A BOY AND A GIRL
When I came to myself again, my hands were full of
young grass and mould, and a little girl kneeling at my
side was rubbing my forehead tenderly with a dock-leaf
and a handkerchief.
'Oh, I am so glad,' she whispered softly, as I opened
my eyes and looked at her; 'now you will try to be
better, won't you?'
I had never heard so sweet a sound as came from between
her bright red lips, while there she knelt and gazed at
me; neither had I ever seen anything so beautiful as
the large dark eyes intent upon me, full of pity and
wonder. And then, my nature being slow, and perhaps,
for that matter, heavy, I wandered with my hazy eyes
down the black shower of her hair, as to my jaded gaze
it seemed; and where it fell on the turf, among it
(like an early star) was the first primrose of the
season. And since that day I think of her, through all
the rough storms of my life, when I see an early
primrose. Perhaps she liked my countenance, and indeed
I know she did, because she said so afterwards;
although at the time she was too young to know what
made her take to me. Not that I had any beauty, or
ever pretended to have any, only a solid healthy face,
which many girls have laughed at.
Thereupon I sate upright, with my little trident still
in one hand, and was much afraid to speak to her, being
conscious of my country-brogue, lest she should cease
to like me. But she clapped her hands, and made a
trifling dance around my back, and came to me on the
other side, as if I were a great plaything.
'What is your name?' she said, as if she had every
right to ask me; 'and how did you come here, and what
are these wet things in this great bag?'
'You had better let them alone,' I said; 'they are
loaches for my mother. But I will give you some, if
'Dear me, how much you think of them! Why, they are
only fish. But how your feet are bleeding! oh, I must
tie them up for you. And no shoes nor stockings! Is
your mother very poor, poor boy?'
'No,' I said, being vexed at this; 'we are rich enough
to buy all this great meadow, if we chose; and here my
shoes and stockings be.'
'Why, they are quite as wet as your feet; and I cannot
bear to see your feet. Oh, please to let me manage
them; I will do it very softly.'
'Oh, I don't think much of that,' I replied; 'I shall
put some goose-grease to them. 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 that I could see
only her forehead and eyelashes; 'if you please, my
name is Lorna Doone; and I thought you must have known
Then I stood up and touched her hand, and tried to make
her look at me; but she only turned away the more.
Young and harmless as she was, her name alone made
guilt of her. Nevertheless I could not help looking at
her tenderly, and the more when her blushes turned into
tears, and her tears to long, low sobs.
'Don't cry,' I said, 'whatever you do. I am sure you
have never done any harm. I will give you all my fish
Lorna, and catch some more for mother; only don't be
angry with me.'
She flung her little soft arms up in the passion of her
tears, and looked at me so piteously, that what did I
do but kiss her. It seemed to be a very odd thing,
when I came to think of it, because I hated kissing so,
as all honest boys must do. But she touched my heart
with a sudden delight, like a cowslip-blossom (although
there were none to be seen yet), and the sweetest
flowers of spring.
She gave me no encouragement, as my mother in her place
would have done; nay, she even wiped her lips (which
methought was rather rude of her), and drew away, and
smoothed her dress, as if I had used a freedom. Then I
felt my cheeks grow burning red, and I gazed at my legs
and was sorry. For although she was not at all a proud
child (at any rate in her countenance), yet I knew that
she was by birth a thousand years in front of me. They
might have taken and framed me, or (which would be more
to the purpose) my sisters, until it was time for us to
die, and then have trained our children after us, for
many generations; yet never could we have gotten that
look upon our faces which Lorna Doone had naturally, as
if she had been born to it.
Here was I, a yeoman's boy, a yeoman every inch of me,
even where I was naked; and there was she, a lady born,
and thoroughly aware of it, and dressed by people of
rank and taste, who took pride in her beauty and set it
to advantage. For though her hair was fallen down by
reason of her wildness, and some of her frock was
touched with wet where she had tended me so, behold her
dress was pretty enough for the queen of all the
angels. The colours were bright and rich indeed, and
the substance very sumptuous, yet simple and free from
tinsel stuff, and matching most harmoniously. All
from her waist to her neck was white, plaited in close
like a curtain, and the dark soft weeping of her hair,
and the shadowy light of her eyes (like a wood rayed
through with sunset), made it seem yet whiter, as if it
were done on purpose. As for the rest, she knew what
it was a great deal better than I did, for I never
could look far away from her eyes when they were opened
Now, seeing how I heeded her, and feeling that I had
kissed her, although she was such a little girl, eight
years old or thereabouts, she turned to the stream in a
bashful manner, and began to watch the water, and
rubbed one leg against the other.
