From Tiverton town to the town of Oare is a very long and
painful road, and in good truth the traveller must make his way, as
the saying is; for the way is still unmade, at least, on this side
of Dulverton, although there is less danger now than in the time of
my schooling; for now a good horse may go there without much cost
of leaping, but when I was a boy the spurs would fail, when needed
most, by reason of the slough-cake. It is to the credit of this
age, and our advance upon fatherly ways, that now we have laid down
rods and fagots, and even stump-oaks here and there, so that a man
in good daylight need not sink, if he be quite sober. There is
nothing I have striven at more than doing my duty, way-warden over
But in those days, when I came from school (and good times they
were, too, full of a warmth and fine hearth-comfort, which now are
dying out), it was a sad and sorry business to find where lay the
highway. We are taking now to mark it off with a fence on either
side, at least, when a town is handy; but to me his seems of a high
pretence, and a sort of landmark, and channel for robbers, though
well enough near London, where they have earned a race-course.
We left the town of the two fords, which they say is the meaning
of it, very early in the morning, after lying one day to rest, as
was demanded by the nags, sore of foot and foundered. For my part,
too, I was glad to rest, having aches all over me, and very heavy
bruises; and we lodged at the sign of the White Horse Inn, in the
street called Gold Street, opposite where the souls are of John and
Joan Greenway, set up in gold letters, because we must take the
homeward way at cockcrow of the morning. Though still John Fry was
dry with me of the reason of his coming, and only told lies about
father, and could not keep them agreeable, I hoped for the best, as
all boys will, especially after a victory. And I thought, perhaps
father had sent for me because he had a good harvest, and the rats
were bad in the corn-chamber.
It was high noon before we were got to Dulverton that day, near
to which town the river Exe and its big brother Barle have union.
My mother had an uncle living there, but we were not to visit his
house this time, at which I was somewhat astonished, since we needs
must stop for at least two hours, to bait our horses thorough well,
before coming to the black bogway. The bogs are very good in frost,
except where the hot-springs rise; but as yet there had been no
frost this year, save just enough to make the blackbirds look big
in the morning. In a hearty black-frost they look small, until the
snow falls over them.
The road from Bampton to Dulverton had not been very delicate,
yet nothing to complain of much—no deeper, indeed, than the hocks
of a horse, except in the rotten places. The day was inclined to be
mild and foggy, and both nags sweated freely; but Peggy carrying
little weight (for my wardrobe was upon Smiler, and John Fry
grumbling always), we could easily keep in front, as far as you may
hear a laugh.
John had been rather bitter with me, which methought was a mark
of ill taste at coming home for the holidays; and yet I made
allowance for John, because he had never been at school, and never
would have chance to eat fry upon condition of spelling it;
therefore I rode on, thinking that he was hard-set, like a saw, for
his dinner, and would soften after tooth-work. And yet at his most
hungry times, when his mind was far gone upon bacon, certes he
seemed to check himself and look at me as if he were sorry for
little things coming over great.
But now, at Dulverton, we dined upon the rarest and choicest
victuals that ever I did taste. Even now, at my time of life, to
think of it gives me appetite, as once and awhile to think of my
first love makes me love all goodness. Hot mutton pasty was a thing
I had often heard of from very wealthy boys and men, who made a
dessert of dinner; and to hear them talk of it made my lips smack,
and my ribs come inwards.
And now John Fry strode into the hostel, with the air and grace
of a short-legged man, and shouted as loud as if he was calling
sheep upon Exmoor,—
'Hot mooton pasty for twoo trarv'lers, at number vaive, in vaive
minnits! Dish un up in the tin with the grahvy, zame as I hardered
Of course it did not come in five minutes, nor yet in ten or
twenty; but that made it all the better when it came to the real
presence; and the smell of it was enough to make an empty man thank
God for the room there was inside him. Fifty years have passed me
quicker than the taste of that gravy.
It is the manner of all good boys to be careless of apparel, and
take no pride in adornment. Good lack, if I see a boy make to do
about the fit of his crumpler, and the creasing of his breeches,
and desire to be shod for comeliness rather than for use, I cannot
'scape the mark that God took thought to make a girl of him. Not so
when they grow older, and court the regard of the maidens; then may
the bravery pass from the inside to the outside of them; and no
bigger fools are they, even then, than their fathers were before
them. But God forbid any man to be a fool to love, and be loved, as
I have been. Else would he have prevented it.
