Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 24

We meet, as men see phantoms in a dream,

Which glide, and sigh, and sign, and move their lips,

But make no sound; or, if they utter voice,

’Tis but a low and undistinguish’d moaning,

Which has nor word nor sense of utter’d sound.

THE CHIEFTAIN.

We said, at the conclusion of the last chapter, that a female form appeared at the door of Moultrassie Hall; and that the well-known accents of Alice Bridgenorth were heard to hail the return of her father, from what she naturally dreaded as a perilous visit to the Castle of Martindale.

Julian, who followed his conductor with a throbbing heart into the lighted hall, was therefore prepared to see her whom he best loved, with her arms thrown around her father. The instant she had quitted his paternal embrace, she was aware of the unexpected guest who had returned in his company. A deep blush, rapidly succeeded by a deadly paleness, and again by a slighter suffusion, showed plainly to her lover that his sudden appearance was anything but indifferent to her. He bowed profoundly — a courtesy which she returned with equal formality, but did not venture to approach more nearly, feeling at once the delicacy of his own situation and of hers.

Major Bridgenorth turned his cold, fixed, grey, melancholy glance, first on the one of them and then on the other. “Some,” he said gravely, “would, in my case, have avoided this meeting; but I have confidence in you both, although you are young, and beset with the snares incidental to your age. There are those within who should not know that ye have been acquainted. Wherefore, be wise, and be as strangers to each other.”

Julian and Alice exchanged glances as her father turned from them, and lifting a lamp which stood in the entrance-hall, led the way to the interior apartment. There was little of consolation in this exchange of looks; for the sadness of Alice’s glance was mingled with fear, and that of Julian clouded by an anxious sense of doubt. The look also was but momentary; for Alice, springing to her father, took the light out of his hand, and stepping before him, acted as the usher of both into the large oaken parlour, which has been already mentioned as the apartment in which Bridgenorth had spent the hours of dejection which followed the death of his consort and family. It was now lighted up as for the reception of company; and five or six persons sat in it, in the plain, black, stiff dress, which was affected by the formal Puritans of the time, in evidence of their contempt of the manners of the luxurious Court of Charles the Second; amongst whom, excess of extravagance in apparel, like excess of every other kind, was highly fashionable.

Julian at first glanced his eyes but slightly along the range of grave and severe faces which composed this society — men sincere, perhaps, in their pretensions to a superior purity of conduct and morals, but in whom that high praise was somewhat chastened by an affected austerity in dress and manners, allied to those Pharisees of old, who made broad their phylacteries, and would be seen of man to fast, and to discharge with rigid punctuality the observances of the law. Their dress was almost uniformly a black cloak and doublet, cut straight and close, and undecorated with lace or embroidery of any kind, black Flemish breeches and hose, square-toed shoes, with large roses made of serge ribbon. Two or three had large loose boots of calf-leather, and almost every one was begirt with a long rapier, which was suspended by leathern thongs, to a plain belt of buff, or of black leather. One or two of the elder guests, whose hair had been thinned by time, had their heads covered with a skull-cap of black silk or velvet, which, being drawn down betwixt the ears and the skull, and permitting no hair to escape, occasioned the former to project in the ungraceful manner which may be remarked in old pictures, and which procured for the Puritans the term of “prickeared Roundheads,” so unceremoniously applied to them by their contemporaries.

These worthies were ranged against the wall, each in his ancient high-backed, long-legged chair; neither looking towards, nor apparently discoursing with each other; but plunged in their own reflections, or awaiting, like an assembly of Quakers, the quickening power of divine inspiration.

