Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 1

When civil dudgeon first grew high,

And men fell out, they knew not why;

When foul words, jealousies, and fears,

Set folk together by the ears —

BUTLER.

William, the Conqueror of England, was, or supposed himself to be, the father of a certain William Peveril, who attended him to the battle of Hastings, and there distinguished himself. The liberal-minded monarch, who assumed in his charters the veritable title of Gulielmus Bastardus, was not likely to let his son’s illegitimacy be any bar to the course of his royal favour, when the laws of England were issued from the mouth of the Norman victor, and the lands of the Saxons were at his unlimited disposal. William Peveril obtained a liberal grant of property and lordships in Derbyshire, and became the erecter of that Gothic fortress, which, hanging over the mouth of the Devil’s Cavern, so well known to tourists, gives the name of Castleton to the adjacent village.

From this feudal Baron, who chose his nest upon the principles on which an eagle selects her eyry, and built it in such a fashion as if he had intended it, as an Irishman said of the Martello towers, for the sole purpose of puzzling posterity, there was, or conceived themselves to be, descended (for their pedigree was rather hypothetical) an opulent family of knightly rank, in the same county of Derby. The great fief of Castleton, with its adjacent wastes and forests, and all the wonders which they contain, had been forfeited in King John’s stormy days, by one William Peveril, and had been granted anew to the Lord Ferrers of that day. Yet this William’s descendants, though no longer possessed of what they alleged to have been their original property, were long distinguished by the proud title of Peverils of the Peak, which served to mark their high descent and lofty pretensions.

In Charles the Second’s time, the representative of this ancient family was Sir Geoffrey Peveril, a man who had many of the ordinary attributes of an old-fashioned country gentleman, and very few individual traits to distinguish him from the general portrait of that worthy class of mankind. He was proud of small advantages, angry at small disappointments, incapable of forming any resolution or opinion abstracted from his own prejudices — he was proud of his birth, lavish in his housekeeping, convivial with those kindred and acquaintances, who would allow his superiority in rank — contentious and quarrelsome with all that crossed his pretensions — kind to the poor, except when they plundered his game — a Royalist in his political opinions, and one who detested alike a Roundhead, a poacher, and a Presbyterian. In religion Sir Geoffrey was a high-churchman, of so exalted a strain that many thought he still nourished in private the Roman Catholic tenets, which his family had only renounced in his father’s time, and that he had a dispensation for conforming in outward observances to the Protestant faith. There was at least such a scandal amongst the Puritans, and the influence which Sir Geoffrey Peveril certainly appeared to possess amongst the Catholic gentlemen of Derbyshire and Cheshire, seemed to give countenance to the rumour.

Such was Sir Geoffrey, who might have passed to his grave without further distinction than a brass-plate in the chancel, had he not lived in times which forced the most inactive spirits into exertion, as a tempest influences the sluggish waters of the deadest mere. When the Civil Wars broke out, Peveril of the Peak, proud from pedigree, and brave by constitution, raised a regiment for the King, and showed upon several occasions more capacity for command than men had heretofore given him credit for.

Even in the midst of the civil turmoil, he fell in love with, and married, a beautiful and amiable young lady of the noble house of Stanley; and from that time had the more merit in his loyalty, as it divorced him from her society, unless at very brief intervals, when his duty permitted an occasional visit to his home. Scorning to be allured from his military duty by domestic inducements, Peveril of the Peak fought on for several rough years of civil war, and performed his part with sufficient gallantry, until his regiment was surprised and cut to pieces by Poyntz, Cromwell’s enterprising and successful general of cavalry. The defeated Cavalier escaped from the field of battle, and, like a true descendant of William the Conqueror, disdaining submission, threw himself into his own castellated mansion, which was attacked and defended in a siege of that irregular kind which caused the destruction of so many baronial residences during the course of those unhappy wars. Martindale Castle, after having suffered severely from the cannon which Cromwell himself brought against it, was at length surrendered when in the last extremity. Sir Geoffrey himself became a prisoner, and while his liberty was only restored upon a promise of remaining a peaceful subject to the Commonwealth in future, his former delinquencies, as they were termed by the ruling party, were severely punished by fine and sequestration.