When the mutton pasty was done, and Peggy and Smiler had dined
well also, out I went to wash at the pump, being a lover of soap
and water, at all risk, except of my dinner. And John Fry, who
cared very little to wash, save Sabbath days in his own soap, and
who had kept me from the pump by threatening loss of the dish, out
he came in a satisfied manner, with a piece of quill in his hand,
to lean against a door-post, and listen to the horses feeding, and
have his teeth ready for supper.
Then a lady's-maid came out, and the sun was on her face, and
she turned round to go back again; but put a better face upon it,
and gave a trip and hitched her dress, and looked at the sun full
body, lest the hostlers should laugh that she was losing her
complexion. With a long Italian glass in her fingers very daintily,
she came up to the pump in the middle of the yard, where I was
running the water off all my head and shoulders, and arms, and some
of my breast even, and though I had glimpsed her through the
sprinkle, it gave me quite a turn to see her, child as I was, in my
open aspect. But she looked at me, no whit abashed, making a baby
of me, no doubt, as a woman of thirty will do, even with a very big
boy when they catch him on a hayrick, and she said to me in a
brazen manner, as if I had been nobody, while I was shrinking
behind the pump, and craving to get my shirt on, 'Good leetle boy,
come hither to me. Fine heaven! how blue your eyes are, and your
skin like snow; but some naughty man has beaten it black. Oh,
leetle boy, let me feel it. Ah, how then it must have hurt you!
There now, and you shall love me.'
All this time she was touching my breast, here and there, very
lightly, with her delicate brown fingers, and I understood from her
voice and manner that she was not of this country, but a foreigner
by extraction. And then I was not so shy of her, because I could
talk better English than she; and yet I longed for my jerkin, but
liked not to be rude to her.
'If you please, madam, I must go. John Fry is waiting by the
tapster's door, and Peggy neighing to me. If you please, we must
get home to-night; and father will be waiting for me this side of
'There, there, you shall go, leetle dear, and perhaps I will go
after you. I have taken much love of you. But the baroness is hard
to me. How far you call it now to the bank of the sea at
'At Watchett, likely you mean, madam. Oh, a very long way, and
the roads as soft as the road to Oare.'
'Oh-ah, oh-ah—I shall remember; that is the place where my
leetle boy live, and some day I will come seek for him. Now make
the pump to flow, my dear, and give me the good water. The baroness
will not touch unless a nebule be formed outside the glass.'
I did not know what she meant by that; yet I pumped for her very
heartily, and marvelled to see her for fifty times throw the water
away in the trough, as if it was not good enough. At last the water
suited her, with a likeness of fog outside the glass, and the gleam
of a crystal under it, and then she made a curtsey to me, in a sort
of mocking manner, holding the long glass by the foot, not to take
the cloud off; and then she wanted to kiss me; but I was out of
breath, and have always been shy of that work, except when I come
to offer it; and so I ducked under the pump-handle, and she knocked
her chin on the knob of it; and the hostlers came out, and asked
whether they would do as well.
Upon this, she retreated up the yard, with a certain dark
dignity, and a foreign way of walking, which stopped them at once
from going farther, because it was so different from the fashion of
their sweethearts. One with another they hung back, where half a
cart-load of hay was, and they looked to be sure that she would not
turn round; and then each one laughed at the rest of them.
Now, up to the end of Dulverton town, on the northward side of
it, where the two new pig-sties be, the Oare folk and the Watchett
folk must trudge on together, until we come to a broken cross,
where a murdered man lies buried. Peggy and Smiler went up the
hill, as if nothing could be too much for them, after the beans
they had eaten, and suddenly turning a corner of trees, we happened
upon a great coach and six horses labouring very heavily. John Fry
rode on with his hat in his hand, as became him towards the
quality; but I was amazed to that degree, that I left my cap on my
head, and drew bridle without knowing it.
For in the front seat of the coach, which was half-way open,
being of the city-make, and the day in want of air, sate the
foreign lady, who had met me at the pump and offered to salute me.
By her side was a little girl, dark-haired and very wonderful, with
a wealthy softness on her, as if she must have her own way. I could
not look at her for two glances, and she did not look at me for
one, being such a little child, and busy with the hedges. But in
the honourable place sate a handsome lady, very warmly dressed, and
sweetly delicate of colour. And close to her was a lively child,
two or it may be three years old, bearing a white cockade in his
hat, and staring at all and everybody. Now, he saw Peggy, and took
such a liking to her, that the lady his mother—if so she were—was
forced to look at my pony and me. And, to tell the truth, although
I am not of those who adore the high folk, she looked at us very
kindly, and with a sweetness rarely found in the women who milk the
cows for us.