Major Bridgenorth glided along this formal society with noiseless step, and a composed severity of manner, resembling their own. He paused before each in succession, and apparently communicated, as he passed, the transactions of the evening, and the circumstances under which the heir of Martindale Castle was now a guest at Moultrassie Hall. Each seemed to stir at his brief detail, like a range of statues in an enchanted hall, starting into something like life, as a talisman is applied to them successively. Most of them, as they heard the narrative of their host, cast upon Julian a look of curiosity, blended with haughty scorn and the consciousness of spiritual superiority; though, in one or two instances, the milder influences of compassion were sufficiently visible. — Peveril would have undergone this gantlet of eyes with more impatience, had not his own been for the time engaged in following the motions of Alice, who glided through the apartment; and only speaking very briefly, and in whispers, to one or two of the company who addressed her, took her place beside a treble-hooded old lady, the only female of the party, and addressed herself to her in such earnest conversation, as might dispense with her raising her head, or looking at any others in the company.

Her father put a question, to which she was obliged to return an answer —“Where was Mistress Debbitch?”

“She has gone out,” Alice replied, “early after sunset, to visit some old acquaintances in the neighbourhood, and she was not yet returned.”

Major Bridgenorth made a gesture indicative of displeasure; and, not content with that, expressed his determined resolution that Dame Deborah should no longer remain a member of his family. “I will have those,” he said aloud, and without regarding the presence of his guests, “and those only, around me, who know to keep within the sober and modest bounds of a Christian family. Who pretends to more freedom, must go out from among us, as not being of us.”

A deep and emphatic humming noise, which was at that time the mode in which the Puritans signified their applause, as well of the doctrines expressed by a favourite divine in the pulpit, as of those delivered in private society, ratified the approbation of the assessors, and seemed to secure the dismission of the unfortunate governante, who stood thus detected of having strayed out of bounds. Even Peveril, although he had reaped considerable advantages, in his early acquaintance with Alice, from the mercenary and gossiping disposition of her governess, could not hear of her dismissal without approbation, so much was he desirous, that, in the hour of difficulty which might soon approach, Alice might have the benefit of countenance and advice from one of her own sex of better manners, and less suspicious probity, than Mistress Debbitch.

Almost immediately after this communication had taken place, a servant in mourning showed his thin, pinched, and wrinkled visage in the apartment, announcing, with a voice more like a passing bell than the herald of a banquet, that refreshments were provided in an adjoining apartment. Gravely leading the way, with his daughter on one side, and the puritanical female whom we have distinguished on the other, Bridgenorth himself ushered his company, who followed, with little attention to order or ceremony, into the eating-room, where a substantial supper was provided.

In this manner, Peveril, although entitled according to ordinary ceremonial, to some degree of precedence — a matter at that time considered of much importance, although now little regarded — was left among the last of those who quitted the parlour; and might indeed have brought up the rear of all, had not one of the company, who was himself late in the retreat, bowed and resigned to Julian the rank in the company which had been usurped by others.

This act of politeness naturally induced Julian to examine the features of the person who had offered him this civility; and he started to observe, under the pinched velvet cap, and above the short band-strings, the countenance of Ganlesse, as he called himself — his companion on the preceding evening. He looked again and again, especially when all were placed at the supper board, and when, consequently, he had frequent opportunities of observing this person fixedly without any breach of good manners. At first he wavered in his belief, and was much inclined to doubt the reality of his recollection; for the difference of dress was such as to effect a considerable change of appearance; and the countenance itself, far from exhibiting anything marked or memorable, was one of those ordinary visages which we see almost without remarking them, and which leave our memory so soon as the object is withdrawn from our eyes. But the impression upon his mind returned, and became stronger, until it induced him to watch with peculiar attention the manners of the individual who had thus attracted his notice.

During the time of a very prolonged grace before meat, which was delivered by one of the company — who, from his Geneva band and serge doublet, presided, as Julian supposed, over some dissenting congregation — he noticed that this man kept the same demure and severe cast of countenance usually affected by the Puritans, and which rather caricatured the reverence unquestionably due upon such occasions. His eyes were turned upward, and his huge penthouse hat, with a high crown and broad brim, held in both hands before him, rose and fell with the cadences of the speaker’s voice; thus marking time, as it were, to the periods of the benediction. Yet when the slight bustle took place which attends the adjusting of chairs, &c., as men sit down to table, Julian’s eye encountered that of the stranger; and as their looks met, there glanced from those of the latter an expression of satirical humour and scorn, which seemed to intimate internal ridicule of the gravity of his present demeanour.

