Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore

CHAPTER I

ELEMENTS OF EDUCATION

If anybody cares to read a simple tale told simply, I, John Ridd, of the
parish of Oare, in the county of Somerset, yeoman and churchwarden, have
seen and had a share in some doings of this neighborhood, which I will
try to set down in order, God sparing my life and memory. And they who
light upon this book should bear in mind not only that I write for the
clearing of our parish from ill fame and calumny, but also a thing which
will, I trow, appear too often in it, to wit–that I am nothing more
than a plain unlettered man, not read in foreign languages, as a
gentleman might be, nor gifted with long words (even in mine own
tongue), save what I may have won from the Bible or Master William
Shakespeare, whom, in the face of common opinion, I do value highly. In
short, I am an ignoramus, but pretty well for a yeoman.

My father being of good substance, at least as we reckon in Exmoor, and
seized in his own right, from many generations, of one, and that the
best and largest, of the three farms into which our parish is divided
(or rather the cultured part thereof), he John Ridd, the elder,
churchwarden, and overseer, being a great admirer of learning, and well
able to write his name, sent me his only son to be schooled at Tiverton,
in the county of Devon. For the chief boast of that ancient town (next
to its woollen staple) is a worthy grammar-school, the largest in the
west of England, founded and handsomely endowed in the year 1604 by
Master Peter Blundell, of that same place, clothier.

Here, by the time I was twelve years old, I had risen into the upper
school, and could make bold with Eutropius and Caesar–by aid of an
English version–and as much as six lines of Ovid. Some even said that
I might, before manhood, rise almost to the third form, being of a
perservering nature; albeit, by full consent of all (except my mother),
thick-headed. But that would have been, as I now perceive, an ambition
beyond a farmer’s son; for there is but one form above it, and that made
of masterful scholars, entitled rightly ‘monitors’. So it came to
pass, by the grace of God, that I was called away from learning,
whilst sitting at the desk of the junior first in the upper school, and
beginning the Greek verb [Greek word].

My eldest grandson makes bold to say that I never could have learned
[Greek word], ten pages further on, being all he himself could manage,
with plenty of stripes to help him. I know that he hath more head than
I–though never will he have such body; and am thankful to have stopped
betimes, with a meek and wholesome head-piece.

But if you doubt of my having been there, because now I know so little,
go and see my name, ‘John Ridd,’ graven on that very form. Forsooth,
from the time I was strong enough to open a knife and to spell my name,
I began to grave it in the oak, first of the block whereon I sate, and
then of the desk in front of it, according as I was promoted from one to
other of them: and there my grandson reads it now, at this present time
of writing, and hath fought a boy for scoffing at it–‘John Ridd his
name’–and done again in ‘winkeys,’ a mischievous but cheerful device,
in which we took great pleasure.

This is the manner of a ‘winkey,’ which I here set down, lest child
of mine, or grandchild, dare to make one on my premises; if he does,
I shall know the mark at once, and score it well upon him. The scholar
obtains, by prayer or price, a handful of saltpetre, and then with the
knife wherewith he should rather be trying to mend his pens, what does
he do but scoop a hole where the desk is some three inches thick. This
hole should be left with the middle exalted, and the circumfere dug more
deeply. Then let him fill it with saltpetre, all save a little space in
the midst, where the boss of the wood is. Upon that boss (and it will be
the better if a splinter of timber rise upward) he sticks the end of his
candle of tallow, or ‘rat’s tail,’ as we called it, kindled and burning
smoothly. Anon, as he reads by that light his lesson, lifting his eyes
now and then it may be, the fire of candle lays hold of the petre with
a spluttering noise and a leaping. Then should the pupil seize his pen,
and, regardless of the nib, stir bravely, and he will see a glow as of
burning mountains, and a rich smoke, and sparks going merrily; nor will
it cease, if he stir wisely, and there be a good store of petre, until
the wood is devoured through, like the sinking of a well-shaft. Now well
may it go with the head of a boy intent upon his primer, who betides to
sit thereunder! But, above all things, have good care to exercise this
art before the master strides up to his desk, in the early gray of the
morning.

