Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XVI: The Newspaper

[Greek text] Sprung from what line, adorns the maid

These, valleys deep in mountain-shade?

PIND. Pyth. IX

Mr. Chainmail forgot the Captain and the route of Giraldus de Barri. He became suddenly satisfied that the ruined castle in his present neighbourhood was the best possible specimen of its class, and that it was needless to carry his researches further.

He visited the farm daily: found himself always welcome; flattered himself that the young lady saw him with pleasure, and dragged a heavier chain at every new parting from Miss Susan, as the children called his nymph of the mountains. What might be her second name, he had vainly endeavoured to discover.

Mr. Chainmail was in love: but the determination he had long before formed and fixed in his mind, to marry only a lady of gentle blood, without a blot in her escutcheon, repressed the declarations of passion which were often rising to his lips. In the meantime he left no means untried to pluck out the heart of her mystery.

The young lady soon divined his passion, and penetrated his prejudices. She began to look on him with favourable eyes; but she feared her name and parentage would present an insuperable barrier to his feudal pride.

Things were in this state when the Captain returned, and unpacked his maps and books in the parlour of the inn.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Really, Captain, I find so many objects of attraction in this neighbourhood, that I would gladly postpone our purpose.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Undoubtedly this neighbourhood has many attractions; but there is something very inviting in the scheme you laid down.

MR. CHAINMAIL. No doubt there is something very tempting in the route of Giraldus de Barri. But there are better things in this vicinity even than that. To tell you the truth, Captain, I have fallen in love.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. What! while I have been away?

MR. CHAINMAIL. Even so.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. The plunge must have been very sudden, if you are already over head and ears.

MR. CHAINMAIL. As deep as Llyn-y-dreiddiad-vrawd.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. And what may that be?

MR. CHAINMAIL. A pool not far off: a resting-place of a mountain stream which is said to have no bottom. There is a tradition connected with it; and here is a ballad on it, at your service.

LLYN-Y-DREIDDIAD-VRAWD. THE POOL OF THE DIVING FRIAR.

Gwenwynwyn withdrew from the feasts of his hall:

He slept very little, he prayed not at all:

He pondered, and wandered, and studied alone;

And sought, night and day, the philosopher’s stone.

He found it at length, and he made its first proof

By turning to gold all the lead of his roof:

Then he bought some magnanimous heroes, all fire,

Who lived but to smite and be smitten for hire.

With these on the plains like a torrent he broke;

He filled the whole country with flame and with smoke;

He killed all the swine, and he broached all the wine;

He drove off the sheep, and the beeves, and the kine;

He took castles and towns; he cut short limbs and lives;

He made orphans and widows of children and wives:

This course many years he triumphantly ran,

And did mischief enough to be called a great man.

When, at last, he had gained all for which he held striven,

He bethought him of buying a passport to heaven;

Good and great as he was, yet he did not well know,

How soon, or which way, his great spirit might go.

He sought the grey friars, who beside a wild stream,

Refected their frames on a primitive scheme;

The gravest and wisest Gwenwynwyn found out,

All lonely and ghostly, and angling for trout.

Below the white dash of a mighty cascade,

Where a pool of the stream a deep resting-place made,

And rock-rooted oaks stretched their branches on high,

The friar stood musing, and throwing his fly.

To him said Gwenwynwyn, “Hold, father, here’s store,

For the good of the church, and the good of the poor;”

Then he gave him the stone; but, ere more he could speak,

Wrath came on the friar, so holy and meek.

He had stretched forth his hand to receive the red gold,

And he thought himself mocked by Gwenwynwyn the Bold;

And in scorn of the gift, and in rage at the giver,

He jerked it immediately into the river.

Gwenwynwyn, aghast, not a syllable spake;

The philosopher’s stone made a duck and a drake;

Two systems of circles a moment were seen,

And the stream smoothed them off, as they never had been.

Gwenwynwyn regained, and uplifted his voice,

“Oh friar, grey friar, full rash was thy choice;

The stone, the good stone, which away thou hast thrown,

Was the stone of all stones, the philosopher’s stone.”

The friar looked pale, when his error he knew;

The friar looked red, and the friar looked blue;

And heels over head, from the point of a rock,

He plunged, without stopping to pull off his frock.

He dived very deep, but he dived all in vain,

The prize he had slighted he found not again;

Many times did the friar his diving renew,

And deeper and deeper the river still grew.

