Jeremy finds out Something

‘You know, my son,’ said Jeremy Stickles, with a good pull at his pipe, because he was going to talk so much, and putting his legs well along the settle; ‘it has been my duty, for a wearier time than I care to think of (and which would have been unbearable, except for your great kindness), to search this neighbourhood narrowly, and learn everything about everybody. Now the neighbourhood itself is queer; and people have different ways of thinking from what we are used to in London. For instance now, among your folk, when any piece of news is told, or any man’s conduct spoken of, the very first question that arises in your mind is this—“Was this action kind and good?” Long after that, you say to yourselves, “does the law enjoin or forbid this thing?” Now here is your fundamental error: for among all truly civilised people the foremost of all questions is, “how stands the law herein?” And if the law approve, no need for any further questioning. That this is so, you may take my word: for I know the law pretty thoroughly.

‘Very well; I need not say any more about that, for I have shown that you are all quite wrong. I only speak of this savage tendency, because it explains so many things which have puzzled me among you, and most of all your kindness to men whom you never saw before; which is an utterly illegal thing. It also explains your toleration of these outlaw Doones so long. If your views of law had been correct, and law an element of your lives, these robbers could never have been indulged for so many years amongst you: but you must have abated the nuisance.’

‘Now, Stickles,’ I cried, ‘this is too bad!’ he was delivering himself so grandly. ‘Why you yourself have been amongst us, as the balance, and sceptre, and sword of law, for nigh upon a twelvemonth; and have you abated the nuisance, or even cared to do it, until they began to shoot at you?’

‘My son,’ he replied, ‘your argument is quite beside the purpose, and only tends to prove more clearly that which I have said of you. However, if you wish to hear my story, no more interruptions. I may not have a chance to tell you, perhaps for weeks, or I know not when, if once those yellows and reds arrive, and be blessed to them, the lubbers! Well, it may be six months ago, or it may be seven, at any rate a good while before that cursed frost began, the mere name of which sends a shiver down every bone of my body, when I was riding one afternoon from Dulverton to Watchett’—

‘Dulverton to Watchett!’ I cried. ‘Now what does that remind me of? I am sure, I remember something—’

‘Remember this, John, if anything—that another word from thee, and thou hast no more of mine. Well, I was a little weary perhaps, having been plagued at Dulverton with the grossness of the people. For they would tell me nothing at all about their fellow-townsmen, your worthy Uncle Huckaback, except that he was a God-fearing man, and they only wished I was like him. I blessed myself for a stupid fool, in thinking to have pumped them; for by this time I might have known that, through your Western homeliness, every man in his own country is something more than a prophet. And I felt, of course, that I had done more harm than good by questioning; inasmuch as every soul in the place would run straightway and inform him that the King’s man from the other side of the forest had been sifting out his ways and works.’

‘Ah,’ I cried, for I could not help it; ‘you begin to understand at last, that we are not quite such a set of oafs, as you at first believed us.’

‘I was riding on from Dulverton,’ he resumed, with great severity, yet threatening me no more, which checked me more than fifty threats: ‘and it was late in the afternoon, and I was growing weary. The road (if road it could be called) ‘turned suddenly down from the higher land to the very brink of the sea; and rounding a little jut of cliff, I met the roar of the breakers. My horse was scared, and leaped aside; for a northerly wind was piping, and driving hunks of foam across, as children scatter snow-balls. But he only sank to his fetlocks in the dry sand, piled with pop-weed: and I tried to make him face the waves; and then I looked about me.

‘Watchett town was not to be seen, on account of a little foreland, a mile or more upon my course, and standing to the right of me. There was room enough below the cliffs (which are nothing there to yours, John), for horse and man to get along, although the tide was running high with a northerly gale to back

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