‘Of that you may be quite certain, Lorna. I will shoot them all through the hay-ricks.’

‘That is right, dear,’ she answered, never doubting but what I could do it; ‘and then they cannot see you, you know. But don’t think of climbing that tree, John; it is a great deal too dangerous. It is all very well for Gwenny; she has no bones to break.’

‘None worth breaking, you mean, I suppose. Very well; I will not climb the tree, for I should defeat my own purpose, I fear; being such a conspicuous object. Now go indoors, darling, without more words. The more you linger, the more I shall keep you.’

She laughed her own bright laugh at this, and only said, ‘God keep you, love!’ and then away she tripped across the yard, with the step I loved to watch so. And thereupon I shouldered arms, and resolved to tramp till morning. For I was vexed at my own neglect, and that Lorna should have to right it.

But before I had been long on duty, making the round of the ricks and stables, and hailing Gwenny now and then from the bottom of her tree, a short wide figure stole towards me, in and out the shadows, and I saw that it was no other than the little maid herself, and that she bore some tidings.

‘Ten on ‘em crossed the watter down yonner,’ said Gwenny, putting her hand to her mouth, and seeming to regard it as good news rather than otherwise: ‘be arl craping up by hedgerow now. I could shutt dree on ‘em from the bar of the gate, if so be I had your goon, young man.’

‘There is no time to lose, Gwenny. Run to the house and fetch Master Stickles, and all the men; while I stay here, and watch the rick-yard.’

Perhaps I was wrong in heeding the ricks at such a time as that; especially as only the clover was of much importance. But it seemed to me like a sort of triumph that they should be even able to boast of having fired our mow-yard. Therefore I stood in a nick of the clover, whence we had cut some trusses, with my club in hand, and gun close by.

The robbers rode into our yard as coolly as if they had been invited, having lifted the gate from the hinges first on account of its being fastened. Then they actually opened our stable-doors, and turned our honest horses out, and put their own rogues in the place of them. At this my breath was quite taken away; for we think so much of our horses. By this time I could see our troopers, waiting in the shadow of the house, round the corner from where the Doones were, and expecting the order to fire. But Jeremy Stickles very wisely kept them in readiness, until the enemy should advance upon them.

‘Two of you lazy fellows go,’ it was the deep voice of Carver Doone, ‘and make us a light, to cut their throats by. Only one thing, once again. If any man touches Lorna, I will stab him where he stands. She belongs to me. There are two other young damsels here, whom you may take away if you please. And the mother, I hear, is still comely. Now for our rights. We have borne too long the insolence of these yokels. Kill every man, and every child, and burn the cursed place down.’

As he spoke thus blasphemously, I set my gun against his breast; and by the light buckled from his belt, I saw the little ‘sight’ of brass gleaming alike upon either side, and the sleek round barrel glimmering. The aim was sure as death itself. If I only drew the trigger (which went very lighily) Carver Doone would breathe no more. And yet—will you believe me?—I could not pull the trigger. Would to God that I had done so!

For I never had taken human life, neither done bodily harm to man; beyond the little bruises, and the trifling aches and pains, which follow a good and honest bout in the wrestling ring. Therefore I dropped my carbine, and grasped again my club, which seemed a more straight-forward implement.

Presently two young men came towards me, bearing brands of resined hemp, kindled from Carver’s lamp. The foremost of them set his torch to the rick within a yard of me, and smoke concealing me from

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