Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 20

Now, what is this that haunts me like my shadow,

Frisking and mumming like an elf in moonlight!

BEN JONSON.

Peveril found the master of the vessel rather less rude than those in his station of life usually are, and received from him full satisfaction concerning the fate of Fenella, upon whom the captain bestowed a hearty curse, for obliging him to lay-to until he had sent his boat ashore, and had her back again.

“I hope,” said Peveril, “no violence was necessary to reconcile her to go ashore? I trust she offered no foolish resistance?”

“Resist! mein Gott,” said the captain, “she did resist like a troop of horse — she did cry, you might hear her at Whitehaven — she did go up the rigging like a cat up a chimney; but dat vas ein trick of her old trade.”

“What trade do you mean?” said Peveril.

“Oh,” said the seaman, “I vas know more about her than you, Meinheer. I vas know that she vas a little, very little girl, and prentice to one seiltanzer, when my lady yonder had the good luck to buy her.”

“A seiltanzer!” said Peveril; “what do you mean by that?”

“I mean a rope-danzer, a mountebank, a Hans pickel-harring. I vas know Adrian Brackel vell — he sell de powders dat empty men’s stomach, and fill him’s own purse. Not know Adrian Brackel, mein Gott! I have smoked many a pound of tabak with him.”

Peveril now remembered that Fenella had been brought into the family when he and the young Earl were in England, and while the Countess was absent on an expedition to the continent. Where the Countess found her, she never communicated to the young men; but only intimated, that she had received her out of compassion, in order to relieve her from a situation of extreme distress.

He hinted so much to the communicative seaman, who replied, “that for distress he knew nocht’s on’t; only, that Adrian Brackel beat her when she would not dance on the rope, and starved her when she did, to prevent her growth.” The bargain between the countess and the mountebank, he said, he had made himself; because the Countess had hired his brig upon her expedition to the continent. None else knew where she came from. The Countess had seen her on a public stage at Ostend — compassionated her helpless situation, and the severe treatment she received — and had employed him to purchase the poor creature from her master, and charged him with silence towards all her retinue. —“And so I do keep silence,” continued the faithful confidant, “van I am in the havens of Man; but when I am on the broad seas, den my tongue is mine own, you know. Die foolish beoples in the island, they say she is a wechsel-balg — what you call a fairy-elf changeling. My faith, they do not never have seen ein wechsel-balg; for I saw one myself at Cologne, and it was twice as big as yonder girl, and did break the poor people, with eating them up, like de great big cuckoo in the sparrow’s nest; but this Venella eat no more than other girls — it was no wechsel-balg in the world.”

By a different train of reasoning, Julian had arrived at the same conclusion; in which, therefore, he heartily acquiesced. During the seaman’s prosing, he was reflecting within himself, how much of the singular flexibility of her limbs and movements the unfortunate girl must have derived from the discipline and instructions of Adrian Brackel; and also how far the germs of her wilful and capricious passions might have been sown during her wandering and adventurous childhood. Aristocratic, also, as his education had been, these anecdotes respecting Fenella’s original situation and education, rather increased his pleasure of having shaken off her company; and yet he still felt desirous to know any farther particulars which the seaman could communicate on the same subject. But he had already told all he knew. Of her parents he knew nothing, except that “her father must have been a damned hundsfoot, and a schelm, for selling his own flesh and blood to Adrian Brackel;” for by such a transaction had the mountebank become possessed of his pupil.

This conversation tended to remove any passing doubts which might have crept on Peveril’s mind concerning the fidelity of the master of the vessel, who appeared from thence to have been a former acquaintance of the Countess, and to have enjoyed some share of her confidence. The threatening motion used by Fenella, he no longer considered as worthy of any notice, excepting as a new mark of the irritability of her temper.

He amused himself with walking the deck, and musing on his past and future prospects, until his attention was forcibly arrested by the wind, which began to rise in gusts from the north-west, in a manner so unfavourable to the course they intended to hold, that the master, after many efforts to beat against it, declared his bark, which was by no means an excellent sea-boat, was unequal to making Whitehaven; and that he was compelled to make a fair wind of it, and run for Liverpool. To this course Peveril did not object. It saved him some land journey, in case he visited his father’s castle; and the Countess’s commission would be discharged as effectually the one way as the other.

