First, Mary Anerley, daughter of a very solid, free-hold Yorkshire farmer--a good girl, but not one overly concerned with His Majesty's Excise Laws--on her way to the sea shore, in the summer of 1801. Second, Alice Lorraine, daughter of a Sussex Baronet of Norman descent--a bit more protected lass, but no less definite in her positive traits, in 1811. (Each girl from a novel under her name.) Finally, we will meet John Ridd's sister Annie (from Lorna Doone), like Mary Anerley a freehold farmer's daughter, but from Devonshire, the other end of England--although Annie's father is dead--interacting here, in the late 17th Century, with that older brother over their respective romantic interests. Note that while each of the three is a vivacious, good-hearted girl, their respective actions and thought processes clearly illustrate differences in both their nature and nurture.]
Now, whether spy-glass had been used by any watchful mariner, or whether only blind chance willed it, sure it is that one fine morning Mary met with somebody. And this was the more remarkable, when people came to think of it, because it was only the night before that her mother had almost said as much.
"Ye munna gaw doon to t' sea be yersell," Mistress Anerley said to her daughter; "happen ye mought be one too many."
Master Anerley's wife had been at "boarding-school," as far south as Suffolk, and could speak the very best of Southern English (like her daughter Mary) upon polite occasion. But family cares and farm-house life had partly cured her of her education, and from troubles of distant speech she had returned to the ease of her native dialect.
"And if I go not to the sea by myself," asked Mary, with natural logic, "why, who is there now to go with me?" She was thinking of her sadly missed comrade, Jack.
"Happen some day, perhaps, one too many."
The maiden was almost too innocent to blush; but her father took her part as usual.
"The little lass sall gaw doon," he said, "wheniver sha likes." And so she went down the next morning.
A thousand years ago the Dane's Dike must have been a very grand entrenchment, and a thousand years ere that perhaps it was still grander; for learned men say that it is a British work, wrought out before the Danes had even learned to build a ship. Whatever, however, may be argued about that, the wise and the witless do agree about one thing—the stronghold inside it has been held by Danes, while severed by the Dyke from inland parts; and these Danes made a good colony of their own, and left to their descendants distinct speech and manners, some traces of which are existing even now.
The Dyke, extending from the rough North Sea to the calmer waters of Bridlington Bay, is nothing more than a deep dry trench, skillfully following the hollows of the ground, and cutting off Flamborough Head and a solid cantle of high land from the rest of Yorkshire. The corner, so intercepted, used to be and is still called "Little Denmark"; and the indwellers feel a large contempt for all their outer neighbors. And this is sad, because Anerley Farm lies wholly outside of the Dyke, which for a long crooked distance serves as its eastern boundary.
Upon the morning of the self-same day that saw Mr. Jellicorse set forth upon his return from Scargate Hall, armed with instructions to defy the devil, and to keep his discovery quiet—upon a lovely August morning of the first year of a new century, Mary Anerley, blithe and gay, came riding down the grassy hollow of this ancient Dane's Dyke. This was her shortest way to the sea, and the tide would suit (if she could only catch it) for a take of shrimps, and perhaps even prawns, in time for her father's breakfast. And not to lose this, she arose right early, and rousing Lord Keppel, set forth for the spot where she kept her net covered with sea-weed. The sun, though up and brisk already upon sea and foreland, had not found time to rout the shadows skulking in the dingles. But even here, where sap of time had breached the turfy ramparts, the hover of the dew-mist passed away, and the steady light was unfolded.
For the season was early August still, with beautiful weather come at last; and the green world seemed to stand on tiptoe to make the extraordinary acquaintance of the sun. Humble plants which had long lain flat stood up with a sense of casting something off; and the damp heavy trunks which had trickled for a twelvemonth, or been only sponged with moss, were hailing the fresher light with keener lines and dove-colored tints upon their smoother boles. Then, conquering the barrier of the eastern land crest, rose the glorious sun himself, strewing before him trees and crags in long steep shadows down the hill. Then the sloping rays, through furze and brushland, kindling the sparkles of the dew, descended to the brink of the Dyke, and scorning to halt at petty obstacles, with a hundred golden hurdles bridged it, wherever any opening was.
Under this luminous span, or through it where the crossing gullies ran, Mary Anerley rode at leisure, allowing her pony to choose his pace. That privilege he had long secured, in right of age, wisdom, and remarkable force of character. Considering his time of life, he looked well and sleek, and almost sprightly; and so, without any reservation, did his gentle and graceful rider. The maiden looked well in a place like that, as indeed in almost any place; but now she especially set off the color of things, and was set off by them. For instance, how could the silver of the dew-cloud, and golden weft of sunrise, playing through the dapples of a partly wooded glen, do better (in the matter of variety) than frame a pretty moving figure in a pink checked frock, with a skirt of russet murrey, and a bright brown hat?
Not that the hat itself was bright, even under the kiss of sunshine, simply having been already too much of the sun; but rather that its early lustre seemed to be revived by a sense of the happy position it was in; the clustering hair and the bright eyes beneath it answering the sunny dance of life and light. Many a handsomer face, no doubt, more perfect, grand, and lofty, received—at least if it was out of bed—the greeting of that morning sun; but scarcely any prettier one, or kinder, or more pleasant; so gentle without being weak, so good-tempered without looking void of all temper at all.
