‘But,’ said I, being much amused by a Londoner’s brave, yet uncertain, use of simplest rural metaphors, for he had wholly forgotten the winnowing: ‘surely if I bushel up, even when you tell me, I must take half- measure.’

‘So you shall, my boy,’ he answered, ‘if we can only cheat those confounded knaves of Equity. You shall take the beauty, my son, and the elegance, and the love, and all that—and, my boy, I will take the money.’

This he said in a way so dry, and yet so richly unctuous, that being gifted somehow by God, with a kind of sense of queerness, I fell back in my chair, and laughed, though the underside of my laugh was tears.

‘Now, Jeremy, how if I refuse to keep this half as tight as wax. You bound me to no such partnership, before you told the story; and I am not sure, by any means, of your right to do so afterwards.’

‘Tush!’ he replied: ‘I know you too well, to look for meanness in you. If from pure goodwill, John Ridd, and anxiety to relieve you, I made no condition precedent, you are not the man to take advantage, as a lawyer might. I do not even want your promise. As sure as I hold this glass, and drink your health and love in another drop (forced on me by pathetic words), so surely will you be bound to me, until I do release you. Tush! I know men well by this time: a mere look of trust from one is worth another’s ten thousand oaths.’

‘Jeremy, you are right,’ I answered; ‘at least as regards the issue. Although perhaps you were not right in leading me into a bargain like this, without my own consent or knowledge. But supposing that we should both be shot in this grand attack on the valley (for I mean to go with you now, heart and soul), is Lorna to remain untold of that which changes all her life?’

‘Both shot!’ cried Jeremy Stickles: ‘my goodness, boy, talk not like that! And those Doones are cursed good shots too. Nay, nay, the yellows shall go in front; we attack on the Somerset side, I think. I from a hill will reconnoitre, as behoves a general, you shall stick behind a tree, if we can only find one big enough to hide you. You and I to be shot, John Ridd, with all this inferior food for powder anxious to be devoured?’

I laughed, for I knew his cool hardihood, and never-flinching courage; and sooth to say no coward would have dared to talk like that.

‘But when one comes to think of it,’ he continued, smiling at himself; ‘some provision should be made for even that unpleasant chance. I will leave the whole in writing, with orders to be opened, etc., etc.—Now no more of that, my boy; a cigarro after schnapps, and go to meet my yellow boys.’

His ‘yellow boys,’ as he called the Somersetshire trained bands, were even now coming down the valley from the London Road, as every one since I went up to town, grandly entitled the lane to the moors. There was one good point about these men, that having no discipline at all, they made pretence to none whatever. Nay, rather they ridiculed the thing, as below men of any spirit. On the other hand, Master Stickles’s troopers looked down on these native fellows from a height which I hope they may never tumble, for it would break the necks of all of them.

Now these fine natives came along, singing, for their very lives, a song the like of which set down here would oust my book from modest people, and make everybody say, ‘this man never can have loved Lorna.’ Therefore, the less of that the better; only I thought, ‘what a difference from the goodly psalms of the ale house!’

Having finished their canticle, which contained more mirth than melody, they drew themselves up, in a sort of way supposed by them to be military, each man with heel and elbow struck into those of his neighbour, and saluted the King’s Commissioner. ‘Why, where are your officers?’ asked Master Stickles; ‘how is it that you have no officers?’ Upon this there arose a general grin, and a knowing look passed along

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