‘Things are changed since you were in town. The Whigs are getting up again, through the folly of the Tories killing poor Lord Russell; and now this Master Sidney (if my Lord condemns him) will make it worse again. There is much disaffection everywhere, and it must grow to an outbreak. The King hath many troops in London, and meaneth to bring more from Tangier; but he cannot command these country places; and the trained bands cannot help him much, even if they would. Now, do you understand me, John?’

‘In truth, not I. I see not what Tangier hath to do with Exmoor; nor the Duke of Monmouth with Jeremy Stickles.’

‘Thou great clod, put it the other way. Jeremy Stickles may have much to do about the Duke of Monmouth. The Whigs having failed of Exclusion, and having been punished bitterly for the blood they shed, are ripe for any violence. And the turn of the balance is now to them. See-saw is the fashion of England always; and the Whigs will soon be the top-sawyers.’

‘But,’ said I, still more confused, ‘“The King is the top-sawyer,” according to our proverb. How then can the Whigs be?’

‘Thou art a hopeless ass, John. Better to sew with a chestnut than to teach thee the constitution. Let it be so, let it be. I have seen a boy of five years old more apt at politics than thou. Nay, look not offended, lad. It is my fault for being over-deep to thee. I should have considered thy intellect.’

‘Nay, Master Jeremy, make no apologies. It is I that should excuse myself; but, God knows, I have no politics.’

‘Stick to that, my lad,’ he answered; ‘so shalt thou die easier. Now, in ten words (without parties, or trying thy poor brain too much), I am here to watch the gathering of a secret plot, not so much against the King as against the due succession.’

‘Now I understand at last. But, Master Stickles, you might have said all that an hour ago almost.’

‘It would have been better, if I had, to thee,’ he replied with much compassion; ‘thy hat is nearly off thy head with the swelling of brain I have given thee. Blows, blows, are thy business, Jack. There thou art in thine element. And, haply, this business will bring thee plenty even for thy great head to take. Now hearken to one who wishes thee well, and plainly sees the end of it—stick thou to the winning side, and have naught to do with the other one.’

‘That,’ said I, in great haste and hurry, ‘is the very thing I want to do, if I only knew which was the winning side, for the sake of Lorna—that is to say, for the sake of my dear mother and sisters, and the farm.’

‘Ha!’ cried Jeremy Stickles, laughing at the redness of my face—’Lorna, saidst thou; now what Lorna? Is it the name of a maiden, or a light-o’-love?’

‘Keep to your own business,’ I answered, very proudly; ‘spy as much as e’er thou wilt, and use our house for doing it, without asking leave or telling; but if I ever find thee spying into my affairs, all the King’s lifeguards in London, and the dragoons thou bringest hither, shall not save thee from my hand—or one finger is enough for thee.’

Being carried beyond myself by his insolence about Lorna, I looked at Master Stickles so, and spake in such a voice, that all his daring courage and his spotless honour quailed within him, and he shrank—as if I would strike so small a man.

Then I left him, and went to work at the sacks upon the corn-floor, to take my evil spirit from me before I should see mother. For (to tell the truth) now my strength was full, and troubles were gathering round me, and people took advantage so much of my easy temper, sometimes when I was over-tried, a sudden heat ran over me, and a glowing of all my muscles, and a tingling for a mighty throw, such as my utmost

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