Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 2

Why, then, we will have bellowing of beeves,

Broaching of barrels, brandishing of spigots;

Blood shall flow freely, but it shall be gore

Of herds and flocks, and venison and poultry,

Join’d to the brave heart’s-blood of John-a-Barleycorn!

OLD PLAY.

Whatever rewards Charles might have condescended to bestow in acknowledgement of the sufferings and loyalty of Peveril of the Peak, he had none in his disposal equal to the pleasure which Providence had reserved for Bridgenorth on his return to Derbyshire. The exertion to which he had been summoned, had had the usual effect of restoring to a certain extent the activity and energy of his character, and he felt it would be unbecoming to relapse into the state of lethargic melancholy from which it had roused him. Time also had its usual effect in mitigating the subjects of his regret; and when he had passed one day at the Hall in regretting that he could not expect the indirect news of his daughter’s health, which Sir Geoffrey used to communicate in his almost daily call, he reflected that it would be in every respect becoming that he should pay a personal visit at Martindale Castle, carry thither the remembrances of the Knight to his lady, assure her of his health, and satisfy himself respecting that of his daughter. He armed himself for the worst — he called to recollection the thin cheeks, faded eye, wasted hand, pallid lip, which had marked the decaying health of all his former infants.

“I shall see,” he said, “these signs of mortality once more — I shall once more see a beloved being to whom I have given birth, gliding to the grave which ought to enclose me long before her. No matter — it is unmanly so long to shrink from that which must be — God’s will be done!”

He went accordingly, on the subsequent morning, to Martindale Castle, and gave the lady the welcome assurances of her husband’s safety, and of his hopes of preferment.

“For the first, may Almighty God be praised!” said the Lady Peveril; “and be the other as our gracious and restored Sovereign may will it. We are great enough for our means, and have means sufficient for contentment, though not for splendour. And now I see, good Master Bridgenorth, the folly of putting faith in idle presentiments of evil. So often had Sir Geoffrey’s repeated attempts in favour of the Stewarts led him into new misfortunes, that when, the other morning, I saw him once more dressed in his fatal armour, and heard the sound of his trumpet, which had been so long silent, it seemed to me as if I saw his shroud, and heard his death-knell. I say this to you, good neighbour, the rather because I fear your own mind has been harassed with anticipations of impending calamity, which it may please God to avert in your case as it has done in mine; and here comes a sight which bears good assurance of it.”

The door of the apartment opened as she spoke, and two lovely children entered. The eldest, Julian Peveril, a fine boy betwixt four and five years old, led in his hand, with an air of dignified support and attention, a little girl of eighteen months, who rolled and tottered along, keeping herself with difficulty upright by the assistance of her elder, stronger, and masculine companion.

Bridgenorth cast a hasty and fearful glance upon the countenance of his daughter, and, even in that glimpse, perceived, with exquisite delight, that his fears were unfounded. He caught her in his arms, pressed her to his heart, and the child, though at first alarmed at the vehemence of his caresses, presently, as if prompted by Nature, smiled in reply to them. Again he held her at some distance from him, and examined her more attentively; he satisfied himself that the complexion of the young cherub he had in his arms was not the hectic tinge of disease, but the clear hue of ruddy health; and that though her little frame was slight, it was firm and springy.

“I did not think that it could have been thus,” he said, looking to Lady Peveril, who had sat observing the scene with great pleasure; “but praise be to God in the first instance, and next, thanks to you, madam, who have been His instrument.”

“Julian must lose his playfellow now, I suppose?” said the lady; “but the Hall is not distant, and I will see my little charge often. Dame Martha, the housekeeper at Moultrassie, has sense, and is careful. I will tell her the rules I have observed with little Alice, and ——”

“God forbid my girl should ever come to Moultrassie,” said Major Bridgenorth hastily; “it has been the grave of her race. The air of the low grounds suited them not — or there is perhaps a fate connected with the mansion. I will seek for her some other place of abode.”

“That you shall not, under your favour be it spoken, Major Bridgenorth,” answered the lady. “If you do so, we must suppose that you are undervaluing my qualities as a nurse. If she goes not to her father’s house, she shall not quit mine. I will keep the little lady as a pledge of her safety and my own skill; and since you are afraid of the damp of the low grounds, I hope you will come here frequently to visit her.”

This was a proposal which went to the heart of Major Bridgenorth. It was precisely the point which he would have given worlds to arrive at, but which he saw no chance of attaining.

