Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 43

He came amongst them like a new raised spirit

To speak of dreadful judgments that impend,

And of the wrath to come.

THE REFORMER.

The astonishment of Julian at the unexpected apparition of Bridgenorth, was instantly succeeded by apprehension of his father’s violence, which he had every reason to believe would break forth against one, whom he himself could not but reverence on account of his own merits, as well as because he was the father of Alice. The appearance of Bridgenorth was not however, such as to awaken resentment. His countenance was calm, his step slow and composed, his eye not without the indication of some deep-seated anxiety, but without any expression either of anger or of triumph. “You are welcome,” he said, “Sir Geoffrey Peveril, to the shelter and hospitality of this house; as welcome as you would have been in other days, when we called each other neighbours and friends.”

“Odzooks,” said the old Cavalier; “and had I known it was thy house, man, I would sooner had my heart’s blood run down the kennel, than my foot should have crossed your threshold — in the way of seeking safety, that is.”

“I forgive your inveteracy,” said Major Bridgenorth, “on account of your prejudices.”

“Keep your forgiveness,” answered the Cavalier, “until you are pardoned yourself. By Saint George I have sworn, if ever I got my heels out of yon rascally prison, whither I was sent much through your means, Master Bridgenorth — that you should pay the reckoning for my bad lodging. — I will strike no man in his own house; but if you will cause the fellow to bring back my weapon, and take a turn in that blind court there below, along with me, you shall soon see what chance a traitor hath with a true man, and a kennel-blooded Puritan with Peveril of the Peak.”

Bridgenorth smiled with much composure. “When I was younger and more warm-blooded,” he replied, “I refused your challenge, Sir Geoffrey; it is not likely I should now accept it, when each is within a stride of the grave. I have not spared, and will not spare, my blood, when my country wants it.”

“That is when there is any chance of treason against the King,” said Sir Geoffrey.

“Nay, my father,” said Julian, “let us hear Master Bridgenorth! We have been sheltered in his house; and although we now see him in London, we should remember that he did not appear against us this day, when perhaps his evidence might have given a fatal turn to our situation.”

“You are right, young man,” said Bridgenorth; “and it should be some pledge of my sincere goodwill, that I was this day absent from Westminster, when a few words from my mouth had ended the long line of Peveril of the Peak: it needed but ten minutes to walk to Westminster Hall, to have ensured your condemnation. But could I have done this, knowing, as I now know, that to thee, Julian Peveril, I owe the extrication of my daughter — of my dearest Alice — the memory of her departed mother — from the snares which hell and profligacy had opened around her?”

“She is, I trust safe,” said Peveril eagerly, and almost forgetting his father’s presence; “she is, I trust, safe, and in your own wardship?”

“Not in mine,” said the dejected father; “but in that of one in whose protection, next to that of Heaven, I can most fully confide.”

“Are you sure — are you very sure of that?” repeated Julian eagerly. “I found her under the charge of one to whom she had been trusted, and who yet ——”

“And who yet was the basest of women,” answered Bridgenorth; “but he who selected her for the charge was deceived in her character.”

“Say rather you were deceived in his; remember that when we parted in Moultrassie, I warned you of that Ganlesse — that ——”

“I know your meaning,” said Bridgenorth; “nor did you err in describing him as a worldly-wise man. But he has atoned for his error by recovering Alice from the dangers into which she has plunged when separated from you; and besides, I have not thought meet again to entrust him with the charge that is dearest to me.”

“I thank God your eyes are thus far opened!” said Julian.

“This day will open them wide, or close them for ever,” answered Bridgenorth.

During this dialogue, which the speakers hurried through without attending to the others who were present, Sir Geoffrey listened with surprise and eagerness, endeavouring to catch something which should render their conversation intelligible; but as he totally failed in gaining any such key to their meaning, he broke in with — ”‘Sblood and thunder, Julian, what unprofitable gossip is this? What hast thou to do with this fellow, more than to bastinado him, if you should think it worth while to beat so old a rogue?”