Suddenly the beauty of the time and place was broken by sharp angry sound. Bang, bang, came the roar of muskets fired from the shore at the mouth of the Dyke, and echoing up the winding glen. At the first report the girl, though startled, was not greatly frightened; for the sound was common enough in the week when those most gallant volunteers, entitled the "Yorkshire Invincibles," came down for their annual practice of skilled gunnery against the French. Their habit was to bring down a red cock, and tether him against a chalky cliff, and then vie with one another in shooting at him. The same cock had tested their skill for three summers, but failed hitherto to attest it, preferring to return in a hamper to his hens, with a story of moving adventures.
Mary had watched those Invincibles sometimes from a respectful distance, and therefore felt sure (when she began to think) that she had not them to thank for this little scare. For they always slept soundly in the first watch of the morning; and even supposing they had jumped up with nightmare, where was the jubilant crow of the cock? For the cock, being almost as invincible as they were, never could deny himself the glory of a crow, when the bullet came into his neighborhood. He replied to every volley with an elevated comb, and a flapping of his wings, and a clarion peal, which rang along the foreshore, ere the musket roar died out. But before the girl had time to ponder what it was, or wherefore, round the corner came somebody running very swiftly.
In a moment Mary saw that this man had been shot at, and was making for his life away; and to give him every chance she jerked her pony aside, and called and beckoned; and without a word he flew to her. Words were beyond him, till his breath should come back, and he seemed to have no time to wait for that. He had outstripped the wind, and his own wind, by his speed.
"Poor man!" cried Mary Anerley, "what a hurry you are in! But I suppose you can not help it. Are they shooting at you?"
The runaway nodded, for he could not spare a breath, but was deeply inhaling for another start, and could not even bow without hindrance. But to show that he had manners, he took off his hat. Then he clapped it on his head and set off again.
"Come back!" cried the maid; "I can show you a place. I can hide you from your enemies for ever."
The young fellow stopped. He was come to that pitch of exhaustion in which a man scarcely cares whether he is killed or dies. And his face showed not a sign of fear.
"Look! That little hole—up there—by the fern. Up at once, and this cloth over you!"
He snatched it, and was gone, like the darting lizard, up a little puckering side-issue of the Dyke, at the very same instant that three broad figures and a long one appeared at the lip of the mouth. The quick-witted girl rode on to meet them, to give the poor fugitive time to get into his hole and draw the brown skirt over him. The dazzle of the sun, pouring over the crest, made the hollow a twinkling obscurity; and the cloth was just in keeping with the dead stuff around. The three broad men, with heavy fusils cocked, came up from the sea mouth of the Dyke, steadily panting, and running steadily with a long enduring stride. Behind them a tall bony man with a cutlass, was swinging it high in the air, and limping, and swearing with great velocity.
"Coast-riders," thought Mary, "and he a free-trader! Four against one is cowardice."
"Halt!" cried the tall man, while the rest were running past her; "halt! ground arms; never scare young ladies." Then he flourished his hat, with a grand bow to Mary. "Fair young Mistress Anerley, I fear we spoil your ride. But his Majesty's duty must be done. Hats off, fellows, at the name of your king! Mary, my dear, the most daring villain, the devil's own son, has just run up here— scarcely two minutes—you must have seen him. Wait a minute, tell no lies—excuse me, I mean fibs. Your father is the right sort. He hates those scoundrels. In the name of his Majesty, which way is he gone?"
"Was it, oh, was it a man, if you please? Captain Carroway, don't say so."
"A man? Is it likely that we shot at a woman? You are trifling. It will be the worse for you. Forgive me—but we are in such a hurry. Whoa, whoa, pony."
"You always used to be so polite, Sir, that you quite surprise me. And those guns look so dreadful! My father would be quite astonished to see me not even allowed to go down to the sea, but hurried back here, as if the French had landed."
"How can I help it, if your pony runs away so?" For Mary all this time had been cleverly contriving to increase and exaggerate her pony's fear, and so brought the gunners for a long way up the Dyke, without giving them any time to spy at all about. She knew that this was wicked from a loyal point of view; not a bit the less she did it. "What a troublesome little horse it is!" she cried. "Oh, Captain Carroway, hold him just a moment. I will jump down, and then you can jump up, and ride after all his Majesty's enemies."
"The Lord forbid! He slews all out of gear, like a carronade with rotten lashings. If I boarded him, how could I get out of his way? No, no, my dear, brace him up sharp, and bear clear."
"But you wanted to know about some enemy, captain. An enemy as bad as my poor Lord Keppel?"
"Mary, my dear, the very biggest villain! A hundred golden guineas on his head, and half for you. Think of your father, my dear, and Sunday gowns. And you must have a young man, by-and-by, you know; such a beautiful maid as you are. And you might get a leather purse, and give it to him. Mary, on your duty, now?"
"Captain, you drive me so, what can I say? I can not bear the thought of betraying anybody."
"Of course not, Mary dear; nobody asks you. He must be half a mile off by this time. You could never hurt him now; and you can tell your father that you have done your duty to the king."
"Well, Captain Carroway, if you are quite sure that it is too late to catch him, I can tell you all about him. But remember your word about the fifty guineas."
"Every farthing, every farthing, Mary; whatever my wife may say to it. Quick, quick! Which way did he run, my dear?"
"He really did not seem to me to be running at all; he was too tired."
"To be sure, to be sure, a worn-out fox! We have been two hours after him; he could not run; no more can we. But which way did he go, I mean?"
"I will not say any thing for certain, Sir; even for fifty guineas. But he may have come up here—mind, I say not that he did—and if so, he might have set off again for Sewerby. Slowly, very slowly, because of being tired. But perhaps, after all, he was not the man you mean."