But neither his forced promise, nor the fear of farther unpleasant consequences to his person or property, could prevent Peveril of the Peak from joining the gallant Earl of Derby the night before the fatal engagement in Wiggan Lane, where the Earl’s forces were dispersed. Sir Geoffrey having had his share in that action, escaped with the relics of the Royalists after the defeat, to join Charles II. He witnessed also the final defeat of Worcester, where he was a second time made prisoner; and as, in the opinion of Cromwell and the language of the times, he was regarded as an obstinate malignant, he was in great danger of having shared with the Earl of Derby his execution at Bolton-le-Moor, having partaken with him the dangers of two actions. But Sir Geoffrey’s life was preserved by the interest of a friend, who possessed influence in the councils of Oliver. — This was a Mr. Bridgenorth, a gentleman of middling quality, whose father had been successful in some commercial adventure during the peaceful reign of James I.; and who had bequeathed his son a considerable sum of money, in addition to the moderate patrimony which he inherited from his father.

The substantial, though small-sized, brick building of Moultrassie Hall, was but two miles distant from Martindale Castle, and the young Bridgenorth attended the same school with the heir of the Peverils. A sort of companionship, if not intimacy, took place betwixt them, which continued during their youthful sports — the rather that Bridgenorth, though he did not at heart admit Sir Geoffrey’s claims of superiority to the extent which the other’s vanity would have exacted, paid deference in a reasonable degree to the representative of a family so much more ancient and important than his own, without conceiving that he in any respect degraded himself by doing so.

Mr. Bridgenorth did not, however, carry his complaisance so far as to embrace Sir Geoffrey’s side during the Civil War. On the contrary, as an active Justice of the Peace, he rendered much assistance in arraying the militia in the cause of the Parliament, and for some time held a military commission in that service. This was partly owing to his religious principles, for he was a zealous Presbyterian, partly to his political ideas, which, without being absolutely democratical, favoured the popular side of the great national question. Besides, he was a moneyed man, and to a certain extent had a shrewd eye to his worldly interest. He understood how to improve the opportunities which civil war afforded, of advancing his fortune, by a dexterous use of his capital; and he was not at a loss to perceive that these were likely to be obtained in joining the Parliament; while the King’s cause, as it was managed, held out nothing to the wealthy but a course of exaction and compulsory loans. For these reasons, Bridgenorth became a decided Roundhead, and all friendly communication betwixt his neighbour and him was abruptly broken asunder. This was done with the less acrimony, that, during the Civil War, Sir Geoffrey was almost constantly in the field, following the vacillating and unhappy fortunes of his master; while Major Bridgenorth, who soon renounced active military service, resided chiefly in London, and only occasionally visited the Hall.

Upon these visits, it was with great pleasure he received the intelligence, that Lady Peveril had shown much kindness to Mrs. Bridgenorth, and had actually given her and her family shelter in Martindale Castle, when Moultrassie Hall was threatened with pillage by a body of Prince Rupert’s ill-disciplined Cavaliers. This acquaintance had been matured by frequent walks together, which the vicinity of their places of residence suffered the Lady Peveril to have with Mrs. Bridgenorth, who deemed herself much honoured in being thus admitted into the society of so distinguished a lady. Major Bridgenorth heard of this growing intimacy with great pleasure, and he determined to repay the obligation, as far as he could without much hurt to himself, by interfering with all his influence, in behalf of her unfortunate husband. It was chiefly owing to Major Bridgenorth’s mediation, that Sir Geoffrey’s life was saved after the battle of Worcester. He obtained him permission to compound for his estate on easier terms than many who had been less obstinate in malignancy; and, finally, when, in order to raise the money to the composition, the Knight was obliged to sell a considerable portion of his patrimony, Major Bridgenorth became the purchaser, and that at a larger price than had been paid to any Cavalier under such circumstances, by a member of the Committee for Sequestrations. It is true, the prudent committeeman did not, by any means, lose sight of his own interest in the transaction, for the price was, after all, very moderate, and the property lay adjacent to Moultrassie Hall, the value of which was at least trebled by the acquisition. But then it was also true, that the unfortunate owner must have submitted to much worse conditions, had the committeeman used, as others did, the full advantages which his situation gave him; and Bridgenorth took credit to himself, and received it from others, for having, on this occasion, fairly sacrificed his interest to his liberality.

