Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 3

Here’s neither want of appetite nor mouths;

Pray Heaven we be not scant of meat or mirth!

OLD PLAY.

Even upon ordinary occasions, and where means were ample, a great entertainment in those days was not such a sinecure as in modern times, when the lady who presides has but to intimate to her menials the day and hour when she wills it to take place. At that simple period, the lady was expected to enter deeply into the arrangement and provision of the whole affair; and from a little gallery, which communicated with her own private apartment, and looked down upon the kitchen, her shrill voice was to be heard, from time to time, like that of the warning spirit in a tempest, rising above the clash of pots and stewpans — the creaking spits — the clattering of marrowbones and cleavers — the scolding of cooks — and all the other various kinds of din which form an accompaniment to dressing a large dinner.

But all this toil and anxiety was more than doubled in the case of the approaching feast at Martindale Castle, where the presiding Genius of the festivity was scarce provided with adequate means to carry her hospitable purpose into effect. The tyrannical conduct of husbands, in such cases, is universal; and I scarce know one householder of my acquaintance who has not, on some ill-omened and most inconvenient season, announced suddenly to his innocent helpmate, that he had invited

“Some odious Major Rock,

To drop in at six o’clock,”

to the great discomposure of the lady, and the discredit, perhaps, of her domestic arrangements.

Peveril of the Peak was still more thoughtless; for he had directed his lady to invite the whole honest men of the neighbourhood to make good cheer at Martindale Castle, in honour of the blessed Restoration of his most sacred Majesty, without precisely explaining where the provisions were to come from. The deer-park had lain waste ever since the siege; the dovecot could do little to furnish forth such an entertainment; the fishponds, it is true, were well provided (which the neighbouring Presbyterians noted as a suspicious circumstance); and game was to be had for the shooting, upon the extensive heaths and hills of Derbyshire. But these were but the secondary parts of a banquet; and the house-steward and bailiff, Lady Peveril’s only coadjutors and counsellors, could not agree how the butcher-meat — the most substantial part, or, as it were, the main body of the entertainment — was to be supplied. The house-steward threatened the sacrifice of a fine yoke of young bullocks, which the bailiff, who pleaded the necessity of their agricultural services, tenaciously resisted; and Lady Peveril’s good and dutiful nature did not prevent her from making some impatient reflections on the want of consideration of her absent Knight, who had thus thoughtlessly placed her in so embarrassing a situation.

These reflections were scarcely just, if a man is only responsible for such resolutions as he adopts when he is fully master of himself. Sir Geoffrey’s loyalty, like that of many persons in his situation, had, by dint of hopes and fears, victories and defeats, struggles and sufferings, all arising out of the same moving cause, and turning, as it were, on the same pivot, acquired the character of an intense and enthusiastic passion; and the singular and surprising change of fortune, by which his highest wishes were not only gratified, but far exceeded, occasioned for some time a kind of intoxication of loyal rapture which seemed to pervade the whole kingdom. Sir Geoffrey had seen Charles and his brothers, and had been received by the merry monarch with that graceful, and at the same time frank urbanity, by which he conciliated all who approached him; the Knight’s services and merits had been fully acknowledged, and recompense had been hinted at, if not expressly promised. Was it for Peveril of the Peak, in the jubilee of his spirits, to consider how his wife was to find beef and mutton to feast his neighbours?

Luckily, however, for the embarrassed lady, there existed some one who had composure of mind sufficient to foresee this difficulty. Just as she had made up her mind, very reluctantly, to become debtor to Major Bridgenorth for the sum necessary to carry her husband’s commands into effect, and whilst she was bitterly regretting this departure from the strictness of her usual economy, the steward, who, by-the-bye, had not been absolutely sober since the news of the King’s landing at Dover, burst into the apartment, snapping his fingers, and showing more marks of delight than was quite consistent with the dignity of my lady’s large parlour.

“What means this, Whitaker?” said the lady, somewhat peevishly; for she was interrupted in the commencement of a letter to her neighbour on the unpleasant business of the proposed loan — “Is it to be always thus with you? — Are you dreaming?”

“A vision of good omen, I trust,” said the steward, with a triumphant flourish of the hand; “far better than Pharaoh’s, though, like his, it be of fat kine.”

“I prithee be plain, man,” said the lady, “or fetch some one who can speak to purpose.”

“Why, odds-my-life, madam,” said the steward, “mine errand can speak for itself. Do you not hear them low? Do you not hear them bleat? A yoke of fat oxen, and half a score prime wethers. The Castle is victualled for this bout, let them storm when they will; and Gatherill may have his d — d mains ploughed to the boot.”