Other customs, no less worthy, abide in the school of Blundell, such as
the singeing of nightcaps; but though they have a pleasant savour, and
refreshing to think of, I may not stop to note them, unless it be that
goodly one at the incoming of a flood. The school-house stands beside a
stream, not very large, called Lowman, which flows into the broad river
of Exe, about a mile below. This Lowman stream, although it be not fond
of brawl and violence (in the manner of our Lynn), yet is wont to flood
into a mighty head of waters when the storms of rain provoke it; and
most of all when its little co-mate, called the Taunton Brook–where
I have plucked the very best cresses that ever man put salt on–comes
foaming down like a great roan horse, and rears at the leap of the
hedgerows. Then are the gray stone walls of Blundell on every side
encompassed, the vale is spread over with looping waters, and it is a
hard thing for the day-boys to get home to their suppers.

And in that time, old Cop, the porter (so called because he hath copper
boots to keep the wet from his stomach, and a nose of copper also, in
right of other waters), his place is to stand at the gate, attending to
the flood-boards grooved into one another, and so to watch the torrents
rise, and not be washed away, if it please God he may help it. But long
ere the flood hath attained this height, and while it is only waxing,
certain boys of deputy will watch at the stoop of the drain-holes, and
be apt to look outside the walls when Cop is taking a cordial. And in
the very front of the gate, just without the archway, where the ground
is paved most handsomely, you may see in copy-letters done a great
P.B. of white pebbles. Now, it is the custom and the law that when
the invading waters, either fluxing along the wall from below the
road-bridge, or pouring sharply across the meadows from a cut called
Owen’s Ditch–and I myself have seen it come both ways–upon the very
instant when the waxing element lips though it be but a single pebble of
the founder’s letters, it is in the license of any boy, soever small
and undoctrined, to rush into the great school-rooms, where a score of
masters sit heavily, and scream at the top of his voice, ‘P.B.’

Then, with a yell, the boys leap up, or break away from their standing;
they toss their caps to the black-beamed roof, and haply the very books
after them; and the great boys vex no more the small ones, and the small
boys stick up to the great ones. One with another, hard they go, to see
the gain of the waters, and the tribulation of Cop, and are prone to
kick the day-boys out, with words of scanty compliment. Then the masters
look at one another, having no class to look to, and (boys being no more
left to watch) in a manner they put their mouths up. With a spirited
bang they close their books, and make invitation the one to the other
for pipes and foreign cordials, recommending the chance of the time, and
the comfort away from cold water.

But, lo! I am dwelling on little things and the pigeons’ eggs of the
infancy, forgetting the bitter and heavy life gone over me since then.
If I am neither a hard man nor a very close one, God knows I have had no
lack of rubbing and pounding to make stone of me. Yet can I not somehow
believe that we ought to hate one another, to live far asunder, and
block the mouth each of his little den; as do the wild beasts of the
wood, and the hairy outrangs now brought over, each with a chain upon
him. Let that matter be as it will. It is beyond me to unfold, and
mayhap of my grandson’s grandson. All I know is that wheat is better
than when I began to sow it.

CHAPTER II

AN IMPORTANT ITEM

Now the cause of my leaving Tiverton school, and the way of it, were as
follows. On the 29th day of November, in the year of our Lord 1673, the
very day when I was twelve years old, and had spent all my substance in
sweetmeats, with which I made treat to the little boys, till the large
boys ran in and took them, we came out of school at five o’clock, as
the rule is upon Tuesdays. According to custom we drove the day-boys
in brave rout down the causeway from the school-porch even to the gate
where Cop has his dwelling and duty. Little it recked us and helped
them less, that they were our founder’s citizens, and haply his own
grand-nephews (for he left no direct descendants), neither did we much
inquire what their lineage was. For it had long been fixed among us,
who were of the house and chambers, that these same day-boys were all
‘caddes,’ as we had discovered to call it, because they paid no groat
for their schooling, and brought their own commons with them. In
consumption of these we would help them, for our fare in hall fed
appetite; and while we ate their victuals, we allowed them freely to
talk to us. Nevertheless, we could not feel, when all the victuals
were gone, but that these boys required kicking from the premises
of Blundell. And some of them were shopkeepers’ sons, young grocers,
fellmongers, and poulterers, and these to their credit seemed to know
how righteous it was to kick them. But others were of high family, as
any need be, in Devon–Carews, and Bouchiers, and Bastards, and some of
these would turn sometimes, and strike the boy that kicked them. But
to do them justice, even these knew that they must be kicked for not
paying.