Julian again sought to fix his eye, in order to ascertain that he had not mistaken the tendency of this transient expression, but the stranger did not allow him another opportunity. He might have been discovered by the tone of his voice; but the individual in question spoke little, and in whispers, which was indeed the fashion of the whole company, whose demeanour at table resembled that of mourners at a funeral feast.

The entertainment itself was coarse, though plentiful; and must, according to Julian’s opinion, be distasteful to one so exquisitely skilled in good cheer, and so capable of enjoying, critically and scientifically, the genial preparations of his companion Smith, as Ganlesse had shown himself on the preceding evening. Accordingly, upon close observation, he remarked that the food which he took upon his plate remained there unconsumed; and that his actual supper consisted only of a crust of bread, with a glass of wine.

The repast was hurried over with the haste of those who think it shame, if not sin, to make mere animal enjoyments the means of consuming time, or of receiving pleasure; and when men wiped their mouths and moustaches, Julian remarked that the object of his curiosity used a handkerchief of the finest cambric — an article rather inconsistent with the exterior plainness, not to say coarseness, of his appearance. He used also several of the more minute refinements, then only observed at tables of the higher rank; and Julian thought he could discern, at every turn, something of courtly manners and gestures, under the precise and rustic simplicity of the character which he had assumed.*

* A Scottish gentleman in hiding, as it was emphatically termed, for some concern in a Jacobite insurrection or plot, was discovered among a number of ordinary persons, by the use of his toothpick.

But if this were indeed that same Ganlesse with whom Julian had met on the preceding evening, and who had boasted the facility with which he could assume any character which he pleased to represent for the time, what could be the purpose of this present disguise? He was, if his own words could be credited, a person of some importance, who dared to defy the danger of those officers and informers, before whom all ranks at that time trembled; nor was he likely, as Julian conceived, without some strong purpose, to subject himself to such a masquerade as the present, which could not be otherwise than irksome to one whose conversation proclaimed him of light life and free opinions. Was his appearance here for good or for evil? Did it respect his father’s house, or his own person, or the family of Bridgenorth? Was the real character of Ganlesse known to the master of the house, inflexible as he was in all which concerned morals as well as religion? If not, might not the machinations of a brain so subtile affect the peace and happiness of Alice Bridgenorth?

These were questions which no reflection could enable Peveril to answer. His eyes glanced from Alice to the stranger; and new fears, and undefined suspicions, in which the safety of that beloved and lovely girl was implicated, mingled with the deep anxiety which already occupied his mind, on account of his father and his father’s house.

He was in this tumult of mind, when after a thanksgiving as long as the grace, the company arose from table, and were instantly summoned to the exercise of family worship. A train of domestics, grave, sad, and melancholy as their superiors, glided in to assist at this act of devotion, and ranged themselves at the lower end of the apartment. Most of these men were armed with long tucks, as the straight stabbing swords, much used by Cromwell’s soldiery, were then called. Several had large pistols also; and the corselets or cuirasses of some were heard to clank, as they seated themselves to partake in this act of devotion. The ministry of him whom Julian had supposed a preacher was not used on this occasion. Major Bridgenorth himself read and expounded a chapter of Scripture, with much strength and manliness of expression, although so as not to escape the charge of fanaticism. The nineteenth chapter of Jeremiah was the portion of Scripture which he selected; in which, under the type of breaking a potter’s vessel, the prophet presages the desolation of the Jews. The lecturer was not naturally eloquent; but a strong, deep, and sincere conviction of the truth of what he said supplied him with language of energy and fire, as he drew parallel between the abominations of the worship of Baal, and the corruptions of the Church of Rome — so favourite a topic with the Puritans of that period; and denounced against the Catholics, and those who favoured them, that hissing and desolation which the prophet directed against the city of Jerusalem. His hearers made a yet closer application than the lecturer himself suggested; and many a dark proud eye intimated, by a glance on Julian, that on his father’s house were already, in some part, realised those dreadful maledictions.

