Compelled to Volunteer

There had been some trouble in our own home during the previous autumn, while yet I was in London. For certain noted fugitives from the army of King Monmouth (which he himself had deserted, in a low and currish manner), having failed to obtain free shipment from the coast near Watersmouth, had returned into the wilds of Exmoor, trusting to lurk, and be comforted among the common people. Neither were they disappointed, for a certain length of time; nor in the end was their disappointment caused by fault on our part. Major Wade was one of them; an active and well-meaning man; but prone to fail in courage, upon lasting trial; although in a moment ready. Squire John Whichehalse (not the baron) and Parson Powell1

caught him (two or three months before my return) in Farley farmhouse, near Brendon. He had been up at our house several times; and Lizzie thought a great deal of him. And well I know that if at that time I had been in the neighbourhood, he should not have been taken so easily.

John Birch, the farmer who had sheltered him, was so fearful of punishment, that he hanged himself, in a few days’ time, and even before he was apprehended. But nothing was done to Grace Howe, of Bridgeball, who had been Wade’s greatest comforter; neither was anything done to us; although Eliza had added greatly to mother’s alarm and danger by falling upon Rector Powell, and most soundly rating him for his meanness, and his cruelty, and cowardice, as she called it, in setting men with firearms upon a poor helpless fugitive, and robbing all our neighbourhood of its fame for hospitality. However, by means of Sergeant Bloxham, and his good report of us, as well as by virtue of Wade’s confession (which proved of use to the Government) my mother escaped all penalties.

It is likely enough that good folk will think it hard upon our neighbourhood to be threatened, and sometimes heavily punished, for kindness and humanity; and yet to be left to help ourselves against tyranny, and base rapine. And now at last our gorge was risen, and our hearts in tumult. We had borne our troubles long, as a wise and wholesome chastisement; quite content to have some few things of our own unmeddled with. But what could a man dare to call his own, or what right could he have to wish for it, while he left his wife and children at the pleasure of any stranger?

The people came flocking all around me, at the blacksmith’s forge, and the Brendon alehouse; and I could scarce come out of church, but they got me among the tombstones. They all agreed that I was bound to take command and management. I bade them go to the magistrates, but they said they had been too often. Then I told them that I had no wits for ordering of an armament, although I could find fault enough with the one which had not succeeded. But they would hearken to none of this.

All they said was ‘Try to lead us; and we will try not to run away.’

This seemed to me to be common sense, and good stuff, instead of mere bragging; moreover, I myself was moved by the bitter wrongs of Margery, having known her at the Sunday-school, ere ever I went to Tiverton; and having in those days, serious thoughts of making her my sweetheart; although she was three years my elder. But now I felt this difficulty—the Doones had behaved very well to our farm, and to mother, and all of us, while I was away in London. Therefore, would it not be shabby, and mean, for me to attack them now?

Yet being pressed still harder and harder, as day by day the excitement grew (with more and more talking over it, and no one else coming forward to undertake the business, I agreed at last to this; that if the Doones, upon fair challenge, would not endeavour to make amends by giving up Mistress Margery, as well as the man who had slain the babe, then I would lead the expedition, and do my best to subdue them. All our men were content with this, being thoroughly well assured from experience, that the haughty robbers would only shoot any man who durst approach them with such proposal.

And then arose a difficult question—who was to take the risk of making overtures so unpleasant? I waited for the rest to offer; and as none was ready, the burden fell on me, and seemed to be of my own inviting. Hence I undertook the task, sooner than reason about it; for to give the cause of everything is worse than to go through with it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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