For the Story Teller: Story Telling and Stories to Tell, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey is part of HackerNoon Books Series
You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Little Lorna Doone
Almost everybody knows how pleasant and soft the fall of land is round about Plover’s Barrows Farm. There are trees and bright green grass and orchards full of contentment, and you can scarce espy the brook, although you hear it everywhere. But it is there, where the valley bends and the stream goes along with it, and pretty meadows slope their breast, and the sun spreads on the water. And nearly all the land until you come to Nicholas Snow’s belonged to the Ridd farm—to little John Ridd’s father.
John’s mother had long been ailing and not well able to eat much. Now John chanced to remember that once at the time of the holidays he had brought his dear mother from Tiverton a jar of pickled loaches; and she had said that in all her life she had never tasted anything fit to be compared with them.
So, one St. Valentine’s Day, in the forenoon, without saying a word to any one, John started away to get some loaches for his mother just to make her eat a bit.
It was a bitter cold day, but John doffed his shoes and hose and put them in a bag about his neck, and left his little coat at home that he might walk better. When he had traveled two miles or so he found a good stream flowing softly into the body of the brook. The water was freezing, and John’s toes were aching, and he drew up on the bank and rubbed them well with a sprout of young sting-nettle, and having skipped about a little was inclined to eat a bit. As he ate, his spirits rose, so he put the bag round his neck again and buckled his breeches far up from the knee, and crossing the brook, went stoutly up under the branches which hung so dark on the Bagworthy River.
The day was falling fast behind the brown of the hilltops, and the trees seemed giants ready to beat the boy. And every moment as the sky was clearing up for a white frost, the cold of the water underfoot on the fells got worse and worse, until John was fit to cry with it. And so, in a sorry plight, he came to an opening in the bushes where a great black pool lay in front, whitened at the sides with foam froth.
The boy shuddered, and drew back, not at the pool itself, but at the whirling manner and wisping of white threads upon it in circles, round and round; and the center, black as jet. He did not stop to look much for fear, though, but crawled along over the fork of rocks where the water had scooped the stone out, and shunning the ledge from whence it rose like the mane of a white horse into the broad black pool, softly he let his feet slip into the dip and rush of the torrent.
But John had reckoned without his host, for the green waves came down like great bottles upon him, and his legs were gone from under him in a minute. He was borne up upon a rock, and he won a footing, but there was no choice left except to climb somehow up that hill of water or else be washed down into the pool and whirl around until it drowned him, for there was no chance of going back by the way he had come down. So John started carefully, step by step, stopping to hold on by the cliff when he found a resting place, and pant a while. But the greatest danger came when he saw no jeopardy, but ran up a patch of black ooze weed which stuck out in a boastful manner not far from the summit. Here he fell, and was like to have broken his knee cap, but his elbow caught in a hole in the rock and so he managed to start again.
But the little boy was in a most dreadful fright now, and at last the rush of water drove him back again into the middle. Then he made up his mind to die at last; only it did seem such a pity after fighting so long, to give in. The light was coming upon him, and again he fought toward it, when suddenly he felt fresh air, and fell into it headlong.
When John came to himself, his hands were full of young grass and mold, and a little girl was kneeling at his side and rubbing his forehead tenderly.
“I am so glad,” she whispered softly, as John opened his eyes and looked at her. “Now you will try to be better, won’t you?”
The little boy had never heard so sweet a sound as came from between her red lips while she knelt and gazed at him; nor had he ever seen anything so beautiful as the large dark eyes, full of pity and wonder. His eyes wandered down the black shower of her hair; and where it fell on the turf, among it, like an early star, was the first primrose of the season.
“No,” said John, a little vexed. “We are rich enough to buy all this great meadow if we choose. Here are my shoes and stockings.”
“Why, they are quite as wet as your feet. Oh, please let me manage them. I will do it very softly.”
“Oh, I don’t mind that,” said John, “but how you are looking at me. I never saw any one like you before. My name is John Ridd. What is your name?”
“Lorna Doone,” she answered in a low voice as if afraid of it, and hanging her head so he could see only her forehead and eyelashes; “if you please, my name is Lorna Doone, and I thought you must have known it,” and her blushes turned to tears and her tears to long, low sobs.
“Don’t cry,” said John, “whatever you do. I will give you all my fish, Lorna, and catch some more for my mother; only don’t be angry with me.”
Young and harmless as she was, her name alone made guilt of her; yet there was John, a yeoman’s son, and there was she, a little lady born. Though her hair had fallen down, and some of her frock was touched with wet, behold, her dress was pretty enough for the queen of all the angels. All from her waist to her neck was white, plaited in close like a curtain, and the dark soft tresses of her hair, and the shadowy light of her eyes made it seem yet whiter.
“John,” she said, “why did you ever come here? Do you know what the robbers would do to us if they found you here with me?”
“Beat us, I dare say,” said John, “or me at least. They could never beat you.”
“No, they would kill us both, and bury us here by the water because you have found your way up here. Now please go; oh, please go!”
“I never saw any one like you, Lorna, and I must come back again to-morrow, and so must you. I will bring you such lots of things—there are apples still—and I caught a thrush—and I will bring you the loveliest dog—”
A shout came down the valley, and Lorna’s face was full of terror.
“Do you see that hole?” she cried.
It was a niche in the rock which skirted the meadow. In the fading twilight John could just see it.
The little maid turned white as the snow which hung on the rocks above her, and she looked at the water and then at John. She began to sob aloud, but John drew her behind the bushes and close down to the water. Crouching in that hollow nest they saw a dozen fierce men come down on the other side of the water.
“Queen! Queen!” they were shouting here and there, and now and then. “Where is our little queen gone?”
“They always call me ‘queen,’ and I shall have to be their queen by and by,” Lorna whispered. “Oh, they are crossing, and they are sure to see us.”
“I must get down into the water,” said John, “and you must go to sleep.”
She saw in a moment how to do it, and there was no time to lose.
“Now mind you, never come again,” she whispered over her shoulder as she crept away, “only I shall come sometimes.”
John crept into the water and lay down with his head between two blocks of stone, and all this time the robbers were shouting so that all the rocks round the valley rang. The boy was desperate between fear and wretchedness till he caught sight of the little maid, but he knew that for her sake he must be brave and hide himself.
Lorna was lying beneath a rock not far away, feigning to be fast asleep. Presently one of the robbers came upon her, and he stopped and gazed awhile at her fairness and innocence. Then he caught her up in his arms and kissed her.
“Here our queen is! Here’s the captain’s daughter,” he shouted, “fast asleep.”
He set her dainty little form upon his great square shoulder, and her narrow feet in one broad hand; and so he marched away with the purple velvet of her skirt ruffling his long black beard, and the silken length of her hair fetched out, like a cloud of the wind behind her.
John crept into a bush for warmth, and then, as daylight sank beneath the forget-me-not of stars, he knew that it was time to get away, and he managed to crawl from the bank to the niche in the cliff that Lorna had shown him. How he climbed up, and crossed the clearing, and found his way home across the Bagworthy forest was more than he could remember afterward, because of his weariness.
All the supper was in, and the men sitting at the white table with Annie and Lizzie near by—and all were eager to begin, save only the mother. John was of a mind to stay out in the dark by the woodstack, being so late, but the way his mother was looking out of the doorway got the better of him, so he went inside and ate his supper, and held his tongue as to where he had been all day and evening. But if he had been of a mind he could have told them many things.
Richard D. Blackmore.
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Bailey, Carolyn Sherwin. 2018. For the Story Teller: Story Telling and Stories to Tell. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58107/58107-h/58107-h.htm#Page_68
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