Then I took off my cap to the beautiful lady, without asking
wherefore; and she put up her hand and kissed it to me, thinking,
perhaps, that I looked like a gentle and good little boy; for folk
always called me innocent, though God knows I never was that. But
now the foreign lady, or lady's maid, as it might be, who had been
busy with little dark eyes, turned upon all this going-on, and
looked me straight in the face. I was about to salute her, at a
distance, indeed, and not with the nicety she had offered to me,
but, strange to say, she stared at my eyes as if she had never seen
me before, neither wished to see me again. At this I was so
startled, such things beings out of my knowledge, that I startled
Peggy also with the muscle of my legs, and she being fresh from
stable, and the mire scraped off with cask-hoop, broke away so
suddenly that I could do no more than turn round and lower my cap,
now five months old, to the beautiful lady. Soon I overtook John
Fry, and asked him all about them, and how it was that we had
missed their starting from the hostel. But John would never talk
much till after a gallon of cider; and all that I could win out of
him was that they were 'murdering Papishers,' and little he cared
to do with them, or the devil, as they came from. And a good thing
for me, and a providence, that I was gone down Dulverton town to
buy sweetstuff for Annie, else my stupid head would have gone
astray with their great out-coming.
We saw no more of them after that, but turned into the sideway;
and soon had the fill of our hands and eyes to look to our own
going. For the road got worse and worse, until there was none at
all, and perhaps the purest thing it could do was to be ashamed to
show itself. But we pushed on as best we might, with doubt of
reaching home any time, except by special grace of God.
The fog came down upon the moors as thick as ever I saw it; and
there was no sound of any sort, nor a breath of wind to guide us.
The little stubby trees that stand here and there, like bushes with
a wooden leg to them, were drizzled with a mess of wet, and hung
their points with dropping. Wherever the butt-end of a hedgerow
came up from the hollow ground, like the withers of a horse, holes
of splash were pocked and pimpled in the yellow sand of coneys, or
under the dwarf tree's ovens. But soon it was too dark to see that,
or anything else, I may say, except the creases in the dusk, where
prisoned light crept up the valleys.
After awhile even that was gone, and no other comfort left us
except to see our horses' heads jogging to their footsteps, and the
dark ground pass below us, lighter where the wet was; and then the
splash, foot after foot, more clever than we can do it, and the
orderly jerk of the tail, and the smell of what a horse is.
John Fry was bowing forward with sleep upon his saddle, and now
I could no longer see the frizzle of wet upon his beard—for he had
a very brave one, of a bright red colour, and trimmed into a
whale-oil knot, because he was newly married—although that comb of
hair had been a subject of some wonder to me, whether I, in God's
good time, should have the like of that, handsomely set with
shining beads, small above and large below, from the weeping of the
heaven. But still I could see the jog of his hat—a Sunday hat with
a top to it—and some of his shoulder bowed out in the mist, so that
one could say 'Hold up, John,' when Smiler put his foot in. 'Mercy
of God! where be us now?' said John Fry, waking suddenly; 'us ought
to have passed hold hash, Jan. Zeen it on the road, have 'ee?'
'No indeed, John; no old ash. Nor nothing else to my knowing;
nor heard nothing, save thee snoring.'
'Watt a vule thee must be then, Jan; and me myzell no better.
Harken, lad, harken!'
We drew our horses up and listened, through the thickness of the
air, and with our hands laid to our ears. At first there was
nothing to hear, except the panting of the horses and the trickle
of the eaving drops from our head-covers and clothing, and the soft
sounds of the lonely night, that make us feel, and try not to
think. Then there came a mellow noise, very low and mournsome, not
a sound to be afraid of, but to long to know the meaning, with a
soft rise of the hair. Three times it came and went again, as the
shaking of a thread might pass away into the distance; and then I
touched John Fry to know that there was something near me.
'Doon't 'e be a vule, Jan! Vaine moozick as iver I 'eer. God
bless the man as made un doo it.'
'Have they hanged one of the Doones then, John?'
'Hush, lad; niver talk laike o' thiccy. Hang a Doone! God
knoweth, the King would hang pretty quick if her did.'
'Then who is it in the chains, John?'