"Forward, double-quick! We are sure to have him!" shouted the lieutenant—for his true rank was that—flourishing his cutlass again, and setting off at a wonderful pace, considering his limp. "Five guineas every man Jack of you. Thank you, young mistress—most heartily thank you. Dead or alive, five guineas!"
With gun and sword in readiness, they all rushed off; but one of the party, named John Cadman, shook his head and looked back with great mistrust at Mary, having no better judgment of women than this, that he never could believe even his own wife. And he knew that it was mainly by the grace of womankind that so much contraband work was going on. Nevertheless, it was out of his power to act upon his own lowopinions now.
The maiden, blushing deeply with the sense of her deceit, was informed by her guilty conscience of that nasty man's suspicions, and therefore gave a smack with her fern whip to Lord Keppel, impelling him to join, like a loyal little horse, the pursuit of his Majesty's enemies. But no sooner did she see all the men dispersed and scouring the distance with trustful ardour, than she turned her pony's head toward the sea again, and rode back round the bend of the hollow. What would her mother say if she lost the murrey skirt, which had cost six shillings at Bridlington fair?
And ten times that money might be lost much better than for her father to discover how she lost it. For Master Stephen Anerley was a straight-backed man, and took three weeks of training in the Land Defense Yeomanry, at periods not more than a year apart, so that many people called him “Captain” now; and the loss of his suppleness at knee and elbow had turned his mind largely to politics, making him stiffly patriotic, and especially hot against all free-traders putting bad bargains to his wife at the cost of the king and his revenue. If the bargain were a good one, that was no concern of his.
Not that Mary, however, could believe, or would even have such a bad mind as to imagine that any one, after being helped by her, would be mean enough to run off with her property. And now she came to think of it, there was something high and noble, she might almost say something down-right honest, in the face of that poor persecuted man. And in spite of all his panting, how brave he must have been, what a runner, and how clever to escape from all those cowardly coast-riders shooting right and left at him! Such a man steal that paltry skirt that her mother made such a fuss about! She was much more likely to find it in her clothes-press filled with golden guineas.
Before she was as certain as she wished to be of this (by reason of shrewd nativity) and while she believed that the fugitive must have seized such a chance and made good his escape towards North Sea or Flamborough, a quick shadow glanced across the long shafts of the sun, and a bodily form sped after it. To the middle of the Dyke leaped a young man smiling, and forth from the gully which had saved his life. To look at him, nobody ever could have guessed how fast he had fled, and how close he had lain hid. For he stood there as clean, and spruce, and careless, as even a sailor can be wished to be. Limber yet stalwart, agile though substantial, and as quick as a dart while as strong as a pike, he seemed cut out by nature for a true blue-jacket; but condition had made him a smuggler, or, to put it more gently, a free-trader. Britannia, being then at war with all the world, and alone in the right (as usual), had need of such lads, and produced them accordingly, and sometimes one too many. But Mary did not understand these laws.
This made her look at him with great surprise, and almost doubt whether he could be the man, until she saw her skirt neatly folded in his hand, and then she said, "How do you do, Sir?"
The free-trader looked at her with equal surprise. He had been in such a hurry, and his breath so short, and the chance of a fatal bullet after him so sharp, that his mind had been astray from any sense of beauty, and of everything else except the safety of the body. But now he looked at Mary, and his breath again went from him.
"You can run again now, I am sure of it," said she; "and if you would like to do any thing to please me, run as fast as possible."
"What have I to run away from now?" he answered, in a deep sweet voice; "I run from enemies, but not from friends."
"That is very wise. But your enemies are still almost within call of you. They will come back worse than ever, when they find you are not there."
"I am not afraid, fair lady, for I understand their ways. I have led them a good many dances before this; though it would have been my last, without your help. They will go on, all the morning, in the wrong direction, even while they know it. Carroway is the most stubborn of men. He never turns back; and the further he goes, the better his bad leg is. They will scatter about, among the fields and hedges, and call one another like partridges. And when they can not take another step, they will come back to Anerley for breakfast."
"I dare say they will; and we shall be glad to see them. My father is a soldier, and his duty is to nourish and comfort the forces of the king."
"Then you are young Mistress Anerley? I was sure of it before. There are no two such. And you have saved my life. It is something to owe it so fairly."
The young sailor wanted to kiss Mary's hand; but not being used to any gallantry, she held out her hand in the simplest manner to take back her riding skirt; and he, though longing in his heart to keep it, for a token or pretext for another meeting, found no excuse for doing so. And yet he was not without some resource.
For the maiden was giving him a farewell smile, being quite content with the good she had done, and the luck of recovering her property; and that sense of right, which in those days formed a part of every good young woman, said to her plainly that she must be off. And she felt how unkind it was to keep him any longer, in a place where the muzzle of a gun, with a man behind it, might appear at any moment. But he, having plentiful breath again, was at home with himself to spend it.
"Fair young lady," he began, for he saw that Mary liked to be called a lady, because it was a novelty; "owing more than I ever can pay you already, may I ask a little more? Then it is, that on your way down to the sea, you would just pick up (if you should chance to see it) the fellow-ring to this, and perhaps you will look at this to know it by. The one that was shot away flew against a stone just on the left of the mouth of the Dyke, but I durst not stop to look for it, and I must not go back that way now. It is more to me than a hatful of gold, though nobody else would give a crown for it."
