‘They are the Doones of Bagworthy forest, may it please your worship. And we reckon there be about forty of them, beside the women and children.’

‘Forty Doones, all forty thieves! and women and children! Thunder of God! How long have they been there then?’

‘They may have been there thirty years, my lord; and indeed they may have been forty. Before the great war broke out they came, longer back than I can remember.’

‘Ay, long before thou wast born, John. Good, thou speakest plainly. Woe betide a liar, whenso I get hold of him. Ye want me on the Western Circuit; by God, and ye shall have me, when London traitors are spun and swung. There is a family called De Whichehalse living very nigh thee, John?’

This he said in a sudden manner, as if to take me off my guard, and fixed his great thick eyes on me. And in truth I was much astonished.

‘Yes, my lord, there is. At least, not so very far from us. Baron de Whichehalse, of Ley Manor.’

‘Baron, ha! of the Exchequer—eh, lad? And taketh dues instead of His Majesty. Somewhat which halts there ought to come a little further, I trow. It shall be seen to, as well as the witch which makes it so to halt. Riotous knaves in West England, drunken outlaws, you shall dance, if ever I play pipe for you. John Ridd, I will come to Oare parish, and rout out the Oare of Babylon.’

‘Although your worship is so learned,’ I answered seeing that now he was beginning to make things uneasy; ‘your worship, though being Chief Justice, does little justice to us. We are downright good and loyal folk; and I have not seen, since here I came to this great town of London, any who may better us, or even come anigh us, in honesty, and goodness, and duty to our neighbours. For we are very quiet folk, not prating our own virtues—’

‘Enough, good John, enough! Knowest thou not that modesty is the maidenhood of virtue, lost even by her own approval? Now hast thou ever heard or thought that De Whichehalse is in league with the Doones of Bagworthy?’

Saying these words rather slowly, he skewered his great eyes into mine, so that I could not think at all, neither look at him, nor yet away. The idea was so new to me that it set my wits all wandering; and looking into me, he saw that I was groping for the truth.

‘John Ridd, thine eyes are enough for me. I see thou hast never dreamed of it. Now hast thou ever seen a man whose name is Thomas Faggus?’

‘Yes, sir, many and many a time. He is my own worthy cousin; and I fear he that hath intentions’—here I stopped, having no right there to speak about our Annie.

‘Tom Faggus is a good man,’ he said; and his great square face had a smile which showed me he had met my cousin; ‘Master Faggus hath made mistakes as to the title to property, as lawyers oftentimes may do; but take him all for all, he is a thoroughly straightforward man; presents his bill, and has it paid, and makes no charge for drawing it. Nevertheless, we must tax his costs, as of any other solicitor.’

‘To be sure, to be sure, my lord!’ was all that I could say, not understanding what all this meant.

‘I fear he will come to the gallows,’ said the Lord Chief Justice, sinking his voice below the echoes; ‘tell him this from me, Jack. He shall never be condemned before me; but I cannot be everywhere, and some of our Justices may keep short memory of his dinners. Tell him to change his name, turn parson, or do something else, to make it wrong to hang him. Parson is the best thing, he hath such command of features, and he might take his tithes on horseback. Now a few more things, John Ridd; and for the present I have done with thee.’

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