Sir Geoffrey Peveril was of the same opinion, and the rather that Mr. Bridgenorth seemed to bear his exaltation with great moderation, and was disposed to show him personally the same deference in his present sunshine of prosperity, which he had exhibited formerly in their early acquaintance. It is but justice to Major Bridgenorth to observe, that in this conduct he paid respect as much to the misfortunes as to the pretensions of his far-descended neighbour, and that, with the frank generosity of a blunt Englishman, he conceded points of ceremony, about which he himself was indifferent, merely because he saw that his doing so gave pleasure to Sir Geoffrey.

Peveril of the Peak did justice to his neighbour’s delicacy, in consideration of which he forgot many things. He forgot that Major Bridgenorth was already in possession of a fair third of his estate, and had various pecuniary claims affecting the remainder, to the extent of one-third more. He endeavoured even to forget, what it was still more difficult not to remember, the altered situation in which they and their mansions now stood to each other.

Before the Civil War, the superb battlements and turrets of Martindale Castle looked down on the red brick-built Hall, as it stole out from the green plantations, just as an oak in Martindale Chase would have looked beside one of the stunted and formal young beech-trees with which Bridgenorth had graced his avenue; but after the siege which we have commemorated, the enlarged and augmented Hall was as much predominant in the landscape over the shattered and blackened ruins of the Castle, of which only one wing was left habitable, as the youthful beech, in all its vigour of shoot and bud, would appear to the same aged oak stripped of its boughs, and rifted by lightning, one-half laid in shivers on the ground, and the other remaining a blackened and ungraceful trunk, rent and splintered, and without either life or leaves. Sir Geoffrey could not but feel, that the situation and prospects were exchanged as disadvantageously for himself as the appearance of their mansions; and that though the authority of the man in office under the Parliament, the sequestrator, and the committeeman, had been only exerted for the protection of the Cavalier and the malignant, they would have been as effectual if applied to procure his utter ruin; and that he was become a client, while his neighbour was elevated into a patron.

There were two considerations, besides the necessity of the case and the constant advice of his lady, which enabled Peveril of the Peak to endure, with some patience, this state of degradation. The first was, that the politics of Major Bridgenorth began, on many points, to assimilate themselves to his own. As a Presbyterian, he was not an utter enemy to monarchy, and had been considerably shocked at the unexpected trial and execution of the King; as a civilian and a man of property, he feared the domination of the military; and though he wished not to see Charles restored by force of arms, yet he arrived at the conclusion, that to bring back the heir of the royal family on such terms of composition as might ensure the protection of those popular immunities and privileges for which the Long Parliament had at first contended, would be the surest and most desirable termination to the mutations in state affairs which had agitated Britain. Indeed, the Major’s ideas on this point approached so nearly those of his neighbour, that he had well-nigh suffered Sir Geoffrey, who had a finger in almost all the conspiracies of the Royalists, to involve him in the unfortunate rising of Penruddock and Groves, in the west, in which many of the Presbyterian interest, as well as the Cavalier party, were engaged. And though his habitual prudence eventually kept him out of this and other dangers, Major Bridgenorth was considered during the last years of Cromwell’s domination, and the interregnum which succeeded, as a disaffected person to the Commonwealth, and a favourer of Charles Stewart.

