The young man started in his saddle, let the horn fall on the horse-steps, and gazed all around in wonder; while as for Annie, she turned like a ghost, and tried to slam the door, but failed through the violence of her trembling; (for never till now had any one heard it so close at hand as you might say) or in the mere fall of the twilight. And by this time there was no man, at least in our parish, but knew—for the Parson himself had told us so—that it was the devil groaning because the Doones were too many for him.

Marwood de Whichehalse was not so alarmed but what he saw a fine opportunity. He leaped from his horse, and laid hold of dear Annie in a highly comforting manner; and she never would tell us about it (being so shy and modest), whether in breathing his comfort to her he tried to take some from her pure lips. I hope he did not, because that to me would seem not the deed of a gentleman, and he was of good old family.

At this very moment, who should come into the end of the passage upon them but the heavy writer of these doings I, John Ridd myself, and walking the faster, it may be, on account of the noise I mentioned. I entered the house with some wrath upon me at seeing the gazehounds in the yard; for it seems a cruel thing to me to harass the birds in the breeding-time. And to my amazement there I saw Squire Marwood among the milk-pans with his arm around our Annie’s waist, and Annie all blushing and coaxing him off, for she was not come to scold yet.

Perhaps I was wrong; God knows, and if I was, no doubt I shall pay for it; but I gave him the flat of my hand on his head, and down he went in the thick of the milk-pans. He would have had my fist, I doubt, but for having been at school with me; and after that it is like enough he would never have spoken another word. As it was, he lay stunned, with the cream running on him; while I took poor Annie up and carried her in to mother, who had heard the noise and was frightened.

Concerning this matter I asked no more, but held myself ready to bear it out in any form convenient, feeling that I had done my duty, and cared not for the consequence; only for several days dear Annie seemed frightened rather than grateful. But the oddest result of it was that Eliza, who had so despised me, and made very rude verses about me, now came trying to sit on my knee, and kiss me, and give me the best of the pan. However, I would not allow it, because I hate sudden changes.

Another thing also astonished me—namely, a beautiful letter from Marwood de Whichehalse himself (sent by a groom soon afterwards), in which he apologised to me, as if I had been his equal, for his rudeness to my sister, which was not intended in the least, but came of their common alarm at the moment, and his desire to comfort her. Also he begged permission to come and see me, as an old schoolfellow, and set everything straight between us, as should be among honest Blundellites.

All this was so different to my idea of fighting out a quarrel, when once it is upon a man, that I knew not what to make of it, but bowed to higher breeding. Only one thing I resolved upon, that come when he would he should not see Annie. And to do my sister justice, she had no desire to see him.

However, I am too easy, there is no doubt of that, being very quick to forgive a man, and very slow to suspect, unless he hath once lied to me. Moreover, as to Annie, it had always seemed to me (much against my wishes) that some shrewd love of a waiting sort was between her and Tom Faggus: and though Tom had made his fortune now, and everybody respected him, of course he was not to be compared, in that point of respectability, with those people who hanged the robbers when fortune turned against them.

So young Squire Marwood came again, as though I had never smitten him, and spoke of it in as light a way as if we were still at school together. It was not in my nature, of course, to keep any anger against him; and I knew what a condescension it was for him to visit us. And it is a very grievous thing, which touches small landowners, to see an ancient family day by day decaying: and when we heard that Ley Barton itself, and all the Manor of Lynton were under a heavy mortgage debt to John Lovering of Weare- Gifford, there was not much, in our little way, that we would not gladly do or suffer for the benefit of De Whichehalse.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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