A Visit from the Counsellor

Now while I was riding home that evening, with a tender conscience about Ruth, although not a wounded one, I guessed but little that all my thoughts were needed much for my own affairs. So however it proved to be; for as I came in, soon after dark, my sister Eliza met me at the corner of the cheese-room, and she said, ‘Don’t go in there, John,’ pointing to mother’s room; ‘until I have had a talk with you.’

‘In the name of Moses,’ I inquired, having picked up that phrase at Dulverton; ‘what are you at about me now? There is no peace for a quiet fellow.’

‘It is nothing we are at,’ she answered; ‘neither may you make light of it. It is something very important about Mistress Lorna Doone.’

‘Let us have it at once,’ I cried; ‘I can bear anything about Lorna, except that she does not care for me.’

‘It has nothing to do with that, John. And I am quite sure that you never need fear anything of that sort. She perfectly wearies me sometimes, although her voice is so soft and sweet, about your endless perfections.’

‘Bless her little heart!’ I said; ‘the subject is inexhaustible.’

‘No doubt ‘ replied Lizzie, in the driest manner; ‘especially to your sisters. However this is no time to joke. I fear you will get the worst of it, John. Do you know a man of about Gwenny’s shape, nearly as broad as he is long, but about six times the size of Gwenny, and with a length of snow-white hair, and a thickness also; as the copses were last winter. He never can comb it, that is quite certain, with any comb yet invented.’

‘Then you go and offer your services. There are few things you cannot scarify. I know the man from your description, although I have never seen him. Now where is my Lorna? ‘

‘Your Lorna is with Annie, having a good cry, I believe; and Annie too glad to second her. She knows that this great man is here, and knows that he wants to see her. But she begged to defer the interview, until dear John’s return.’

‘What a nasty way you have of telling the very commonest piece of news!’ I said, on purpose to pay her out. ‘What man will ever fancy you, you unlucky little snapper? Now, no more nursery talk for me. I will go and settle this business. You had better go and dress your dolls; if you can give them clothes unpoisoned.’ Hereupon Lizzie burst into a perfect roar of tears; feeling that she had the worst of it. And I took her up, and begged her pardon; although she scarcely deserved it; for she knew that I was out of luck, and she might have spared her satire.

I was almost sure that the man who was come must be the Counsellor himself; of whom I felt much keener fear than of his son Carver. And knowing that his visit boded ill to me and Lorna, I went and sought my dear; and led her with a heavy heart, from the maiden’s room to mother’s, to meet our dreadful visitor.

Mother was standing by the door, making curtseys now and then, and listening to a long harangue upon the rights of state and land, which the Counsellor (having found that she was the owner of her property, and knew nothing of her title to it) was encouraged to deliver it. My dear mother stood gazing at him, spell-bound by his eloquence, and only hoping that he would stop. He was shaking his hair upon his shoulders, in the power of his words, and his wrath at some little thing, which he declared to be quite illegal.

Then I ventured to show myself, in the flesh, before him; although he feigned not to see me; but he advanced with zeal to Lorna; holding out both hands at once.

‘My darling child, my dearest niece; how wonderfully well you look! Mistress Ridd, I give you credit. This is the country of good things. I never would have believed our Queen could have looked so royal. Surely

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