The lecture finished, Bridgenorth summoned them to unite with him in prayer; and on a slight change of arrangements amongst the company, which took place as they were about to kneel down, Julian found his place next to the single-minded and beautiful object of his affection, as she knelt, in her loveliness, to adore her Creator. A short time was permitted for mental devotion; during which Peveril could hear her half-breathed petition for the promised blessings of peace on earth, and good-will towards the children of men.

The prayer which ensued was in a different tone. It was poured forth by the same person who had officiated as chaplain at the table; and was in the tone of a Boanerges, or Son of Thunder — a denouncer of crimes — an invoker of judgments — almost a prophet of evil and of destruction. The testimonies and the sins of the day were not forgotten — the mysterious murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey was insisted upon — and thanks and praise were offered, that the very night on which they were assembled, had not seen another offering of a Protestant magistrate, to the bloodthirsty fury of revengeful Catholics.

Never had Julian found it more difficult, during an act of devotion, to maintain his mind in a frame befitting the posture and the occasion; and when he heard the speaker return thanks for the downfall and devastation of his family, he was strongly tempted to have started upon his feet, and charged him with offering a tribute, stained with falsehood and calumny, at the throne of truth itself. He resisted, however, an impulse which it would have been insanity to have yielded to, and his patience was not without its reward; for when his fair neighbour arose from her knees, the lengthened and prolonged prayer being at last concluded, he observed that her eyes were streaming with tears; and one glance with which she looked at him in that moment, showed more of affectionate interest for him in his fallen fortunes and precarious condition, than he had been able to obtain from her when his worldly estate seemed so much the more exalted of the two.

Cheered and fortified with the conviction that one bosom in the company, and that in which he most eagerly longed to secure an interest, sympathised with his distress, he felt strong to endure whatever was to follow, and shrunk not from the stern still smile with which, one by one, the meeting regarded him, as, gliding to their several places of repose, they indulged themselves at parting with a look of triumph on one whom they considered as their captive enemy.

Alice also passed by her lover, her eyes fixed on the ground, and answered his low obeisance without raising them. The room was now empty, but for Bridgenorth and his guest, or prisoner; for it is difficult to say in which capacity Peveril ought to regard himself. He took an old brazen lamp from the table, and, leading the way, said at the same time, “I must be the uncourtly chamberlain, who am to usher you to a place of repose, more rude, perhaps, than you have been accustomed to occupy.”

Julian followed him, in silence, up an old-fashioned winding staircase, within a turret. At the landing-place on the top was a small apartment, where an ordinary pallet bed, two chairs, and a small stone table, were the only furniture. “Your bed,” continued Bridgenorth, as if desirous to prolong their interview, “is not of the softest; but innocence sleeps as sound upon straw as on down.”

“Sorrow, Major Bridgenorth, finds little rest on either,” replied Julian. “Tell me, for you seem to await some question from me, what is to be the fate of my parents, and why you separate me from them?”

Bridgenorth, for answer, indicated with his finger the mark which his countenance still showed from the explosion of Julian’s pistol.

“That,” replied Julian, “is not the real cause of your proceedings against me. It cannot be, that you, who have been a soldier, and are a man, can be surprised or displeased by my interference in the defence of my father. Above all, you cannot, and I must needs say you do not, believe that I would have raised my hand against you personally, had there been a moment’s time for recognition.”

“I may grant all this,” said Bridgenorth; “but what the better are you for my good opinion, or for the ease with which I can forgive you the injury which you aimed at me? You are in my custody as a magistrate, accused of abetting the foul, bloody, and heathenish plot, for the establishment of Popery, the murder of the King, and the general massacre of all true Protestants.”