Gwenwynwyn gazed long, of his senses in doubt,

To see the grey friar a diver so stout;

Then sadly and slowly his castle he sought,

And left the friar diving, like dabchick distraught.

Gwenwynwyn fell sick with alarm and despite,

Died, and went to the devil, the very same night;

The magnanimous heroes he held in his pay

Sacked his castle, and marched with the plunder away.

No knell on the silence of midnight was rolled

For the flight of the soul of Gwenwynwyn the Bold.

The brethren, unfeed, let the mighty ghost pass,

Without praying a prayer, or intoning a mass.

The friar haunted ever beside the dark stream;

The philosopher’s stone was his thought and his dream:

And day after day, ever head under heels

He dived all the time he could spare from his meals.

He dived, and he dived, to the end of his days,

As the peasants oft witnessed with fear and amaze.

The mad friar’s diving-place long was their theme,

And no plummet can fathom that pool of the stream.

And still, when light clouds on the midnight winds ride,

If by moonlight you stray on the lone river-side,

The ghost of the friar may be seen diving there,

With head in the water, and heels in the air.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Well, your ballad is very pleasant: you shall show me the scene, and I will sketch it; but just now I am more interested about your love. What heroine of the twelfth century has risen from the ruins of the old castle, and looked down on you from the ivied battlements?

MR. CHAINMAIL. You are nearer the mark than you suppose. Even from those battlements a heroine of the twelfth century has looked down on me.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Oh! some vision of an ideal beauty. I suppose the whole will end in another tradition and a ballad.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Genuine flesh and blood; as genuine as Lady Clarinda. I will tell you the story.

Mr. Chainmail narrated his adventures.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Then you seem to have found what you wished. Chance has thrown in your way what none of the gods would have ventured to promise you.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Yes, but I know nothing of her birth and parentage. She tells me nothing of herself, and I have no right to question her directly.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. She appears to be expressly destined for the light of your baronial hall. Introduce me in this case, two heads are better than one.

MR. CHAINMAIL. No, I thank you. Leave me to manage my chance of a prize, and keep you to your own chance of a —

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Blank. As you please. Well, I will pitch my tent here, till I have filled my portfolio, and shall be glad of as much of your company as you can spare from more attractive society.

Matters went on pretty smoothly for several days, when an unlucky newspaper threw all into confusion. Mr. Chainmail received newspapers by the post, which came in three times a week. One morning, over their half-finished breakfast, the Captain had read half a newspaper very complacently, when suddenly he started up in a frenzy, hurled over the breakfast table, and, bouncing from the apartment, knocked down Harry Ap Heather, who was coming in at the door to challenge his supposed rival to a boxing-match.

Harry sprang up, in a double rage, and intercepted Mr. Chainmail’s pursuit of the Captain, placing himself in the doorway, in a pugilistic attitude. Mr. Chainmail, not being disposed for this mode of combat, stepped back into the parlour, took the poker in his right hand, and displacing the loose bottom of a large elbow chair, threw it over his left arm as a shield. Harry, not liking the aspect of the enemy in this imposing attitude, retreated with backward steps into the kitchen, and tumbled over a cur, which immediately fastened on his rear.

Mr. Chainmail, half-laughing, half-vexed, anxious to overtake the Captain, and curious to know what was the matter with him, pocketed the newspaper, and sallied forth, leaving Harry roaring for a doctor and tailor, to repair the lacerations of his outward man.

Mr. Chainmail could find no trace of the Captain. Indeed, he sought him but in one direction, which was that leading to the farm; where he arrived in due time, and found Miss Susan alone. He laid the newspaper on the table, as was his custom, and proceeded to converse with the young lady: a conversation of many pauses, as much of signs as of words. The young lady took up the paper, and turned it over and over, while she listened to Mr. Chainmail, whom she found every day more and more agreeable, when suddenly her eye glanced on something which made her change colour, and dropping the paper on the ground, she rose from her seat, exclaiming: “Miserable must she be who trusts any of your faithless sex! never, never, never, will I endure such misery twice.” And she vanished up the stairs. Mr. Chainmail was petrified. At length, he cried aloud: “Cornelius Agrippa must have laid a spell on this accursed newspaper;” and was turning it over, to look for the source of the mischief, when Mrs. Ap Llymry made her appearance.