I felt my spirit rise as I asked; for now I had crossed Exmoor
so often as to hope that the people sometimes deserved it, and
think that it might be a lesson to the rogues who unjustly loved
the mutton they were never born to. But, of course, they were born
to hanging, when they set themselves so high.
'It be nawbody,' said John, 'vor us to make a fush about. Belong
to t'other zide o' the moor, and come staling shape to our zide.
Red Jem Hannaford his name. Thank God for him to be hanged, lad;
and good cess to his soul for craikin' zo.'
So the sound of the quiet swinging led us very modestly, as it
came and went on the wind, loud and low pretty regularly, even as
far as the foot of the gibbet where the four cross-ways are.
'Vamous job this here,' cried John, looking up to be sure of it,
because there were so many; 'here be my own nick on the post. Red
Jem, too, and no doubt of him; he do hang so handsome like, and his
ribs up laike a horse a'most. God bless them as discoovered the way
to make a rogue so useful. Good-naight to thee, Jem, my lad; and
not break thy drames with the craikin'.'
John Fry shook his bridle-arm, and smote upon Smiler merrily, as
he jogged into the homeward track from the guiding of the body. But
I was sorry for Red Jem, and wanted to know more about him, and
whether he might not have avoided this miserable end, and what his
wife and children thought of it, if, indeed, he had any.
But John would talk no more about it; and perhaps he was moved
with a lonesome feeling, as the creaking sound came after us.
'Hould thee tongue, lad,' he said sharply; 'us be naigh the
Doone-track now, two maile from Dunkery Beacon hill, the haighest
place of Hexmoor. So happen they be abroad to-naight, us must crawl
on our belly-places, boy.'
I knew at once what he meant—those bloody Doones of Bagworthy,
the awe of all Devon and Somerset, outlaws, traitors, murderers. My
little legs began to tremble to and fro upon Peggy's sides, as I
heard the dead robber in chains behind us, and thought of the live
ones still in front.
'But, John,' I whispered warily, sidling close to his
saddle-bow; 'dear John, you don't think they will see us in such a
fog as this?'
'Never God made vog as could stop their eyesen,' he whispered in
answer, fearfully; 'here us be by the hollow ground. Zober, lad,
goo zober now, if thee wish to see thy moother.'
For I was inclined, in the manner of boys, to make a run of the
danger, and cross the Doone-track at full speed; to rush for it,
and be done with it. But even then I wondered why he talked of my
mother so, and said not a word of father.
We were come to a long deep 'goyal,' as they call it on Exmoor,
a word whose fountain and origin I have nothing to do with. Only I
know that when little boys laughed at me at Tiverton, for talking
about a 'goyal,' a big boy clouted them on the head, and said that
it was in Homer, and meant the hollow of the hand. And another time
a Welshman told me that it must be something like the thing they
call a 'pant' in those parts. Still I know what it means well
enough—to wit, a long trough among wild hills, falling towards the
plain country, rounded at the bottom, perhaps, and stiff, more than
steep, at the sides of it. Whether it be straight or crooked, makes
no difference to it.
We rode very carefully down our side, and through the soft grass
at the bottom, and all the while we listened as if the air was a
speaking-trumpet. Then gladly we breasted our nags to the rise, and
were coming to the comb of it, when I heard something, and caught
John's arm, and he bent his hand to the shape of his ear. It was
the sound of horses' feet knocking up through splashy ground, as if
the bottom sucked them. Then a grunting of weary men, and the
lifting noise of stirrups, and sometimes the clank of iron mixed
with the wheezy croning of leather and the blowing of hairy
'God's sake, Jack, slip round her belly, and let her go where
As John Fry whispered, so I did, for he was off Smiler by this
time; but our two pads were too fagged to go far, and began to nose
about and crop, sniffing more than they need have done. I crept to
John's side very softly, with the bridle on my arm.
'Let goo braidle; let goo, lad. Plaise God they take them for
forest-ponies, or they'll zend a bullet through us.'