I, for my part, being vexed at her behaviour to me,
took up all my things to go, and made a fuss about it;
to let her know I was going. But she did not call me
back at all, as I had made sure she would do; moreover,
I knew that to try the descent was almost certain death
to me, and it looked as dark as pitch; and so at the
mouth I turned round again, and came back to her, and
'Oh, I thought you were gone,' she answered; 'why did
you ever come here? Do you know what they would do to
us, if they found you here with me?'
'Beat us, I dare say, very hard; or me, at least. They
could never beat you,'
'No. They would kill us both outright, and bury us
here by the water; and the water often tells me that I
must come to that.'
'But what should they kill me for?'
'Because you have found the way up here, and they never
could believe it. Now, please to go; oh, please to go.
They will kill us both in a moment. Yes, I like you
very much'--for I was teasing her to say it--'very much
indeed, and I will call you John Ridd, if you like;
only please to go, John. And when your feet are well,
you know, you can come and tell me how they are.'
'But I tell you, Lorna, I like you very much
indeed--nearly as much as Annie, and a great deal more
than Lizzie. And I never saw any one like you, and I
must come back again to-morrow, and so must you, to see
me; and I will bring you such lots of things--there
are apples still, and a thrush I caught with only one
leg broken, and our dog has just had puppies--'
'Oh, dear, they won't let me have a dog. There is not
a dog in the valley. They say they are such noisy
'Only put your hand in mine--what little things they
are, Lorna! And I will bring you the loveliest dog; I
will show you just how long he is.'
'Hush!' A shout came down the valley, and all my heart
was trembling, like water after sunset, and Lorna's
face was altered from pleasant play to terror. She
shrank to me, and looked up at me, with such a power of
weakness, that I at once made up my mind to save her or
to die with her. A tingle went through all my bones,
and I only longed for my carbine. The little girl took
courage from me, and put her cheek quite close to mine.
'Come with me down the waterfall. I can carry you
easily; and mother will take care of you.'
'No, no,' she cried, as I took her up: 'I will tell you
what to do. They are only looking for me. You see
that hole, that hole there?'
She pointed to a little niche in the rock which verged
the meadow, about fifty yards away from us. In the
fading of the twilight I could just descry it.
'Yes, I see it; but they will see me crossing the grass
to get there.'
'Look! look!' She could hardly speak. 'There is a way
out from the top of it; they would kill me if I told
it. Oh, here they come, I can see them.'
The little maid turned as white as the snow which hung
on the rocks above her, and she looked at the water and
then at me, and she cried, 'Oh dear! oh dear!' And then
she began to sob aloud, being so young and unready.
But I drew her behind the withy-bushes, and close down
to the water, where it was quiet and shelving deep, ere
it came to the lip of the chasm. Here they could not
see either of us from the upper valley, and might have
sought a long time for us, even when they came quite
near, if the trees had been clad with their summer
clothes. Luckily I had picked up my fish and taken my
three-pronged fork away.
Crouching in that hollow nest, as children get together
in ever so little compass, I saw a dozen fierce men
come down, on the other side of the water, not bearing
any fire-arms, but looking lax and jovial, as if they
were come from riding and a dinner taken hungrily.
'Queen, queen!' they were shouting, here and there, and
now and then: 'where the pest is our little queen
'They always call me "queen," and I am to be queen
by-and-by,' Lorna whispered to me, with her soft cheek
on my rough one, and her little heart beating against
me: 'oh, they are crossing by the timber there, and
then they are sure to see us.'
'Stop,' said I; 'now I see what to do. I must get into
the water, and you must go to sleep.'
'To be sure, yes, away in the meadow there. But how
bitter cold it will be for you!'
She saw in a moment the way to do it, sooner than I
could tell her; and there was no time to lose.
'Now mind you never come again,' she whispered over her
shoulder, as she crept away with a childish twist
hiding her white front from me; 'only I shall come
sometimes--oh, here they are, Madonna!'
