and preparing for spring corn. Therefore his wife was not surprised although the dusk was falling, that farmer Christopher should be at work in 'blind man's holiday,' as we call it.
But she was surprised, nay astonished, when by the light of the kitchen fire (brightened up for her husband), she saw six or seven great armed men burst into the room upon her; and she screamed so that the maid in the back kitchen heard her, but was afraid to come to help. Two of the strongest and fiercest men at once seized poor young Margery; and though she fought for her child and home, she was but an infant herself in their hands. In spite of tears, and shrieks, and struggles, they tore the babe from the mother's arms, and cast it on the lime ash floor; then they bore her away to their horses (for by this time she was senseless), and telling the others to sack the house, rode off with their prize to the valley. And from the description of one of those two, who carried off the poor woman, I knew beyond all doubt that it was Carver Doone himself.
The other Doones being left behind, and grieved perhaps in some respects, set to with a will to scour the house, and to bring away all that was good to eat. And being a little vexed herein (for the Badcocks were not a rich couple) and finding no more than bacon, and eggs, and cheese, and little items, and nothing to drink but water; in a word, their taste being offended, they came back, to the kitchen, and stamped; and there was the baby lying.
By evil luck, this child began to squeal about his mother, having been petted hitherto, and wont to get all he wanted, by raising his voice but a little. Now the mark of the floor was upon his head, as the maid (who had stolen to look at him, when the rough men were swearing upstairs) gave evidence. And she put a dish- cloth under his head, and kissed him, and ran away again. Her name was Honour Jose, and she meant what was right by her master and mistress; but could not help being frightened. And many women have blamed her, as I think unduly, for her mode of forsaking baby so. If it had been her own baby, instinct rather than reason might have had the day with her; but the child being born of her mistress, she wished him good luck, and left him, as the fierce men came downstairs. And being alarmed by their power of language (because they had found no silver), she crept away in a breathless hurry, and afraid how her breath might come back to her. For oftentime she had hiccoughs.
While this good maid was in the oven, by side of back-kitchen fireplace, with a faggot of wood drawn over her, and lying so that her own heart beat worse than if she were baking; the men (as I said before) came downstairs, and stamped around the baby.
'Rowland, is the bacon good?' one of them asked with an oath or two; 'it is too bad of Carver to go off with the only prize, and leave us in a starving cottage; and not enough to eat for two of us. Fetch down the staves of the rack, my boy. What was farmer to have for supper?'
'Naught but an onion or two, and a loaf and a rasher of rusty bacon. These poor devils live so badly, they are not worth robbing.'
'No game! Then let us have a game of loriot with the baby! It will be the best thing that could befall a lusty infant heretic. Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross. Bye, bye, baby Bunting; toss him up, and let me see if my wrist be steady.'
The cruelty of this man is a thing it makes me sick to speak of; enough that when the poor baby fell (without attempt at cry or scream, thinking it part of his usual play, when they tossed him up, to come down again), the maid in the oven of the back-kitchen, not being any door between, heard them say as follows,—
'If any man asketh who killed thee,
Say 'twas the Doones of Bagworthy.'
Now I think that when we heard this story, and poor Kit Badcock came all around, in a sort of half-crazy manner, not looking up at any one, but dropping his eyes, and asking whether we thought he had been well-treated, and seeming void of regard for life, if this were all the style of it; then having known him a lusty man, and a fine singer in an ale-house, and much inclined to lay down the law, as show a high hand about women, I really think that it moved us more than if he had gone about ranting, and raving, and vowing revenge upon every one.
- The following story is strictly true; and true it is that the country-people rose, to a man, at this dastard cruelty, and did what the Government failed to do.—Ed.
- Always pronounced 'Badgery.'