“And on what grounds, either of fact or suspicion, dare any one accuse me of such a crime?” said Julian. “I have hardly heard of the plot, save by the mouth of common rumour, which, while it speaks of nothing else, takes care to say nothing distinctly even on that subject.”

“It may be enough for me to tell you,” replied Bridgenorth, “and perhaps it is a word too much — that you are a discovered intriguer — a spied spy — who carries tokens and messages betwixt the Popish Countess of Derby and the Catholic party in London. You have not conducted your matters with such discretion, but that this is well known, and can be sufficiently proved. To this charge, which you are well aware you cannot deny, these men, Everett and Dangerfield, are not unwilling to add, from the recollection of your face, other passages, which will certainly cost you your life when you come before a Protestant jury.”

“They lie like villains,” said Peveril, “who hold me accessory to any plot either against the King, the nation, or the state of religion; and for the Countess, her loyalty has been too long, and too highly proved, to permit her being implicated in such injurious suspicions.”

“What she has already done,” said Bridgenorth, his face darkening as he spoke, “against the faithful champions of pure religion, hath sufficiently shown of what she is capable. She hath betaken herself to her rock, and sits, as she thinks, in security, like the eagle reposing after his bloody banquet. But the arrow of the fowler may yet reach her — the shaft is whetted — the bow is bended — and it will be soon seen whether Amalek or Israel shall prevail. But for thee, Julian Peveril — why should I conceal it from thee? — my heart yearns for thee as a woman’s for her first-born. To thee I will give, at the expense of my own reputation — perhaps at the risk of personal suspicion — for who, in these days of doubt, shall be exempted from it — to thee, I say, I will give means of escape, which else were impossible to thee. The staircase of this turret descends to the gardens — the postern-gate is unlatched — on the right hand lie the stables, where you will find your own horse — take it, and make for Liverpool — I will give you credit with a friend under the name of Simon Simonson, one persecuted by the prelates; and he will expedite your passage from the kingdom.”

“Major Bridgenorth,” said Julian, “I will not deceive you. Were I to accept your offer of freedom, it would be to attend to a higher call than that of mere self-preservation. My father is in danger — my mother in sorrow — the voices of religion and nature call me to their side. I am their only child — their only hope — I will aid them, or perish with them!”

“Thou art mad,” said Bridgenorth —“aid them thou canst not — perish with them thou mayst, and even accelerate their ruin; for, in addition to the charges with which thy unhappy father is loaded, it would be no slight aggravation, that while he meditated arming and calling together the Catholics and High Churchmen of Cheshire and Derbyshire, his son should prove to be the confidential agent of the Countess of Derby, who aided her in making good her stronghold against the Protestant commissioners, and was despatched by her to open secret communication with the Popish interest in London.”

“You have twice stated me as such an agent,” said Peveril, resolved that his silence should not be construed into an admission of the charge, though he felt it was in some degree well founded —“What reason have you for such an allegation?”

“Will it suffice for a proof of my intimate acquaintance with your mystery,” replied Bridgenorth, “if I should repeat to you the last words which the Countess used to you when you left the Castle of that Amalekitish woman? Thus she spoke: ‘I am now a forlorn widow,’ she said, ‘whom sorrow has made selfish.’”

Peveril started, for these were the very words the Countess had used; but he instantly recovered himself, and replied, “Be your information of what nature it will, I deny, and I defy it, so far as it attaches aught like guilt to me. There lives not a man more innocent of a disloyal thought, or of a traitorous purpose. What I say for myself, I will, to the best of my knowledge, say and maintain on account of the noble Countess, to whom I am indebted for nurture.”

“Perish, then, in thy obstinacy!” said Bridgenorth; and turning hastily from him, he left the room, and Julian heard him hasten down the narrow staircase, as if distrusting his own resolution.

With a heavy heart, yet with that confidence in an overruling Providence which never forsakes a good and brave man, Peveril betook himself to his lowly place of repose.

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