I saw what he meant, and let go the bridle; for now the mist was
rolling off, and we were against the sky-line to the dark cavalcade
below us. John lay on the ground by a barrow of heather, where a
little gullet was, and I crept to him, afraid of the noise I made
in dragging my legs along, and the creak of my cord breeches. John
bleated like a sheep to cover it—a sheep very cold and
Then just as the foremost horseman passed, scarce twenty yards
below us, a puff of wind came up the glen, and the fog rolled off
before it. And suddenly a strong red light, cast by the
cloud-weight downwards, spread like fingers over the moorland,
opened the alleys of darkness, and hung on the steel of the
'Dunkery Beacon,' whispered John, so close into my ear, that I
felt his lips and teeth ashake; 'dursn't fire it now except to show
the Doones way home again, since the naight as they went up and
throwed the watchmen atop of it. Why, wutt be 'bout, lad? God's
For I could keep still no longer, but wriggled away from his
arm, and along the little gullet, still going flat on my breast and
thighs, until I was under a grey patch of stone, with a fringe of
dry fern round it; there I lay, scarce twenty feet above the heads
of the riders, and I feared to draw my breath, though prone to do
it with wonder.
For now the beacon was rushing up, in a fiery storm to heaven,
and the form of its flame came and went in the folds, and the heavy
sky was hovering. All around it was hung with red, deep in twisted
columns, and then a giant beard of fire streamed throughout the
darkness. The sullen hills were flanked with light, and the valleys
chined with shadow, and all the sombrous moors between awoke in
But most of all the flinging fire leaped into the rocky mouth of
the glen below me, where the horsemen passed in silence, scarcely
deigning to look round. Heavy men and large of stature, reckless
how they bore their guns, or how they sate their horses, with
leathern jerkins, and long boots, and iron plates on breast and
head, plunder heaped behind their saddles, and flagons slung in
front of them; I counted more than thirty pass, like clouds upon
red sunset. Some had carcasses of sheep swinging with their skins
on, others had deer, and one had a child flung across his
saddle-bow. Whether the child were dead, or alive, was more than I
could tell, only it hung head downwards there, and must take the
chance of it. They had got the child, a very young one, for the
sake of the dress, no doubt, which they could not stop to pull off
from it; for the dress shone bright, where the fire struck it, as
if with gold and jewels. I longed in my heart to know most sadly
what they would do with the little thing, and whether they would
It touched me so to see that child, a prey among those vultures,
that in my foolish rage and burning I stood up and shouted to them
leaping on a rock, and raving out of all possession. Two of them
turned round, and one set his carbine at me, but the other said it
was but a pixie, and bade him keep his powder. Little they knew,
and less thought I, that the pixie then before them would dance
their castle down one day.
John Fry, who in the spring of fright had brought himself down
from Smiler's side, as if he were dipped in oil, now came up to me,
all risk being over, cross, and stiff, and aching sorely from his
wet couch of heather.
'Small thanks to thee, Jan, as my new waife bain't a widder. And
who be you to zupport of her, and her son, if she have one? Zarve
thee right if I was to chuck thee down into the Doone-track. Zim
thee'll come to un, zooner or later, if this be the zample of
And that was all he had to say, instead of thanking God! For if
ever born man was in a fright, and ready to thank God for anything,
the name of that man was John Fry not more than five minutes
However, I answered nothing at all, except to be ashamed of
myself; and soon we found Peggy and Smiler in company, well
embarked on the homeward road, and victualling where the grass was
good. Right glad they were to see us again—not for the pleasure of
carrying, but because a horse (like a woman) lacks, and is better
My father never came to meet us, at either side of the
telling-house, neither at the crooked post, nor even at home-linhay
although the dogs kept such a noise that he must have heard us.
Home-side of the linhay, and under the ashen hedge-row, where
father taught me to catch blackbirds, all at once my heart went
down, and all my breast was hollow. There was not even the lanthorn
light on the peg against the cow's house, and nobody said 'Hold
your noise!' to the dogs, or shouted 'Here our Jack is!'
I looked at the posts of the gate, in the dark, because they
were tall, like father, and then at the door of the harness-room,
where he used to smoke his pipe and sing. Then I thought he had
guests perhaps—people lost upon the moors—whom he could not leave
unkindly, even for his son's sake. And yet about that I was
jealous, and ready to be vexed with him, when he should begin to
make much of me. And I felt in my pocket for the new pipe which I
had brought him from Tiverton, and said to myself, 'He shall not
have it until to-morrow morning.'
Woe is me! I cannot tell. How I knew I know not now—only that I
slunk away, without a tear, or thought of weeping, and hid me in a
saw-pit. There the timber, over-head, came like streaks across me;
and all I wanted was to lack, and none to tell me anything.
By-and-by, a noise came down, as of woman's weeping; and there
my mother and sister were, choking and holding together. Although
they were my dearest loves, I could not bear to look at them, until
they seemed to want my help, and put their hands before their