The lady, without farther questioning her elated domestic, rose and went to the window, where she certainly beheld the oxen and sheep which had given rise to Whitaker’s exultation. “Whence come they?” said she, in some surprise.

“Let them construe that who can,” answered Whitaker; “the fellow who drove them was a west-country man, and only said they came from a friend to help to furnish out your ladyship’s entertainment; the man would not stay to drink — I am sorry he would not stay to drink — I crave your ladyship’s pardon for not keeping him by the ears to drink — it was not my fault.”

“That I’ll be sworn it was not,” said the lady.

“Nay, madam, by G — I assure you it was not,” said the zealous steward; “for, rather than the Castle should lose credit, I drank his health myself in double ale, though I had had my morning draught already. I tell you the naked truth, my lady, by G—!”

“It was no great compulsion, I suppose,” said the lady; “but, Whitaker, suppose you should show your joy on such occasions, by drinking and swearing a little less, rather than a little more, would it not be as well, think you?”

“I crave your ladyship’s pardon,” said Whitaker, with much reverence; “I hope I know my place. I am your ladyship’s poor servant; and I know it does not become me to drink and swear like your ladyship — that is, like his honour, Sir Geoffrey, I would say. But I pray you, if I am not to drink and swear after my degree, how are men to know Peveril of the Peak’s steward — and I may say butler too, since I have had the keys of the cellar ever since old Spigots was shot dead on the northwest turret, with a black jack in his hand — I say, how is an old Cavalier like me to be known from those cuckoldly Roundheads that do nothing but fast and pray, if we are not to drink and swear according to our degree?”

The lady was silent, for she well knew speech availed nothing; and, after a moment’s pause, proceeded to intimate to the steward that she would have the persons, whose names were marked in a written paper, which she delivered to him, invited to the approaching banquet.

Whitaker, instead of receiving the list with the mute acquiescence of a modern Major Domo, carried it into the recess of one of the windows, and, adjusting his spectacles, began to read it to himself. The first names, being those of distinguished Cavalier families in the neighbourhood, he muttered over in a tone of approbation — paused and pshawed at that of Bridgenorth — yet acquiesced, with the observation, “But he is a good neighbour, so it may pass for once.” But when he read the name and surname of Nehemiah Solsgrace, the Presbyterian parson, Whitaker’s patience altogether forsook him; and he declared he would as soon throw himself into Eldon-hole,* as consent that the intrusive old puritan howlet, who had usurped the pulpit of a sound orthodox divine, should ever darken the gates of Martindale Castle by any message or mediation of his.

* A chasm in the earth supposed to be unfathomable, one of the wonders of the Peak.

“The false crop-eared hypocrites,” cried he, with a hearty oath, “have had their turn of the good weather. The sun is on our side of the hedge now, and we will pay off old scores, as sure as my name is Richard Whitaker.”

“You presume on your long services, Whitaker, and on your master’s absence, or you had not dared to use me thus,” said the lady.

The unwonted agitation of her voice attracted the attention of the refractory steward, notwithstanding his present state of elevation; but he no sooner saw that her eye glistened, and her cheek reddened, than his obstinacy was at once subdued.

“A murrain on me,” he said, “but I have made my lady angry in good earnest! and that is an unwonted sight for to see. — I crave your pardon, my lady! It was not poor Dick Whitaker disputed your honourable commands, but only that second draught of double ale. We have put a double stroke of malt to it, as your ladyship well knows, ever since the happy Restoration. To be sure I hate a fanatic as I do the cloven foot of Satan; but then your honourable ladyship hath a right to invite Satan himself, cloven foot and all, to Martindale Castle; and to send me to hell’s gate with a billet of invitation — and so your will shall be done.”

The invitations were sent round accordingly, in all due form; and one of the bullocks was sent down to be roasted whole at the market-place of a little village called Martindale-Moultrassie, which stood considerably to the eastward both of the Castle and Hall, from which it took its double name, at about an equal distance from both; so that, suppose a line drawn from the one manor-house to the other, to be the base of a triangle, the village would have occupied the salient angle. As the said village, since the late transference of a part of Peveril’s property, belonged to Sir Geoffrey and to Bridgenorth in nearly equal portions, the lady judged it not proper to dispute the right of the latter to add some hogsheads of beer to the popular festivity.

In the meanwhile, she could not but suspect the Major of being the unknown friend who had relieved her from the dilemma arising from the want of provisions; and she esteemed herself happy when a visit from him, on the day preceding the proposed entertainment, gave her, as she thought, an opportunity of expressing her gratitude.

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