"And they really shot away one of your ear-rings! Careless, cruel, wasteful men! What could they have been thinking of?"
"They were thinking of getting what is called 'blood-money.' One hundred pounds for Robin Lyth. Dead or alive—one hundred pounds."
"It makes me shiver, with the sun upon me. Of course they must offer money for—for people. For people who have killed other people, and bad things—but to offer a hundred pounds for a free- trader, and fire great guns at him to get it—I never should have thought it of Captain Carroway."
"Carroway only does his duty. I like him none the worse for it. Carroway is a fool, of course. His life has been in my hands fifty times; but I will never take it. He must be killed sooner or later, because he rushes into every thing. But never will it be my doing."
"Then are you the celebrated Robin Lyth—the new Robin Hood, as they call him? The man who can do almost anything?"
"Mistress Anerley, I am Robin Lyth; but, as you have seen, I cannot do much. I cannot even search for my own ear-ring."
"I will search for it, till I find it. They have shot at you too much. Cowardly, cowardly people! Captain Lyth, where shall I put it, if I find it?"
"If you could hide it for a week, and then—then tell me where to find it in the afternoon towards four o'clock, in the lane towards Bempton Cliffs. We are off to-night upon important business. We have been too careless lately, from laughing at poor Carroway."
"You are very careless now. You quite frighten me almost. The coast-riders might come back at any moment. And what could you do then?"
"Run away gallantly, as I did before: with this little difference that I should be fresh, while they are as stiff as nut-cracks. They have missed the best chance they ever had at me; it will make their temper very bad. If they shot at me again, they could do no good. Crooked mood makes crooked mode."
"You forget that I should not see such things. You may like very much to be shot at; but—but you should think of other people."
"I shall think of you only—I mean of your great kindness, and your promise to keep my ring for me. Of course you will tell nobody, Carroway will have me like a tiger, if you do. Farewell, young lady, for one week farewell."
With a wave of his hat he was gone, before Mary had time to retract her promise; and she thought of her mother, as she rode on slowly, to look for the smuggler's trinket.
Upon a very important day (as it proved to be, in his little world), the 18th of June, 1811, Sir Roland Lorraine had enjoyed his dinner with his daughter Alice. In those days men were not content to feed in the fashion of owls, or wild ducks, who have lain abed all day. In winter or summer, at Coombe Lorraine, the dinner-bell rang at half-past four, for people to dress; and again at five, for all to be down in the drawing-room. And all were sure to be prompt enough; for the air of the Southdown hills is hungry; and Nature knew what the demand would be, before she supplied her best mutton there.
When the worthy old butler was gone at last, and the long dark room lay silent, Alice ran up to her father's side, to wish him, over a sip of wine, the good old wish that sits so lightly on the lips of children.
"Darling Papa, I wish you many happy, happy returns of the day, and good health to enjoy them."
Sir Roland was sixty years old that day; and being of a cheerful, even, and pleasant, though shy temperament, he saw no reason why he should not have all the bliss invoked on him. The one great element in that happiness now was looking at him, undeniably present and determined to remain so.
His quick glance told that he felt all this; but he was not wont to show what he felt; and now he had no particular reason to feel more than usual. Nevertheless he did so feel, without knowing any reason, and turned his eyes away from hers, while he tried to answer lightly.
This would not do for his daughter Alice. She was now in that blush of time, when everything is observed by maidens, but everything is not hinted at. At least it used to be so then, and still is so in good places. Therefore Alice thought a little, before she began to talk again. The only trouble, to her knowledge, which her father had to deal with, was the unstable and romantic character of young Hilary. This he never discussed with her, nor even alluded to it; for that would have been a breach of the law in all duly-entailed conservatism, that the heir of the house, even though a fool, must have his folly kept sacred from the smiles of inferior members. Now, Hilary was not at all a fool; only a young man of large mind.
Knowing that her father had not any bad news of Hilary, from whom he had received a very affectionate letter that morning, Alice was sorely puzzled, but scarcely ventured to ask questions; for in this savage island then, respect was shown and reverence felt by children towards their parents; and she, although such a petted child, was full of these fine sentiments. Also now in her seventeenth year, she knew that she had outgrown the playful freedoms of the babyhood, but was not yet established in the dignity of a maiden, much less the glory of womanhood. So that her sunny smile was fading into the shadow of a sigh, when instead of laying her pretty head on her father's shoulder, she brought the low chair and favourite cushion of the younger times, and thence looked up at him, hoping fondly once more to be folded back into the love of childhood.
Whatever Sir Roland's trouble was, it did not engross his thoughts so much as to make him neglect his favourite. He answered her wistful gaze with a smile, which she knew to be quite genuine; and then he patted her curly hair, in the old-fashioned way, and kissed her forehead.
"Lallie, you look so profoundly wise, I shall put you into caps after all, in spite of your sighs, and tears, and sobs. A head so mature in its wisdom must conform to the wisdom of the age."
"Papa, they are such hideous things! and you hate them as much as I do. And only the other day you said that even married people had no right to make such frights of themselves."
"Married people have a right to please one another only. A narrow view, perhaps, of justice; but--however, that is different. Alice, you never will attend when I try to teach you anything."
Sir Roland broke off lamely thus, because his child was attending, more than himself, to what he was talking of. Like other men, he was sometimes given to exceed his meaning; but with his daughter he was always very careful of his words, because she had lost her mother, and none could ever make up the difference.