It is too well known, that those whose families are long pursued by such a fatal disease as existed in his, become, it may be said, superstitious respecting its fatal effects, and ascribe to place, circumstance, and individual care, much more perhaps than these can in any case contribute to avert the fatality of constitutional distemper. Lady Peveril was aware that this was peculiarly the impression of her neighbour; that the depression of his spirits, the excess of his care, the feverishness of his apprehensions, the restraint and gloom of the solitude in which he dwelt, were really calculated to produce the evil which most of all he dreaded. She pitied him, she felt for him, she was grateful for former protection received at his hands — she had become interested in the child itself. What female fails to feel such interest in the helpless creature she has tended? And to sum the whole up, the dame had a share of human vanity; and being a sort of Lady Bountiful in her way (for the character was not then confined to the old and the foolish), she was proud of the skill by which she had averted the probable attacks of hereditary malady, so inveterate in the family of Bridgenorth. It needed not, perhaps, in other cases, that so many reasons should be assigned for an act of neighbourly humanity; but civil war had so lately torn the country asunder, and broken all the usual ties of vicinage and good neighbourhood, that it was unusual to see them preserved among persons of different political opinions.

Major Bridgenorth himself felt this; and while the tear of joy in his eye showed how gladly he would accept Lady Peveril’s proposal, he could not help stating the obvious inconveniences attendant upon her scheme, though it was in the tone of one who would gladly hear them overruled. “Madam,” he said, “your kindness makes me the happiest and most thankful of men; but can it be consistent with your own convenience? Sir Geoffrey has his opinions on many points, which have differed, and probably do still differ, from mine. He is high-born, and I of middling parentage only. He uses the Church Service, and I the Catechism of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster ——”

“I hope you will find prescribed in neither of them,” said the Lady Peveril, “that I may not be a mother to your motherless child. I trust, Master Bridgenorth, the joyful Restoration of his Majesty, a work wrought by the direct hand of Providence, may be the means of closing and healing all civil and religious dissensions among us, and that, instead of showing the superior purity of our faith, by persecuting those who think otherwise from ourselves on doctrinal points, we shall endeavour to show its real Christian tendency, by emulating each other in actions of good-will towards man, as the best way of showing our love to God.”

“Your ladyship speaks what your own kind heart dictates,” answered Bridgenorth, who had his own share of the narrow-mindedness of the time; “and sure am I, that if all who call themselves loyalists and Cavaliers, thought like you — and like my friend Sir Geoffrey”—(this he added after a moment’s pause, being perhaps rather complimentary than sincere)—“we, who thought it our duty in time past to take arms for freedom of conscience, and against arbitrary power, might now sit down in peace and contentment. But I wot not how it may fall. You have sharp and hot spirits amongst you; I will not say our power was always moderately used, and revenge is sweet to the race of fallen Adam.”

“Come, Master Bridgenorth,” said the Lady Peveril gaily, “those evil omenings do but point out conclusions, which, unless they were so anticipated, are most unlikely to come to pass. You know what Shakespeare says —

‘To fly the boar before the boar pursues,

Were to incense the boar to follow us,

And make pursuit when he did mean no chase.’

“But I crave your pardon — it is so long since we have met, that I forgot you love no play-books.”

“With reverence to your ladyship,” said Bridgenorth, “I were much to blame did I need the idle words of a Warwickshire stroller, to teach me my grateful duty to your ladyship on this occasion, which appoints me to be directed by you in all things which my conscience will permit.”

“Since you permit me such influence, then,” replied the Lady Peveril, “I shall be moderate in exercising it, in order that I may, in my domination at least, give you a favourable impression of the new order of things. So, if you will be a subject of mine for one day, neighbour, I am going, at my lord and husband’s command, to issue out my warrants to invite the whole neighbourhood to a solemn feast at the Castle, on Thursday next; and I not only pray you to be personally present yourself, but to prevail on your worthy pastor, and such neighbours and friends, high and low, as may think in your own way, to meet with the rest of the neighbourhood, to rejoice on this joyful occasion of the King’s Restoration, and thereby to show that we are to be henceforward a united people.”

The parliamentarian Major was considerably embarrassed by this proposal. He looked upward, and downward, and around, cast his eye first to the oak-carved ceiling, and anon fixed it upon the floor; then threw it around the room till it lighted on his child, the sight of whom suggested another and a better train of reflections than ceiling and floor had been able to supply.

“Madam,” he said, “I have long been a stranger to festivity, perhaps from constitutional melancholy, perhaps from the depression which is natural to a desolate and deprived man, in whose ear mirth is marred, like a pleasant air when performed on a mistuned instrument. But though neither my thoughts nor temperament are Jovial or Mercurial, it becomes me to be grateful to Heaven for the good He has sent me by the means of your ladyship. David, the man after God’s own heart, did wash and eat bread when his beloved child was removed — mine is restored to me, and shall I not show gratitude under a blessing, when he showed resignation under an affliction? Madam, I will wait on your gracious invitation with acceptance; and such of my friends with whom I may possess influence, and whose presence your ladyship may desire, shall accompany me to the festivity, that our Israel may be as one people.”

Having spoken these words with an aspect which belonged more to a martyr than to a guest bidden to a festival, and having kissed, and solemnly blessed his little girl, Major Bridgenorth took his departure for Moultrassie Hall.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/peveril/chapter2.html

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