The vessel was put, accordingly, before the wind, and ran with great steadiness and velocity. The captain, notwithstanding, pleading some nautical hazards, chose to lie off, and did not attempt the mouth of the Mersey until morning, when Peveril had at length the satisfaction of being landed upon the quay of Liverpool, which even then showed symptoms of the commercial prosperity that has since been carried to such a height.

The master, who was well acquainted with the port, pointed out to Julian a decent place of entertainment, chiefly frequented by seafaring people; for, although he had been in the town formerly, he did not think it proper to go anywhere at present where he might have been unnecessarily recognised. Here he took leave of the seaman, after pressing upon him with difficulty a small present for his crew. As for his passage, the captain declined any recompense whatever; and they parted upon the most civil terms.

The inn to which he was recommended was full of strangers, seamen, and mercantile people, all intent upon their own affairs, and discussing them with noise and eagerness, peculiar to the business of a thriving seaport. But although the general clamour of the public room, in which the guests mixed with each other, related chiefly to their own commercial dealings, there was a general theme mingling with them, which was alike common and interesting to all; so that, amidst disputes about freight, tonnage, demurrage, and such like, were heard the emphatic sounds of “Deep, damnable, accursed plot,”—“Bloody Papist villains,”—“The King in danger — the gallows too good for them,” and so forth.

The fermentation excited in London had plainly reached even this remote seaport, and was received by the inhabitants with the peculiar stormy energy which invests men in their situation with the character of the winds and waves with which they are chiefly conversant. The commercial and nautical interests of England were indeed particularly anti-Catholic; although it is not, perhaps, easy to give any distinct reason why they should be so, since theological disputes in general could scarce be considered as interesting to them. But zeal, amongst the lower orders at least, is often in an inverse ratio to knowledge; and sailors were not probably the less earnest and devoted Protestants, that they did not understand the controversy between the Churches. As for the merchants, they were almost necessarily inimical to the gentry of Lancashire and Cheshire; many of whom still retained the faith of Rome, which was rendered ten times more odious to the men of commerce, as the badge of their haughty aristocratic neighbours.

From the little which Peveril heard of the sentiments of the people of Liverpool, he imagined he should act most prudently in leaving the place as soon as possible, and before any suspicion should arise of his having any connection with the party which appeared to have become so obnoxious.

In order to accomplish his journey, it was first necessary that he should purchase a horse; and for this purpose he resolved to have recourse to the stables of a dealer well known at the time, and who dwelt in the outskirts of the place; and having obtained directions to his dwelling, he went thither to provide himself.

Joe Bridlesley’s stables exhibited a large choice of good horses; for that trade was in former days more active than at present. It was an ordinary thing for a stranger to buy a horse for the purpose of a single journey, and to sell him, as well as he could, when he had reached the point of his destination; and hence there was a constant demand, and a corresponding supply; upon both of which, Bridlesley, and those of his trade, contrived, doubtless, to make handsome profits.

Julian, who was no despicable horse-jockey, selected for his purpose a strong well-made horse, about sixteen hands high, and had him led into the yard, to see whether the paces corresponded with his appearance. As these also gave perfect satisfaction to the customer, it remained only to settle the price with Bridlesley; who of course swore his customer had pitched upon the best horse ever darkened the stable-door, since he had dealt that way; that no such horses were to be had nowadays, for that the mares were dead that foaled them; and having named a corresponding price, the usual haggling commenced betwixt the seller and purchaser, for adjustment of what the French dealers call le prix juste.

The reader, if he be at all acquainted with this sort of traffic, well knows it is generally a keen encounter of wits, and attracts the notice of all the idlers within hearing, who are usually very ready to offer their opinions, or their evidence. Amongst these, upon the present occasion, was a thin man, rather less than the ordinary size, and meanly dressed; but whose interference was in a confident tone, and such as showed himself master of the subject on which he spoke. The price of the horse being settled to about fifteen pounds, which was very high for the period, that of the saddle and bridle had next to be adjusted, and the thin mean-looking person before-mentioned, found nearly as much to say on this subject as on the other. As his remarks had a conciliating and obliging tendency towards the stranger, Peveril concluded he was one of those idle persons, who, unable or unwilling to supply themselves with the means of indulgence at their own cost, do not scruple to deserve them at the hands of others, by a little officious complaisance; and considering that he might acquire some useful information from such a person, was just about to offer him the courtesy of a morning draught, when he observed he had suddenly left the yard. He had scarce remarked this circumstance, before a party of customers entered the place, whose haughty assumption of importance claimed the instant attention of Bridlesley, and all his militia of grooms and stable-boys.