Daring scarce to peep, I crept into the water, and lay
down bodily in it, with my head between two blocks of
stone, and some flood-drift combing over me. The dusk
was deepening between the hills, and a white mist lay
on the river; but I, being in the channel of it, could
see every ripple, and twig, and rush, and glazing of
twilight above it, as bright as in a picture; so that
to my ignorance there seemed no chance at all but what
the men must find me. For all this time they were
shouting and swearing, and keeping such a hullabaloo,
that the rocks all round the valley rang, and my heart
quaked, so (what with this and the cold) that the water
began to gurgle round me, and to lap upon the pebbles.
Neither in truth did I try to stop it, being now so
desperate, between the fear and the wretchedness; till
I caught a glimpse of the little maid, whose beauty and
whose kindliness had made me yearn to be with her. And
then I knew that for her sake I was bound to be brave
and hide myself. She was lying beneath a rock, thirty
or forty yards from me, feigning to be fast asleep,
with her dress spread beautifully, and her hair drawn
Presently one of the great rough men came round a
corner upon her; and there he stopped and gazed awhile
at her fairness and her innocence. Then he caught her
up in his arms, and kissed her so that I heard him; and
if I had only brought my gun, I would have tried to
'Here our queen is! Here's the queen, here's the
captain's daughter!' he shouted to his comrades; 'fast
asleep, by God, and hearty! Now I have first claim to
her; and no one else shall touch the child. Back to
the bottle, all of you!'
He set her dainty little form upon his great square
shoulder, and her narrow feet in one broad hand; and so
in triumph marched away, with the purple velvet of her
skirt ruffling in his long black beard, and the silken
length of her hair fetched out, like a cloud by the
wind behind her. This way of her going vexed me so,
that I leaped upright in the water, and must have been
spied by some of them, but for their haste to the
wine-bottle. Of their little queen they took small
notice, being in this urgency; although they had
thought to find her drowned; but trooped away after one
another with kindly challenge to gambling, so far as I
could make them out; and I kept sharp watch, I assure
Going up that darkened glen, little Lorna, riding still
the largest and most fierce of them, turned and put up
a hand to me, and I put up a hand to her, in the thick
of the mist and the willows.
She was gone, my little dear (though tall of her age
and healthy); and when I got over my thriftless fright,
I longed to have more to say to her. Her voice to me
was so different from all I had ever heard before, as
might be a sweet silver bell intoned to the small
chords of a harp. But I had no time to think about
this, if I hoped to have any supper.
I crept into a bush for warmth, and rubbed my shivering
legs on bark, and longed for mother's fagot. Then as
daylight sank below the forget-me-not of stars, with a
sorrow to be quit, I knew that now must be my time to
get away, if there were any.
Therefore, wringing my sodden breaches, I managed to
crawl from the bank to the niche in the cliff which
Lorna had shown me.
Through the dusk I had trouble to see the mouth, at
even the five land-yards of distance; nevertheless, I
entered well, and held on by some dead fern-stems, and
did hope that no one would shoot me.
But while I was hugging myself like this, with a boyish
manner of reasoning, my joy was like to have ended in
sad grief both to myself and my mother, and haply to
all honest folk who shall love to read this history.
For hearing a noise in front of me, and like a coward
not knowing where, but afraid to turn round or think of
it, I felt myself going down some deep passage into a
pit of darkness. It was no good to catch the sides,
the whole thing seemed to go with me. Then, without
knowing how, I was leaning over a night of water.
This water was of black radiance, as are certain
diamonds, spanned across with vaults of rock, and
carrying no image, neither showing marge nor end, but
centred (at it might be) with a bottomless indrawal.
With that chill and dread upon me, and the sheer rock
all around, and the faint light heaving wavily on the
silence of this gulf, I must have lost my wits and gone
to the bottom, if there were any.
But suddenly a robin sang (as they will do after dark,
towards spring) in the brown fern and ivy behind me. I
took it for our little Annie's voice (for she could
call any robin), and gathering quick warm comfort,
sprang up the steep way towards the starlight.
Climbing back, as the stones glid down, I heard the
cold greedy wave go japping, like a blind black dog,
into the distance of arches and hollow depths of