After these ‘charity-boys’ were gone, as in contumely we called
them–‘If you break my bag on my head,’ said one, ‘how will feed thence
to-morrow?’–and after old Cop with clang of iron had jammed the double
gates in under the scruff-stone archway, whereupon are Latin verses,
done in brass of small quality, some of us who were not hungry, and
cared not for the supper-bell, having sucked much parliament and dumps
at my only charges–not that I ever bore much wealth, but because I had
been thrifting it for this time of my birth–we were leaning quite at
dusk against the iron bars of the gate some six, or it may be seven of
us, small boys all, and not conspicuous in the closing of the daylight
and the fog that came at eventide, else Cop would have rated us up the
green, for he was churly to little boys when his wife had taken their
money. There was plenty of room for all of us, for the gate will hold
nine boys close-packed, unless they be fed rankly, whereof is little
danger; and now we were looking out on the road and wishing we could get
there; hoping, moreover, to see a good string of pack-horses come by,
with troopers to protect them. For the day-boys had brought us word that
some intending their way to the town had lain that morning at Sampford
Peveril, and must be in ere nightfall, because Mr. Faggus was after
them. Now Mr. Faggus was my first cousin and an honour to the family,
being a Northmolton man of great renown on the highway from Barum town
even to London. Therefore of course, I hoped that he would catch the
packmen, and the boys were asking my opinion as of an oracle, about it.

A certain boy leaning up against me would not allow my elbow room, and
struck me very sadly in the stomach part, though his own was full of my
parliament. And this I felt so unkindly, that I smote him straightway in
the face without tarrying to consider it, or weighing the question duly.
Upon this he put his head down, and presented it so vehemently at the
middle of my waistcoat, that for a minute or more my breath seemed
dropped, as it were, from my pockets, and my life seemed to stop from
great want of ease. Before I came to myself again, it had been settled
for us that we should move to the ‘Ironing-box,’ as the triangle of turf
is called where the two causeways coming from the school-porch and the
hall-porch meet, and our fights are mainly celebrated; only we must
wait until the convoy of horses had passed, and then make a ring by
candlelight, and the other boys would like it. But suddenly there came
round the post where the letters of our founder are, not from the way
of Taunton but from the side of Lowman bridge, a very small string of
horses, only two indeed (counting for one the pony), and a red-faced man
on the bigger nag.

‘Plaise ye, worshipful masters,’ he said, being feared of the gateway,
‘carn ‘e tull whur our Jan Ridd be?’

‘Hyur a be, ees fai, Jan Ridd,’ answered a sharp little chap, making
game of John Fry’s language.

‘Zhow un up, then,’ says John Fry poking his whip through the bars at
us; ‘Zhow un up, and putt un aowt.’

The other little chaps pointed at me, and some began to hallo; but I
knew what I was about.

‘Oh, John, John,’ I cried, ‘what’s the use of your coming now, and Peggy
over the moors, too, and it so cruel cold for her? The holidays don’t
begin till Wednesday fortnight, John. To think of your not knowing
that!’

John Fry leaned forward in the saddle, and turned his eyes away from
me; and then there was a noise in his throat like a snail crawling on a
window-pane.

‘Oh, us knaws that wull enough, Maister Jan; reckon every Oare-man knaw
that, without go to skoo-ull, like you doth. Your moother have kept arl
the apples up, and old Betty toorned the black puddens, and none dare
set trap for a blagbird. Arl for thee, lad; every bit of it now for
thee!’

He checked himself suddenly, and frightened me. I knew that John Fry’s
way so well.