MRS. AP LLYMRY. What have you done to poor dear Miss Susan? she is crying ready to break her heart.

MR. CHAINMAIL. So help me the memory of Richard Coeur-deLion, I have not the most distant notion of what is the matter.

MRS. AP LLYMRY. Oh, don’t tell me, sir; you must have ill-used her. I know how it is. You have been keeping company with her, as if you wanted to marry her; and now, all at once, you have been insulting her. I have seen such tricks more than once, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

MR. CHAINMAIL. My dear madam, you wrong me utterly. I have none but the kindest feelings and the most honourable purposes towards her. She has been disturbed by something she has seen in this rascally paper.

MRS. AP LLYMRY. Why, then, the best thing you can do is to go away, and come again tomorrow.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Not I, indeed, madam. Out of this house I stir not, till I have seen the young lady, and obtained a full explanation.

MRS. AP LLYMRY. I will tell Miss Susan what you say. Perhaps she will come down.

Mr. Chainmail sat with as much patience as he could command, running over the paper, from column to column. At length he lighted on an announcement of the approaching marriage of Lady Clarinda Bossnowl with Mr. Crotchet the younger. This explained the Captain’s discomposure, but the cause of Miss Susan’s was still to be sought: he could not know that it was one and the same.

Presently, the sound of the longed-for step was heard on the stairs; the young lady reappeared, and resumed her seat: her eyes showed that she had been weeping. The gentleman was now exceedingly puzzled how to begin, but the young lady relieved him by asking, with great simplicity: “What do you wish to have explained, sir?”

MR. CHAINMAIL. I wish, if I may be permitted, to explain myself to you. Yet could I first wish to know what it was that disturbed you in this unlucky paper. Happy should I be if I could remove the cause of your inquietude!

MISS SUSANNAH. The cause is already removed. I saw something that excited painful recollections; nothing that I could now wish otherwise than as it is.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Yet, may I ask why it is that I find one so accomplished living in this obscurity, and passing only by the name of Miss Susan?

MISS SUSANNAH. The world and my name are not friends. I have left the world, and wish to remain for ever a stranger to all whom I once knew in it.

MR. CHAINMAIL. You can have done nothing to dishonour your name.

MISS SUSANNAH. No, sir. My father has done that of which the world disapproves, in matters of which I pretend not to judge. I have suffered for it as I will never suffer again. My name is my own secret: I have no other, and that is one not worth knowing. You see what I am, and all I am. I live according to the condition of my present fortune, and here, so living, I have found tranquillity.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Yet, I entreat you, tell me your name.

MISS SUSANNAH. Why, sir?

MR. CHAINMAIL. Why, but to throw my hand, my heart, my fortune, at your feet, if —.

MISS SUSANNAH. If my name be worthy of them.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Nay, nay, not so; if your hand and heart are free.

MISS SUSANNAH. My hand and heart are free; but they must be sought from myself, and not from my name.

She fixed her eyes on him, with a mingled expression of mistrust, of kindness, and of fixed resolution, which the far-gone inamorato found irresistible.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Then from yourself alone I seek them.

MISS SUSANNAH. Reflect. You have prejudices on the score of parentage. I have not conversed with you so often without knowing what they are. Choose between them and me. I too have my own prejudices on the score of personal pride.

MR. CHAINMAIL. I would choose you from all the world, were you even the daughter of the executeur des hautes oeuvres, as the heroine of a romantic story I once read turned out to be.

MISS SUSANNAH. I am satisfied. You have now a right to know my history, and if you repent, I absolve you from all obligations.

She told him her history; but he was out of the reach of repentance. “It is true,” as at a subsequent period he said to the captain, “she is the daughter of a money-changer: one who, in the days of Richard the First, would have been plucked by the beard in the streets: but she is, according to modern notions, a lady of gentle blood. As to her father’s running away, that is a minor consideration: I have always understood, from Mr. Mac Quedy, who is a great oracle in this way, that promises to pay ought not to be kept; the essence of a safe and economical currency being an interminable series of broken promises. There seems to be a difference among the learned as to the way in which the promises ought to be broken; but I am not deep enough in this casuistry to enter into such nice distinctions.”

In a few days there was a wedding, a pathetic leave-taking of the farmer’s family, a hundred kisses from the bride to the children, and promises twenty times reclaimed and renewed, to visit them in the ensuing year.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24