“Three good horses,” said the leader of the party, a tall bulky man, whose breath was drawn full and high, under a consciousness of fat, and of importance —“three good and able-bodied horses, for the service of the Commons of England.”

Bridlesley said he had some horses which might serve the Speaker himself at need; but that, to speak Christian truth, he had just sold the best in his stable to that gentleman present, who, doubtless, would give up the bargain if the horse was needed for the service of the State.

“You speak well, friend,” said the important personage; and advancing to Julian, demanded, in a very haughty tone, the surrender of the purchase which he had just made.

Peveril, with some difficulty, subdued the strong desire which he felt to return a round refusal to so unreasonable a request, but fortunately, recollecting that the situation in which he at present stood, required, on his part, much circumspection, he replied simply, that upon showing him any warrant to seize upon horses for the public service, he must of course submit to resign his purchase.

The man, with an air of extreme dignity, pulled from his pocket, and thrust into Peveril’s hand, a warrant, subscribed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, empowering Charles Topham, their officer of the Black Rod, to pursue and seize upon the persons of certain individuals named in the warrant; and of all other persons who are, or should be, accused by competent witnesses, of being accessory to, or favourers of, the hellish and damnable Popish Plot, at present carried on within the bowels of the kingdom; and charging all men, as they loved their allegiance, to render the said Charles Topham their readiest and most effective assistance, in execution of the duty entrusted to his care.

On perusing a document of such weighty import, Julian had no hesitation to give up his horse to this formidable functionary; whom somebody compared to a lion, which, as the House of Commons was pleased to maintain such an animal, they were under the necessity of providing for by frequent commitments; until “Take him, Topham,” became a proverb, and a formidable one, in the mouth of the public.

The acquiescence of Peveril procured him some grace in the sight of the emissary; who, before selecting two horses for his attendants, gave permission to the stranger to purchase a grey horse, much inferior, indeed, to that which he had resigned, both in form and in action, but very little lower in price, as Mr. Bridlesley, immediately on learning the demand for horses upon the part of the Commons of England, had passed a private resolution in his own mind, augmenting the price of his whole stud, by an imposition of at least twenty per cent., ad valorem.

Peveril adjusted and paid the price with much less argument than on the former occasion; for, to be plain with the reader, he had noticed in the warrant of Mr. Topham, the name of his father, Sir Geoffrey Peveril of Martindale Castle, engrossed at full length, as one of those subjected to arrest by that officer.

When aware of this material fact, it became Julian’s business to leave Liverpool directly, and carry the alarm to Derbyshire, if, indeed, Mr. Topham had not already executed his charge in that county, which he thought unlikely, as it was probable they would commence by securing those who lived nearest to the seaports. A word or two which he overheard strengthened his hopes.

“And hark ye, friend,” said Mr. Topham; “you will have the horses at the door of Mr. Shortell, the mercer, in two hours, as we shall refresh ourselves there with a cool tankard, and learn what folks live in the neighbourhood that may be concerned in my way. And you will please to have that saddle padded, for I am told the Derbyshire roads are rough. — And you, Captain Dangerfield, and Master Everett, you must put on your Protestant spectacles, and show me where there is the shadow of a priest, or of a priest’s favourer; for I am come down with a broom in my cap to sweep this north country of such like cattle.”

One of the persons he thus addressed, who wore the garb of a broken-down citizen, only answered, “Ay, truly, Master Topham, it is time to purge the garner.”

The other, who had a formidable pair of whiskers, a red nose, and a tarnished laced coat, together with a hat of Pistol’s dimensions, was more loquacious. “I take it on my damnation,” said this zealous Protestant witness, “that I will discover the marks of the beast on every one of them betwixt sixteen and seventy, as plainly as if they had crossed themselves with ink, instead of holy water. Since we have a King willing to do justice, and a House of Commons to uphold prosecutions, why, damn me, the cause must not stand still for lack of evidence.”