‘And father, and father–oh, how is father?’ I pushed the boys right and
left as I said it. ‘John, is father up in town! He always used to come
for me, and leave nobody else to do it.’

‘Vayther’ll be at the crooked post, tother zide o’ telling-house.* Her
coodn’t lave ‘ouze by raison of the Chirstmas bakkon comin’ on, and zome
o’ the cider welted.’

* The ‘telling-houses’ on the moor are rude cots where the
shepherds meet to ‘tell’ their sheep at the end of the
pasturing season.

He looked at the nag’s ears as he said it; and, being up to John Fry’s
ways, I knew that it was a lie. And my heart fell like a lump of lead,
and I leaned back on the stay of the gate, and longed no more to fight
anybody. A sort of dull power hung over me, like the cloud of a brooding
tempest, and I feared to be told anything. I did not even care to stroke
the nose of my pony Peggy, although she pushed it in through the rails,
where a square of broader lattice is, and sniffed at me, and began to
crop gently after my fingers. But whatever lives or dies, business must
be attended to; and the principal business of good Christians is, beyond
all controversy, to fight with one another.

‘Come up, Jack,’ said one of the boys, lifting me under the chin; ‘he
hit you, and you hit him, you know.’

‘Pay your debts before you go,’ said a monitor, striding up to me, after
hearing how the honour lay; ‘Ridd, you must go through with it.’

‘Fight, for the sake of the junior first,’ cried the little fellow in my
ear, the clever one, the head of our class, who had mocked John Fry, and
knew all about the aorists, and tried to make me know it; but I never
went more than three places up, and then it was an accident, and I came
down after dinner. The boys were urgent round me to fight, though my
stomach was not up for it; and being very slow of wit (which is not
chargeable on me), I looked from one to other of them, seeking any cure
for it. Not that I was afraid of fighting, for now I had been three
years at Blundell’s, and foughten, all that time, a fight at least once
every week, till the boys began to know me; only that the load on my
heart was not sprightly as of the hay-field. It is a very sad thing to
dwell on; but even now, in my time of wisdom, I doubt it is a fond thing
to imagine, and a motherly to insist upon, that boys can do without
fighting. Unless they be very good boys, and afraid of one another.

‘Nay,’ I said, with my back against the wrought-iron stay of the gate,
which was socketed into Cop’s house-front: ‘I will not fight thee now,
Robin Snell, but wait till I come back again.’

‘Take coward’s blow, Jack Ridd, then,’ cried half a dozen little boys,
shoving Bob Snell forward to do it; because they all knew well enough,
having striven with me ere now, and proved me to be their master–they
knew, I say, that without great change, I would never accept that
contumely. But I took little heed of them, looking in dull wonderment
at John Fry, and Smiler, and the blunderbuss, and Peggy. John Fry was
scratching his head, I could see, and getting blue in the face, by the
light from Cop’s parlour-window, and going to and fro upon Smiler, as if
he were hard set with it. And all the time he was looking briskly from
my eyes to the fist I was clenching, and methought he tried to wink at
me in a covert manner; and then Peggy whisked her tail.

‘Shall I fight, John?’ I said at last; ‘I would an you had not come,
John.’

‘Chraist’s will be done; I zim thee had better faight, Jan,’ he
answered, in a whisper, through the gridiron of the gate; ‘there be a
dale of faighting avore thee. Best wai to begin gude taime laike. Wull
the geatman latt me in, to zee as thee hast vair plai, lad?’

He looked doubtfully down at the colour of his cowskin boots, and the
mire upon the horses, for the sloughs were exceedingly mucky. Peggy,
indeed, my sorrel pony, being lighter of weight, was not crusted much
over the shoulders; but Smiler (our youngest sledder) had been well in
over his withers, and none would have deemed him a piebald, save of red
mire and black mire. The great blunderbuss, moreover, was choked with a
dollop of slough-cake; and John Fry’s sad-coloured Sunday hat was indued
with a plume of marish-weed. All this I saw while he was dismounting,
heavily and wearily, lifting his leg from the saddle-cloth as if with a
sore crick in his back.