But besides this approximation to the same political opinions, another bond of intimacy united the families of the Castle and the Hall. Major Bridgenorth, fortunate, and eminently so, in all his worldly transactions, was visited by severe and reiterated misfortunes in his family, and became, in this particular, an object of compassion to his poorer and more decayed neighbour. Betwixt the breaking out of the Civil War and the Restoration, he lost successively a family of no less than six children, apparently through a delicacy of constitution, which cut off the little prattlers at the early age when they most wind themselves round the heart of the parents.

In the beginning of the year 1658, Major Bridgenorth was childless; ere it ended, he had a daughter, indeed, but her birth was purchased by the death of an affectionate wife, whose constitution had been exhausted by maternal grief, and by the anxious and harrowing reflection, that from her the children they had lost derived that delicacy of health, which proved unable to undergo the tear and wear of existence. The same voice which told Bridgenorth that he was the father of a living child (it was the friendly voice of Lady Peveril), communicated to him the melancholy intelligence that he was no longer a husband. The feelings of Major Bridgenorth were strong and deep, rather than hasty and vehement; and his grief assumed the form of a sullen stupor, from which neither the friendly remonstrances of Sir Geoffrey, who did not fail to be with his neighbour at this distressing conjuncture, even though he knew he must meet the Presbyterian pastor, nor the ghastly exhortations of this latter person, were able to rouse the unfortunate widower.

At length Lady Peveril, with the ready invention of a female sharped by the sight of distress and the feelings of sympathy, tried on the sufferer one of those experiments by which grief is often awakened from despondency into tears. She placed in Bridgenorth’s arms the infant whose birth had cost him so dear, and conjured him to remember that his Alice was not yet dead, since she survived in the helpless child she had left to his paternal care.

“Take her away — take her away!” said the unhappy man, and they were the first words he had spoken; “let me not look on her — it is but another blossom that has bloomed to fade, and the tree that bore it will never flourish more!”

He almost threw the child into Lady Peveril’s arms, placed his hands before his face, and wept aloud. Lady Peveril did not say “be comforted,” but she ventured to promise that the blossom should ripen to fruit.

“Never, never!” said Bridgenorth; “take the unhappy child away, and let me only know when I shall wear black for her — Wear black!” he exclaimed, interrupting himself, “what other colour shall I wear during the remainder of my life?”

“I will take the child for a season,” said Lady Peveril, “since the sight of her is so painful to you; and the little Alice shall share the nursery of our Julian, until it shall be pleasure and not pain for you to look on her.”

“That hour will never come,” said the unhappy father; “her doom is written — she will follow the rest — God’s will be done. — Lady, I thank you — I trust her to your care; and I thank God that my eye shall not see her dying agonies.”

Without detaining the reader’s attention longer on this painful theme, it is enough to say that the Lady Peveril did undertake the duties of a mother to the little orphan; and perhaps it was owing, in a great measure, to her judicious treatment of the infant, that its feeble hold of life was preserved, since the glimmering spark might probably have been altogether smothered, had it, like the Major’s former children, undergone the over-care and over-nursing of a mother rendered nervously cautious and anxious by so many successive losses. The lady was the more ready to undertake this charge, that she herself had lost two infant children; and that she attributed the preservation of the third, now a fine healthy child of three years old, to Julian’s being subjected to rather a different course of diet and treatment than was then generally practised. She resolved to follow the same regiment with the little orphan, which she had observed in the case of her own boy; and it was equally successful. By a more sparing use of medicine, by a bolder admission of fresh air, by a firm, yet cautious attention to encourage rather than to supersede the exertions of nature, the puny infant, under the care of an excellent nurse, gradually improved in strength and in liveliness.

Sir Geoffrey, like most men of his frank and good-natured disposition, was naturally fond of children, and so much compassionated the sorrows of his neighbour, that he entirely forgot his being a Presbyterian, until it became necessary that the infant should be christened by a teacher of that persuasion.