"Papa!" cried Alice, with that appealing stress upon the paternity which only a pet child can throw, "you are not at all like yourself to-day."
"My dear, most people differ from themselves, with great advantage. But you will never think that of me. Now let me know your opinion as to all this matter, darling."
Her father softened off his ending suddenly thus, because he saw the young girl's eyes begin to glisten, as if for tears, at his strange new way.
"What matter, papa? The caps? Oh no; the way you are now behaving. Very well then, are you quite sure you can bear to hear all you have done amiss?"
"No, my dear, I am not at all sure. But I will try to endure your most heartrending exaggerations."
"Then, dear papa, you shall have it all. Only tell me when to stop. In the first place, did you or did you not, refuse to have Hilary home for your birthday, much as you knew that I wanted him? You confess that you did. And your only reason was something you said about Trinity term, sadly incomprehensible. In the next place, when I wanted you to have a little change to-day, Uncle Struan for dinner, and Sir Remnant, and one or two others--"
"My dear, how could I eat all these? Think of your Uncle Struan's size."
"Papa, you are only trying now to provoke me, because you cannot answer. You know what I mean as well as I do, and perhaps a little better. What I mean is, one or two of the very oldest friends and relations to do what was nice, and help you to get on with your birthday; but you said, with unusual ferocity, 'Darling, I will have none but you!' "
"Upon my word, I believe I did! How wonderfully women--at least I mean how children--astonish one, by the way they touch the very tone of utterance, after one has forgotten it."
"I don't know what you mean, papa. And your reflection seems to be meant for yourself, as everything seems to be for at least a week, or I might say---"
"Come, Lallie, come now, have some moderation."
"Well, then, papa, for at least a fortnight. I will let you off with that, though I know it is much too little. And when you have owned to that, papa, what good reason can you give for behaving so to me--me--me, as good a child as ever there was?"
"Can 'me, me, me,' after living through such a fortnight of mortification--the real length of the period being less than four hours, I believe--can she listen to a little story without any excitement?"
"Oh, papa, a story, a story! That will make up for everything. What a lovely pleasure! There is nothing I love half so much as listening to old stories. I seem to be living my old age over, before I come to any age. Papa, I will forgive you everything, if you tell me a story."
"Alice, you are a little too bad. I know what a very good girl you are; but still you ought to try to think. When you were only two years old, you looked as if you were always thinking."
"So I am now, papa; always thinking--how to please you, and do my best."
Sir Roland was beaten by this, because he knew the perfect truth of it. Alice always thought too much about everything she could think of. Her father knew how bad it is when the bright young time is clouded over with unreasonable cares; and often he had some misgivings, lest he might be keeping his pet child too much alone. But she only laughed whenever he offered to find her new companions, and said that her cousins at the rectory were enough for her.
"If you please, papa," she now broke in upon his thinking, "how long will it be before you begin to tell me this beautiful story?"
"My own darling, I forgot; I was thinking of you, and not of any trumpery stories. But this is the very day of all days to sift our little mystery. You have often heard, of course, about our old astrologer."
"Of course I have, papa--of course! And with all my heart I love him. Everything the shepherds tell me shows how thoroughly good he was."
"Very well, then, all my story is about him and his deeds."
"Oh, papa, then do try, for once in your life, to be in a hurry. I do love everything about him; and I have heard so many things."
"No doubt you have, my dear; but perhaps of a somewhat fabulous order. His mind, or his manners, or appearance, or at any rate something seems to have left a lasting impression upon the simple folk hereabout."
"Better than a pot of money; an old woman told me the other day it was better than a pot of money for anybody to dream of him."
"It would do them more good, no doubt. But I have not had a pinch of snuff to-day. You have nearly broken me, Alice; but still you do allow me one pinch, when I begin to tell you a good story."
"Three, papa; you shall have three now, and you may take them all at once, because you never told such a story, as I feel sure it is certain to be, in all the whole course of your life before. Now come here, where the sun is setting, so that I may watch the way you are telling every word of it; and if I ask you any questions, you must nod you head, but never presume to answer one of them, unless you are sure that it will go on without interrupting the story. Now, papa, no more delay."
I had long outgrown unwholesome feeling as to my father's death, and so had Annie; though Lizzie (who must have loved him least) still entertained some evil will, and longing for a punishment. Therefore I was surprised (and indeed, startled would not be too much to say, the moon being somewhat fleecy), to see our Annie sitting there as motionless as the tombstone, and with all her best fal-lals upon her, after stowing away the dishes.
My nerves, however, are good and strong, except, at least, in love matters, wherein they always fail me, and when I meet with witches; and therefore I went up to Annie, although she looked so white and pure; for I had seen her before with those things on, and it struck me who she was.
"What are you doing here, Annie?" I inquired rather sternly, being vexed with her for having gone so very near to frighten me.
"Nothing at all," said our Annie shortly. And, indeed, it was truth enough for a woman. Not that I dare to believe that women are such liars as men say; only that I mean they often see things round the corner, and know not which is which of it. And, indeed, I never have known a woman (though right enough in their meaning) purely and perfectly true and transparent, except only my Lorna; and even so, I might not have loved her, if she had been ugly.
"Why, how so?" said I. "Miss Annie, what business have you here, doing nothing at this time of night? And leaving me with all the trouble to entertain our guests!"
"You seem not to me to be doing it, John," Annie answered softly; "what business have you here doing nothing, at this time of night?"
