‘Not so,’ I replied, misliking the job, ‘all I promised was to go, if this house were assured against any onslaught of the Doones.’

‘Just so; and here is that assurance.’ With these words she drew forth a paper, and laid it on my knee with triumph, enjoying my amazement. This, as you may suppose was great; not only at the document, but also at her possession of it. For in truth it was no less than a formal undertaking, on the part of the Doones, not to attack Plover’s Barrows farm, or molest any of the inmates, or carry off any chattels, during the absence of John Ridd upon a special errand. This document was signed not only by the Counsellor, but by many other Doones: whether Carver’s name were there, I could not say for certain; as of course he would not sign it under his name of ‘Carver,’ and I had never heard Lorna say to what (if any) he had been baptized.

In the face of such a deed as this, I could no longer refuse to go; and having received my promise, Annie told me (as was only fair) how she had procured that paper. It was both a clever and courageous act; and would have seemed to me, at first sight, far beyond Annie’s power. But none may gauge a woman’s power, when her love and faith are moved.

The first thing Annie had done was this: she made herself look ugly. This was not an easy thing; but she had learned a great deal from her husband, upon the subject of disguises. It hurt her feelings not a little to make so sad a fright of herself; but what could it matter?—if she lost Tom, she must be a far greater fright in earnest, than now she was in seeming. And then she left her child asleep, under Betty Muxworthy’s tendance—for Betty took to that child, as if there never had been a child before—and away she went in her own ‘spring-cart’ (as the name of that engine proved to be), without a word to any one, except the old man who had driven her from Molland parish that morning, and who coolly took one of our best horses, without ‘by your leave’ to any one.

Annie made the old man drive her within easy reach of the Doone-gate, whose position she knew well enough, from all our talk about it. And there she bade the old man stay, until she should return to him. Then with her comely figure hidden by a dirty old woman’s cloak, and her fair young face defaced by patches and by liniments, so that none might covet her, she addressed the young man at the gate in a cracked and trembling voice; and they were scarcely civil to the ‘old hag,’ as they called her. She said that she bore important tidings for Sir Counsellor himself, and must be conducted to him. To him accordingly she was led, without even any hoodwinking, for she had spectacles over her eyes, and made believe not to see ten yards.

She found Sir Counsellor at home, and when the rest were out of sight, threw off all disguise to him, flashing forth as a lovely young woman, from all her wraps and disfigurements. She flung her patches on the floor, amid the old man’s laughter, and let her tucked-up hair come down; and then went up and kissed him.

‘Worthy and reverend Counsellor, I have a favour to ask,’ she began.

‘So I should think from your proceedings,’—the old man interrupted—’ah, if I were half my age’—

‘If you were, I would not sue so. But most excellent Counsellor, you owe me some amends, you know, for the way in which you robbed me.’

‘Beyond a doubt I do, my dear. You have put it rather strongly; and it might offend some people. Nevertheless I own my debt, having so fair a creditor.’

‘And do you remember how you slept, and how much we made of you, and would have seen you home, sir; only you did not wish it?’

‘And for excellent reasons, child. My best escort was in my cloak, after we made the cream to rise. Ha, ha! The unholy spell. My pretty child, has it injured you?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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