This was a trying case — the father seemed incapable of giving direction; and that the threshold of Martindale Castle should be violated by the heretical step of a dissenting clergyman, was matter of horror to its orthodox owner. He had seen the famous Hugh Peters, with a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other, ride in triumph through the court-door when Martindale was surrendered; and the bitterness of that hour had entered like iron into his soul. Yet such was Lady Peveril’s influence over the prejudices of her husband, that he was induced to connive at the ceremony taking place in a remote garden house, which was not properly within the precincts of the Castle-wall. The lady even dared to be present while the ceremony was performed by the Reverend Master Solsgrace, who had once preached a sermon of three hours’ length before the House of Commons, upon a thanksgiving occasion after the relief of Exeter. Sir Geoffrey Peveril took care to be absent the whole day from the Castle, and it was only from the great interest which he took in the washing, perfuming, and as it were purification of the summer-house, that it could have been guessed he knew anything of what had taken place in it.

But, whatever prejudices the good Knight might entertain against his neighbour’s form of religion, they did not in any way influence his feelings towards him as a sufferer under severe affliction. The mode in which he showed his sympathy was rather singular, but exactly suited the character of both, and the terms on which they stood with each other.

Morning after morning the good Baronet made Moultrassie Hall the termination of his walk or ride, and said a single word of kindness as he passed. Sometimes he entered the old parlour where the proprietor sat in solitary wretchedness and despondency; but more frequently (for Sir Geoffrey did not pretend to great talents of conversation), he paused on the terrace, and stopping or halting his horse by the latticed window, said aloud to the melancholy inmate, “How is it with you, Master Bridgenorth?” (the Knight would never acknowledge his neighbour’s military rank of Major); “I just looked in to bid you keep a good heart, man, and to tell you that Julian is well, and little Alice is well, and all are well at Martindale Castle.”

A deep sigh, sometimes coupled with “I thank you, Sir Geoffrey; my grateful duty waits on Lady Peveril,” was generally Bridgenorth’s only answer. But the news was received on the one part with the kindness which was designed upon the other; it gradually became less painful and more interesting; the lattice window was never closed, nor was the leathern easy-chair which stood next to it ever empty, when the usual hour of the Baronet’s momentary visit approached. At length the expectation of that passing minute became the pivot upon which the thoughts of poor Bridgenorth turned during all the rest of the day. Most men have known the influence of such brief but ruling moments at some period of their lives. The moment when a lover passes the window of his mistress — the moment when the epicure hears the dinner-bell — is that into which is crowded the whole interest of the day; the hours which precede it are spent in anticipation; the hours which follow, in reflection on what has passed; and fancy dwelling on each brief circumstance, gives to seconds the duration of minutes, to minutes that of hours. Thus seated in his lonely chair, Bridgenorth could catch at a distance the stately step of Sir Geoffrey, or the heavy tramp of his war-horse, Black Hastings, which had borne him in many an action; he could hear the hum of “The King shall enjoy his own again,” or the habitual whistle of “Cuckolds and Roundheads,” die unto reverential silence, as the Knight approached the mansion of affliction; and then came the strong hale voice of the huntsman soldier with its usual greeting.

By degrees the communication became something more protracted, as Major Bridgenorth’s grief, like all human feelings, lost its overwhelming violence, and permitted him to attend, in some degree, to what passed around him, to discharge various duties which pressed upon him, and to give a share of attention to the situation of the country, distracted as it was by the contending factions, whose strife only terminated in the Restoration. Still, however, though slowly recovering from the effects of the shock which he had sustained, Major Bridgenorth felt himself as yet unable to make up his mind to the effort necessary to see his infant; and though separated by so short a distance from the being in whose existence he was more interested than in anything the world afforded, he only made himself acquainted with the windows of the apartment where little Alice was lodged, and was often observed to watch them from the terrace, as they brightened in the evening under the influence of the setting sun. In truth, though a strong-minded man in most respects, he was unable to lay aside the gloomy impression that this remaining pledge of affection was soon to be conveyed to that grave which had already devoured all besides that was dear to him; and he awaited in miserable suspense the moment when he should hear that symptoms of the fatal malady had begun to show themselves.