I was taken so aback with this, and the extreme impertinence of it, from a mere young girl like Annie, that I turned round to march away and have nothing more to say to her. But she jumped up, and caught me by the hand, and threw herself upon my bosom, with her face all wet with tears.
"Oh, John, I will tell you; I will tell you. Only don't be angry, John."
"Angry! no indeed," said I; "what right have I to be angry with you, because you have your secrets? Every chit of a girl thinks now that she has a right to her secrets."
"And you have none of your own, John; of course, you have none of your own? All your going out at night--"
"We will not quarrel here, poor Annie," I answered, with some loftiness; "there are many things upon my mind, which girls can have no notion of."
"And so there are upon mine, John. Oh, John, I will tell you everything, if you will look at me kindly, and promise to forgive me. Oh, I am so miserable!"
Now this, though she was behaving so badly, moved me much towards her; especially as I longed to know what she had to tell me. Therefore I allowed her to coax me, and to kiss me, and to lead me away a little, as far as the old yew-tree; for she would not tell me where she was.
But even in the shadow there, she was very long before beginning, and seemed to have two minds about it, or rather, perhaps, a dozen; and she laid her cheek against the tree, and sobbed till it was pitiful; and I knew what mother would say to her for spoiling her best frock so.
"Now will you stop?" I said at last, harder than I meant it, for I knew that she would go on all night, if any one encouraged her: and though not well acquainted with women, I understood my sisters; or else I must be a born fool--except, of course, that I never professed to understand Eliza.
"Yes, I will stop," said Annie, panting; "you are very hard on me, John; but I know you mean it for the best. If somebody else--I am sure I don't know who, and have no right to know, no doubt, but she must be a wicked thing--if somebody else had been taken so with a pain all round the heart, John, and no power of telling it, perhaps you would have coaxed and kissed her, and come a little nearer, and made opportunity to be very loving."
Now this was so exactly what I had tried to do to Lorna, that my breath was almost taken away at Annie's so describing it. For a while I could not say a word, but wondered if she were a witch, which had never been in our family; and then, all of a sudden, I saw the way to beat her, with the devil at my elbow.
"From your knowledge of these things, Annie, you must have had them done to you. I demand to know this very moment who has taken such liberties."
"Then, John, you shall never know, if you ask in that manner. Besides, it was no liberty in the least at all. Cousins have a right to do things--and when they are one's godfather--" Here Annie stopped quite suddenly having so betrayed herself; but met me in the full moonlight, being resolved to face it out, with a good face put upon it.
"Alas, I feared it would come to this," I answered very sadly; "I know he has been here many a time, without showing himself to me. There is nothing meaner than for a man to sneak, and steal a young maid's heart, without her people knowing it."
"You are not doing anything of that sort yourself then, dear John, are you?"
"Only a common highwayman!" I answered, without heeding her; ''a man without an acre of his own, and liable to hang upon any common, and no other right of common over it--"
"John," said my sister, "are the Doones privileged not to be hanged upon common land?"
At this I was so thunderstruck that I leaped in the air like a shot rabbit, and rushed as hard as I could through the gate and across the yard, and back into the kitchen; and there I asked Farmer Nicholas Snowe to give me some tobacco, and to lend me a spare pipe.
This he did with a grateful manner, being now some five-fourths gone; and so I smoked the very first pipe that ever had entered my lips till then; and beyond a doubt it did me good, and spread my heart at leisure.
Meanwhile the reapers were mostly gone, to be up betimes in the morning; and some were led by their wives, and some had to lead their wives themselves, according to the capacity of man and wife respectively. But Betty was as lively as ever, bustling about with every one, and looking out for the chance of groats, which the better-off might be free with. And over the kneading-pan next day, she dropped three and sixpence out of her pocket; and Lizzie could not tell for her life how much more might have been in it.
Now by this time I had almost finished smoking that pipe of tobacco, and wondering at myself for having so despised it hitherto, and making up my mind to have another trial to-morrow night, it began to occur to me that although dear Annie had behaved so very badly and rudely, and almost taken my breath away with the suddenness of her allusion, yet it was not kind of me to leave her out there at that time of night, all alone, and in such distress. Any of the reapers going home might be gotten so far beyond fear of ghosts as to venture into the church-yard; and although they would know a great deal better than to insult a sister of mine when sober, there was no telling what they might do in their present state of rejoicing. Moreover, it was only right that I should learn, for Lorna's sake, how far Annie, or any one else, had penetrated our secret.
Therefore, I went forth at once, bearing my pipe in a skillful manner, as I had seen Farmer Nicholas do; and marking, with a new kind of pleasure, how the rings and wreaths of smoke hovered and fluttered in the moonlight, like a lark upon his carol. Poor Annie was gone back again to our father's grave; and there she sat upon the turf, sobbing very gently, and not wishing to trouble any one. So I raised her tenderly, and made much of her, and consoled her, for I could not scold her there; and perhaps, after all, she was not to be blamed so much as Tom Faggus himself was. Annie was very grateful to me, and kissed me many times, and begged my pardon ever so often for her rudeness to me. And then having gone so far with it, and finding me so complaisant, she must needs try to go a little further, and to lead me away from her own affairs, and into mine concerning Lorna. But although it was clever enough of her, she was not deep enough for me there; and I soon discovered that she knew nothing, not even the name of my darling; but only suspected from things she had seen, and put together like a woman. Upon this I brought her back again to Tom Faggus and his doings.
"My poor Annie, have you really promised him to be his wife?"
"Then, after all, you have no reason, John, no particular reason, I mean, for slighting poor Sally Snowe so?"