“Stick to that, noble captain,” answered the officer; “but, prithee, reserve thy oaths for the court of justice; it is but sheer waste to throw them away, as you do in your ordinary conversation.”

“Fear you nothing, Master Topham,” answered Dangerfield; “it is right to keep a man’s gifts in use; and were I altogether to renounce oaths in my private discourse, how should I know how to use one when I needed it? But you hear me use none of your Papist abjurations. I swear not by the mass, or before George, or by anything that belongs to idolatry; but such downright oaths as may serve a poor Protestant gentleman, who would fain serve Heaven and the King.”

“Bravely spoken, most noble Festus,” said his yoke-fellow. “But do not suppose, that although I am not in the habit of garnishing my words with oaths out of season, I shall be wanting, when called upon, to declare the height and the depth, the width and the length, of this hellish plot against the King and the Protestant faith.”

Dizzy, and almost sick, with listening to the undisguised brutality of these fellows, Peveril, having with difficulty prevailed on Bridlesley to settle his purchase, at length led forth his grey steed; but was scarce out of the yard, when he heard the following alarming conversation pass, of which he seemed himself the object.

“Who is that youth?” said the slow soft voice of the more precise of the two witnesses. “Methinks I have seen him somewhere before. Is he from these parts?”

“Not that I know of,” said Bridlesley; who, like all the other inhabitants of England at the time, answered the interrogatories of these fellows with the deference which is paid in Spain to the questions of an inquisitor. “A stranger — entirely a stranger — never saw him before — a wild young colt, I warrant him; and knows a horse’s mouth as well as I do.”

“I begin to bethink me I saw such a face as his at the Jesuits’ consult, in the White Horse Tavern,” answered Everett.

“And I think I recollect,” said Captain Dangerfield ——

“Come, come, master and captain,” said the authoritative voice of Topham, “we will have none of your recollections at present. We all know what these are likely to end in. But I will have you know, you are not to run till the leash is slipped. The young man is a well-looking lad, and gave up his horse handsomely for the service of the House of Commons. He knows how to behave himself to his betters, I warrant you; and I scarce think he has enough in his purse to pay the fees.”

This speech concluded the dialogue, which Peveril, finding himself so much concerned in the issue, thought it best to hear to an end. Now, when it ceased, to get out of the town unobserved, and take the nearest way to his father’s castle, seemed his wisest plan. He had settled his reckoning at the inn, and brought with him to Bridlesley’s the small portmanteau which contained his few necessaries, so that he had no occasion to return thither. He resolved, therefore, to ride some miles before he stopped, even for the purpose of feeding his horse; and being pretty well acquainted with the country, he hoped to be able to push forward to Martindale Castle sooner than the worshipful Master Topham; whose saddle was, in the first place, to be padded, and who, when mounted, would, in all probability, ride with the precaution of those who require such security against the effects of a hard trot.

Under the influence of these feelings, Julian pushed for Warrington, a place with which he was well acquainted; but, without halting in the town, he crossed the Mersey, by the bridge built by an ancestor of his friend the Earl of Derby, and continued his route towards Dishley, on the borders of Derbyshire. He might have reached this latter village easily, had his horse been fitter for a forced march; but in the course of the journey, he had occasion, more than once, to curse the official dignity of the person who had robbed him of his better steed, while taking the best direction he could through a country with which he was only generally acquainted.

At length, near Altringham, a halt became unavoidable; and Peveril had only to look for some quiet and sequestered place of refreshment. This presented itself, in the form of a small cluster of cottages; the best of which united the characters of an alehouse and a mill, where the sign of the Cat (the landlord’s faithful ally in defence of his meal-sacks), booted as high as Grimalkin in the fairy tale, and playing on the fiddle for the more grace, announced that John Whitecraft united the two honest occupations of landlord and miller; and, doubtless, took toll from the public in both capacities.

Such a place promised a traveller, who journeyed incognito, safer, if not better accommodation, than he was like to meet with in more frequented inns; and at the door of the Cat and Fiddle, Julian halted accordingly.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/peveril/chapter20.html

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