The voice of Peveril continued to be that of a comforter until the month of April 1660, when it suddenly assumed a new and different tone. “The King shall enjoy his own again,” far from ceasing, as the hasty tread of Black Hastings came up the avenue, bore burden to the clatter of his hoofs on the paved courtyard, as Sir Geoffrey sprang from his great war-saddle, now once more garnished with pistols of two feet in length, and, armed with steel-cap, back and breast, and a truncheon in his hand, he rushed into the apartment of the astonished Major, with his eyes sparkling, and his cheek inflamed, while he called out, “Up! up, neighbour! No time now to mope in the chimney-corner! Where is your buff-coat and broadsword, man? Take the true side once in your life, and mend past mistakes. The King is all lenity, man — all royal nature and mercy. I will get your full pardon.”

“What means all this?” said Bridgenorth —“Is all well with you — all well at Martindale Castle, Sir Geoffrey?”

“Well as you could wish them, Alice, and Julian, and all. But I have news worth twenty of that — Monk has declared at London against those stinking scoundrels the Rump. Fairfax is up in Yorkshire — for the King — for the King, man! Churchmen, Presbyterians, and all, are in buff and bandoleer for King Charles. I have a letter from Fairfax to secure Derby and Chesterfield with all the men I can make. D— n him, fine that I should take orders from him! But never mind that — all are friends now, and you and I, good neighbour, will charge abreast, as good neighbours should. See there! read — read — read — and then boot and saddle in an instant.

‘Hey for cavaliers — ho for cavaliers,

Pray for cavaliers,

Dub-a-dub, dub-a-dub,

Have at old Beelzebub,

Oliver shakes in his bier!’”

After thundering forth this elegant effusion of loyal enthusiasm, the sturdy Cavalier’s heart became too full. He threw himself on a seat, and exclaiming, “Did ever I think to live to see this happy day!” he wept, to his own surprise, as much as to that of Bridgenorth.

Upon considering the crisis in which the country was placed, it appeared to Major Bridgenorth, as it had done to Fairfax, and other leaders of the Presbyterian party, that their frank embracing of the royal interest was the wisest and most patriotic measure which they could adopt in the circumstances, when all ranks and classes of men were seeking refuge from the uncertainty and varied oppression attending the repeated contests between the factions of Westminster Hall and of Wallingford House. Accordingly he joined with Sir Geoffrey, with less enthusiasm indeed, but with equal sincerity, taking such measures as seemed proper to secure their part of the country on the King’s behalf, which was done as effectually and peaceably as in other parts of England. The neighbours were both at Chesterfield, when news arrived that the King had landed in England; and Sir Geoffrey instantly announced his purpose of waiting upon his Majesty, even before his return to the Castle of Martindale.

“Who knows, neighbour,” he said, “whether Sir Geoffrey Peveril will ever return to Martindale? Titles must be going amongst them yonder, and I have deserved something among the rest. — Lord Peveril would sound well — or stay, Earl of Martindale — no, not of Martindale — Earl of the Peak. — Meanwhile, trust your affairs to me — I will see you secured — I would you had been no Presbyterian, neighbour — a knighthood — I mean a knight-bachelor, not a knight-baronet — would have served your turn well.”

“I leave these things to my betters, Sir Geoffrey,” said the Major, “and desire nothing so earnestly as to find all well at Martindale when I return.”

“You will — you will find them all well,” said the Baronet; “Julian, Alice, Lady Peveril, and all of them — Bear my commendations to them, and kiss them all, neighbour, Lady Peveril and all — you may kiss a Countess when I come back; all will go well with you now you are turned honest man.”

“I always meant to be so, Sir Geoffrey,” said Bridgenorth calmly.

“Well, well, well — no offence meant,” said the Knight, “all is well now — so you to Moultrassie Hall, and I to Whitehall. Said I well, aha! So ho, mine host, a stoup of Canary to the King’s health ere we get to horse — I forgot, neighbour — you drink no healths.”

“I wish the King’s health as sincerely as if I drank a gallon to it,” replied the Major; “and I wish you, Sir Geoffrey, all success on your journey, and a safe return.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29