"Without even asking mother or me! Oh, Annie, it was wrong of you!"
"But, darling, you know that mother wishes you so much to marry Sally; and I am sure you could have her to-morrow. She dotes on the very ground--"
"I dare say he tells you that, Annie, that he dotes on the ground you walk upon--but did you believe him, child?"
"You may believe me, I assure you, John, and half the farm to be settled upon her, after the old man's time; and though she gives herself little airs, it is only done to entice you; she has the very best hand in the dairy, John, and the lightest at a turn-over cake--"
"Now, Annie, don't talk nonsense so. I wish just to know the truth about you and Tom Faggus. Do you mean to marry him?"
"I to marry before my brother, and leave him with none to take care of him! Who can do him a red-deer collop, except Sally herself, as I can? Come home, dear, at once, and I will do you one; for you never ate a morsel of supper, with all the people you had to attend upon."
This was true enough; and seeing no chance of anything more than cross-questions and crooked purposes, at which a girl was sure to beat me, I even allowed her to lead me home, with the thoughts of the collop uppermost. But I never counted upon being beaten so thoroughly as I was; for knowing me now to be off my guard, the young hussy stopped at the farmyard gate, as if with a briar entangling her, and, while I was stooping to take it away, she looked me full in the face by the moonlight, and jerked out quite suddenly,
"Can your love do a collop, John?"
"No, I should hope not," I answered rashly; "she is not a mere cook-maid I should hope."
"She is not half so pretty as Sally Snowe; I will answer for that," said Annie.
"She is ten thousand times as pretty as ten thousand Sally Snowes," I replied, with great indignation.
"Oh, but look at Sally's eyes!" cried my sister, rapturously.
"Look at Lorna Doone's," said I, "and you would never look again at Sally's."
"Oh Lorna Doone. Lorna Doone!" exclaimed our Annie, half-frightened, yet clapping her hands with triumph, at having found me out so: "Lorna Doone is the lovely maiden who has stolen poor somebody's heart so. Ah, I shall remember it, because it is so queer a name. But stop, I had better write it down. Lend me your hat, poor boy, to write on."
"I have a great mind to lend you a box on the ear," I answered her in my vexation; "and I would, if you had not been crying so, you sly good-for-nothing baggage. As it is, I shall keep it for Master Faggus, and add interest for keeping."
"Oh no, John; oh no, John," she begged me earnestly, being sobered in a moment. "Your hand is so terribly heavy, John; and he never would forgive you; although he is so good-hearted, he cannot put up with an insult. Promise me, dear John, that you will not strike him; and I will promise you faithfully to keep your secret, even from mother, and even from Cousin Tom himself."
"And from Lizzie; most of all, from Lizzie," I answered very eagerly, knowing too well which of my relations would be hardest with me.
"Of course from little Lizzie," said Annie, with some contempt; "a young thing like her cannot be kept too long, in my opinion, from the knowledge of such subjects. And besides, I should be very sorry if Lizzie had the right to know your secrets, as I have, dearest John. Not a soul shall be the wiser for your having trusted me, John; although I shall be very wretched when you are late away at night, among those dreadful people."
"Well," I replied, "it is no use crying over spilt milk, Annie. You have my secret, and I have yours; and I scarcely know which of the two is likely to have the worst time of it when it comes to mother's ears. I could put up with perpetual scolding, but not with mother's sad silence."
"That is exactly how I feel, John"; and as Annie said it she brightened up, and her soft eyes shone upon me; "but now I shall be much happier, dear; because I shall try to help you. No doubt the young lady deserves it, John. She is not after the farm, I hope?"
"She!" I exclaimed; and that was enough; there was so much scorn in my voice and face.
"Then, I am sure, I am very glad"--Annie always made the best of things--"for I do believe that Sally Snowe has taken a fancy to our dairy-place, and the pattern of our cream-pans; and she asked so much about our meadows, and the colour of the milk--"
"Then, after all, you were right, dear Annie; it is the ground she dotes upon!"
"And the things that walk upon it," she answered me with another kiss; "Sally has taken a wonderful fancy to our best cow, 'Nipple pins.' But she never shall have her now; what a consolation!"
We entered the house quite gently thus, and found Farmer Nicholas Snowe asleep, little dreaming how his plans had been overset between us. And then Annie said to me very slyly, between a smile and a blush,
"Don't you wish Lorna Doone was here, John, in the parlour along with mother; instead of those two fashionable milkmaids, as Uncle Ben will call them, and poor stupid Mistress Kebby?"
"That indeed I do, Annie. I must kiss you for only thinking of it. Dear me, it seems as if you had known all about us for a twelvemonth."
"She loves you, with all her heart, John. No doubt about that, of course." And Annie looked up at me, as much as to say she would like to know who could help it.
"That's the very thing she won't do," said I, knowing that Annie would love me all the more for it; "she is only beginning to like me, Annie; and as for loving, she is so young that she only loves her grandfather. But I hope she will come to it by-and-by."
"Of course she must," replied my sister; "it will be impossible for her to help it."
"Ah well! I don't know," for I wanted more assurance of it. "Maidens are such wondrous things!"
"Not a bit of it," said Annie, casting her bright eyes downwards; "love is as simple as milking--when people know how to do it. But you must not let her alone too long; that is my advice to you. What a simpleton you must have been not to tell me long ago. I would have made Lorna wild about you, long before this time, Johnny. But now you go into the parlour, dear, while I do your collop. Faith Snowe is not come, but Polly and Sally. Sally has made up her mind to conquer you this very blessed evening, John. Only look what a thing of a scarf she has on; I should be quite ashamed to wear it. But you won't strike poor Tom, will you?"