By this time the question of fighting was gone quite out of our
discretion; for sundry of the elder boys, grave and reverend signors,
who had taken no small pleasure in teaching our hands to fight, to ward,
to parry, to feign and counter, to lunge in the manner of sword-play,
and the weaker child to drop on one knee when no cunning of fence might
baffle the onset–these great masters of the art, who would far liefer
see us little ones practise it than themselves engage, six or seven of
them came running down the rounded causeway, having heard that there
had arisen ‘a snug little mill’ at the gate. Now whether that word
hath origin in a Greek term meaning a conflict, as the best-read boys
asseverated, or whether it is nothing more than a figure of similitude,
from the beating arms of a mill, such as I have seen in counties where
are no waterbrooks, but folk make bread with wind–it is not for a man
devoid of scholarship to determine. Enough that they who made the ring
intituled the scene a ‘mill,’ while we who must be thumped inside it
tried to rejoice in their pleasantry, till it turned upon the stomach.

Moreover, I felt upon me now a certain responsibility, a dutiful need to
maintain, in the presence of John Fry, the manliness of the Ridd family,
and the honour of Exmoor. Hitherto none had worsted me, although in the
three years of my schooling, I had fought more than threescore battles,
and bedewed with blood every plant of grass towards the middle of the
Ironing-box. And this success I owed at first to no skill of my own;
until I came to know better; for up to twenty or thirty fights, I struck
as nature guided me, no wiser than a father-long-legs in the heat of a
lanthorn; but I had conquered, partly through my native strength, and
the Exmoor toughness in me, and still more that I could not see when I
had gotten my bellyful. But now I was like to have that and more; for
my heart was down, to begin with; and then Robert Snell was a bigger boy
than I had ever encountered, and as thick in the skull and hard in the
brain as even I could claim to be.

I had never told my mother a word about these frequent strivings,
because she was soft-hearted; neither had I told by father, because
he had not seen it. Therefore, beholding me still an innocent-looking
child, with fair curls on my forehead, and no store of bad language,
John Fry thought this was the very first fight that ever had befallen
me; and so when they let him at the gate, ‘with a message to the
headmaster,’ as one of the monitors told Cop, and Peggy and Smiler were
tied to the railings, till I should be through my business, John comes
up to me with the tears in his eyes, and says, ‘Doon’t thee goo for to
do it, Jan; doon’t thee do it, for gude now.’ But I told him that now it
was much too late to cry off; so he said, ‘The Lord be with thee, Jan,
and turn thy thumb-knuckle inwards.’

It was not a very large piece of ground in the angle of the causeways,
but quite big enough to fight upon, especially for Christians, who loved
to be cheek by jowl at it. The great boys stood in a circle around,
being gifted with strong privilege, and the little boys had leave to lie
flat and look through the legs of the great boys. But while we were yet
preparing, and the candles hissed in the fog-cloud, old Phoebe, of more
than fourscore years, whose room was over the hall-porch, came hobbling
out, as she always did, to mar the joy of the conflict. No one ever
heeded her, neither did she expect it; but the evil was that two senior
boys must always lose the first round of the fight, by having to lead
her home again.

I marvel how Robin Snell felt. Very likely he thought nothing of it,
always having been a boy of a hectoring and unruly sort. But I felt my
heart go up and down as the boys came round to strip me; and greatly
fearing to be beaten, I blew hot upon my knuckles. Then pulled I off
my little cut jerkin, and laid it down on my head cap, and over that my
waistcoat, and a boy was proud to take care of them. Thomas Hooper was
his name, and I remember how he looked at me. My mother had made that
little cut jerkin, in the quiet winter evenings. And taken pride to loop
it up in a fashionable way, and I was loth to soil it with blood, and
good filberds were in the pocket. Then up to me came Robin Snell (mayor
of Exeter thrice since that), and he stood very square, and looking
at me, and I lacked not long to look at him. Round his waist he had a
kerchief busking up his small-clothes, and on his feet light pumpkin
shoes, and all his upper raiment off. And he danced about in a way that
made my head swim on my shoulders, and he stood some inches over me. But
I, being muddled with much doubt about John Fry and his errand, was only
stripped of my jerkin and waistcoat, and not comfortable to begin.