"Not I, my darling, for your sweet sake."
And so dear Annie, having grown quite brave, gave me a little push into the parlour, where I was quite abashed to enter after all I had heard about Sally. And I made up my mind to examine her well, and try a little courting with her, if she should lead me on, that I might be in practice for Lorna. But when I perceived how grandly and richly both the young damsels were apparelled; and how, in their courtesies to me, they retreated, as if I were making up to them, in a way they had learned from Exeter; and how they began to talk of the Court, as if they had been there all their lives, and the latest mode of the Duchess of this, and the profile of the Countess of that, and the last good saying of my Lord something--instead of butter and cream and eggs, and things which they understood--I knew there must be somebody in the room besides Jasper Kebby to talk at.
And so there was; for behind the curtain drawn across the window-seat no less a man than Uncle Ben was sitting, half asleep and weary, and by his side a little girl, very quiet and very watchful. My mother led me to Uncle Ben, and he took my hand without rising, muttering something, not over-polite, about my being bigger than ever. I asked him heartily how he was, and he said, "Well enough, for that matter; but none the better for the noise you great clods have been making."
"I am sorry if we have disturbed you, sir," I answered, very civilly; "but I knew not that you were here even; and you must allow for harvest-time."
"So it seems," he replied; "and allow a great deal, including waste and drunkenness. Now (if you can see so small a thing, after emptying flagons much larger) this is my granddaughter, and my heiress"--here he glanced at mother--"my heiress, little Ruth Huckaback."
"I am very glad to see you, Ruth," I answered, offering her my hand, which she seemed afraid to take; "welcome to Plover's Barrows, my good Cousin Ruth."
However, my good cousin Ruth only arose, and made me a courtesy, and lifted her great brown eyes at me, more in fear, as I thought, than kinship. And if ever any one looked unlike the heiress to great property, it was the little girl before me.
"Come out to the kitchen, dear, and let me chuck you to the ceiling," I said, just to encourage her; "I always do it to little girls; and then they can see the hams and bacon." But Uncle Reuben burst out laughing, and Ruth turned away with a deep rich colour.
"Do you know how old she is, you numskull?" said Uncle Ben, in his dryest drawl; "she was seventeen last July, sir."
"On the first of July, grandfather," Ruth whispered, with her back still to me; "but many people will not believe it."
Here mother came up to my rescue, as she always loved to do; and she said, "If my son may not dance Miss Ruth, at any rate he may dance with her. We have only been waiting for you, dear John, to have a little harvest dance, with the kitchen door thrown open. You take Ruth; Uncle Ben take Sally; Master Kebby pair off with Polly; and neighbour Nicholas will be good enough, if I can awake him, to stand up with fair Mistress Kebby. Lizzie will play us the virginal. Won't you, Lizzie dear?"
"But who is to dance with you, madam?" Uncle Ben asked, very politely. "I think you must rearrange your figure. I have not danced for a score of years, and I will not dance now, while the mistress and the owner of the harvest sits aside neglected."
"Nay, Master Huckaback," cried Sally Snowe, with a saucy toss of her hair; "Mistress Ridd is too kind a great deal, in handing you over to me. You take her, and I will fetch Annie to be my partner this evening. I like dancing very much better with girls, for they never squeeze and rumple one. Oh, it is so much nicer!"
"Have no fear for me, my dears," our mother answered smiling: "Parson Bowden promised to come back again; I expect him every minute; and he intends to lead me off, and to bring a partner for Annie, too, a very pretty young gentleman. Now begin, and I will join you."
There was no disobeying her without rudeness; and, indeed, the girls' feet were already jigging, and Lizzie giving herself wonderful airs with a roll of learned music; and even while Annie was doing my collop, her pretty round instep was arching itself, as I could see from the parlour door. So I took little Ruth, and spun her around, as the sound of the music came lively and ringing; and after us came all the rest, with much laughter, begging me not to jump over her; and anon my grave partner began to smile sweetly, and look up at me with the brightest of eyes, and drop me the prettiest courtesies, till I thought what a great stupe I must have been to dream of putting her in the cheese-rack.
But one thing I could not at all understand; why mother, who used to do all in her power to throw me across Sally Snowe, should now do the very opposite; for she would not allow me one moment with Sally, not even to cross in the dance, or whisper, or go anywhere near a corner (which, as I said, I intended to do, just by way of practice); while she kept me all the evening as close as possible with Ruth Huckaback, and came up and praised me so to Ruth, times and again, that I declare I was quite ashamed. Although, of course, I knew that I deserved it all; but I could not well say that.
Then Annie came sailing down the dance, with her beautiful hair flowing round her, the lightest figure in all the room, and the sweetest, and the loveliest. She was blushing, with her fair cheeks red beneath her dear blue eyes, as she met my glance of surprise and grief at the partner she was leaning on. It was Squire Marwood de Whichehalse. I would sooner have seen her with Tom Faggus, as, indeed, I had expected, when I heard of Parson Bowden. And to me it seemed that she had no right to be dancing so with any other; and to this effect I contrived to whisper; but she only said, "See to yourself, John. No, but let us both enjoy ourselves. You are not dancing with Lorna, John. But you seem uncommonly happy."
"Tush!" I said; "could I flip about so if I had my love with me?"