‘Come now, shake hands,’ cried a big boy, jumping in joy of the
spectacle, a third-former nearly six feet high; ‘shake hands, you little
devils. Keep your pluck up, and show good sport, and Lord love the
better man of you.’

Robin took me by the hand, and gazed at me disdainfully, and then smote
me painfully in the face, ere I could get my fence up.

‘Whutt be ’bout, lad?’ cried John Fry; ‘hutt un again, Jan, wull ‘e?
Well done then, our Jan boy.’

For I had replied to Robin now, with all the weight and cadence of
penthemimeral caesura (a thing, the name of which I know, but could
never make head nor tail of it), and the strife began in a serious
style, and the boys looking on were not cheated. Although I could not
collect their shouts when the blows were ringing upon me, it was no
great loss; for John Fry told me afterwards that their oaths went up
like a furnace fire. But to these we paid no heed or hap, being in the
thick of swinging, and devoid of judgment. All I know is, I came to my
corner, when the round was over, with very hard pumps in my chest, and a
great desire to fall away.

‘Time is up,’ cried head-monitor, ere ever I got my breath again; and
when I fain would have lingered awhile on the knee of the boy that held
me. John Fry had come up, and the boys were laughing because he wanted a
stable lanthorn, and threatened to tell my mother.

‘Time is up,’ cried another boy, more headlong than head-monitor. ‘If we
count three before the come of thee, thwacked thou art, and must go
to the women.’ I felt it hard upon me. He began to count, one, too,
three–but before the ‘three’ was out of his mouth, I was facing my foe,
with both hands up, and my breath going rough and hot, and resolved to
wait the turn of it. For I had found seat on the knee of a boy sage and
skilled to tutor me, who knew how much the end very often differs from
the beginning. A rare ripe scholar he was; and now he hath routed up the
Germans in the matter of criticism. Sure the clever boys and men have
most love towards the stupid ones.

‘Finish him off, Bob,’ cried a big boy, and that I noticed especially,
because I thought it unkind of him, after eating of my toffee as he
had that afternoon; ‘finish him off, neck and crop; he deserves it for
sticking up to a man like you.’

But I was not so to be finished off, though feeling in my knuckles now
as if it were a blueness and a sense of chilblain. Nothing held except
my legs, and they were good to help me. So this bout, or round, if you
please, was foughten warily by me, with gentle recollection of what my
tutor, the clever boy, had told me, and some resolve to earn his praise
before I came back to his knee again. And never, I think, in all my
life, sounded sweeter words in my ears (except when my love loved me)
than when my second and backer, who had made himself part of my doings
now, and would have wept to see me beaten, said,–

‘Famously done, Jack, famously! Only keep your wind up, Jack, and you’ll
go right through him!’

Meanwhile John Fry was prowling about, asking the boys what they thought
of it, and whether I was like to be killed, because of my mother’s
trouble. But finding now that I had foughten three-score fights already,
he came up to me woefully, in the quickness of my breathing, while I sat
on the knee of my second, with a piece of spongious coralline to ease
me of my bloodshed, and he says in my ears, as if he was clapping spurs
into a horse,–

‘Never thee knack under, Jan, or never coom naigh Hexmoor no more.’

With that it was all up with me. A simmering buzzed in my heavy brain,
and a light came through my eyeplaces. At once I set both fists again,
and my heart stuck to me like cobbler’s wax. Either Robin Snell should
kill me, or I would conquer Robin Snell. So I went in again with my
courage up, and Bob came smiling for victory, and I hated him for
smiling. He let at me with his left hand, and I gave him my right
between his eyes, and he blinked, and was not pleased with it. I feared
him not, and spared him not, neither spared myself. My breath came
again, and my heart stood cool, and my eyes struck fire no longer. Only
I knew that I would die sooner than shame my birthplace. How the rest
of it was I know not; only that I had the end of it, and helped to put
Robin in bed.