“My dearest father,” said Julian, “you know not this gentleman — I am certain you do him injustice. My own obligations to him are many; and I am sure when you come to know them ——”

“I hope I shall die ere that moment come,” said Sir Geoffrey; and continued with increasing violence, “I hope in the mercy of Heaven, that I shall be in the grave of my ancestors, ere I learn that my son — my only son — the last hope of my ancient house — the last remnant of the name of Peveril — hath consented to receive obligations from the man on earth I am most bound to hate, were I not still more bound to contemn him! — Degenerate dog-whelp!” he repeated with great vehemence, “you colour without replying! Speak, and disown such disgrace; or, by the God of my fathers ——”

The dwarf suddenly stepped forward and called out, “Forbear!” with a voice at once so discordant and commanding, that it sounded supernatural. “Man of sin and pride,” he said, “forbear; and call not the name of a holy God to witness thine unhallowed resentments.”

The rebuke so boldly and decidedly given, and the moral enthusiasm with which he spoke, gave the despised dwarf an ascendancy for the moment over the fiery spirit of his gigantic namesake. Sir Geoffrey Peveril eyed him for an instant askance and shyly, as he might have done a supernatural apparition, and then muttered, “What knowest thou of my cause of wrath?”

“Nothing,” said the dwarf; —“nothing but this — that no cause can warrant the oath thou wert about to swear. Ungrateful man! thou wert today rescued from the devouring wrath of the wicked, by a marvellous conjunction of circumstances — Is this a day, thinkest thou, on which to indulge thine own hasty resentments?”

“I stand rebuked,” said Sir Geoffrey, “and by a singular monitor — the grasshopper, as the prayer-book saith, hath become a burden to me. — Julian, I will speak to thee of these matters hereafter; — and for you, Master Bridgenorth, I desire to have no farther communication with you, either in peace or in anger. Our time passes fast, and I would fain return to my family. Cause our weapons to be restored; unbar the doors, and let us part without farther altercation, which can but disturb and aggravate our spirits.”

“Sir Geoffrey Peveril,” said Bridgenorth, “I have no desire to vex your spirit or my own; but, for thus soon dismissing you, that may hardly be, it being a course inconsistent with the work which I have on hand.”

“How, sir! Do you mean that we should abide here, whether with or against our inclinations?” said the dwarf. “Were it not that I am laid under charge to remain here, by one who hath the best right to command this poor microcosm, I would show thee that bolts and bars are unavailing restraints on such as I am.”

“Truly,” said Sir Geoffrey, “I think, upon an emergency, the little man might make his escape through the keyhole.”

Bridgenorth’s face was moved into something like a smile at the swaggering speech of the pigmy hero, and the contemptuous commentary of Sir Geoffrey Peveril; but such an expression never dwelt on his features for two seconds together, and he replied in these words:— “Gentlemen, each and all of you must be fain to content yourselves. Believe me, no hurt is intended towards you; on the contrary, your remaining here will be a means of securing your safety, which would be otherwise deeply endangered. It will be your own fault if a hair of your head is hurt. But the stronger force is on my side; and, whatever harm you may meet with should you attempt to break forth by violence, the blame must rest with yourselves. It you will not believe me, I will permit Master Julian Peveril to accompany me, where he shall see that I am provided fully with the means of repressing violence.”

“Treason! — treason!” exclaimed the old Knight —“Treason against God and King Charles! — Oh, for one half-hour of the broadsword which I parted with like an ass!”

“Hold, my father, I conjure you!” said Julian. “I will go with Master Bridgenorth, since he requests it. I will satisfy myself whether there be danger, and of what nature. It is possible I may prevail on him to desist from some desperate measure, if such be indeed in agitation. Should it be necessary, fear not that your son will behave as he ought to do.”

“Do your pleasure, Julian,” said his father; “I will confide in thee. But if you betray my confidence, a father’s curse shall cleave to you.”

Bridgenorth now motioned to Peveril to follow him, and they passed through the small door by which he entered.

The passage led to a vestibule or anteroom, in which several other doors and passages seemed to centre. Through one of these Julian was conducted by Bridgenorth, walking with silence and precaution, in obedience to a signal made by his guide to that effect. As they advanced, he heard sounds, like those of the human voice, engaged in urgent and emphatic declamation. With slow and light steps Bridgenorth conducted him through a door which terminated this passage; and as he entered a little gallery, having a curtain in front, the sound of the preacher’s voice — for such it now seemed — became distinct and audible.

Julian now doubted not that he was in one of those conventicles, which, though contrary to the existing laws, still continued to be regularly held in different parts of London and the suburbs. Many of these, as frequented by persons of moderate political principles, though dissenters from the Church for conscience’ sake, were connived at by the prudence or timidity of the government. But some of them, in which assembled the fiercer and more exalted sects of Independents, Anabaptists, Fifth-Monarchy men, and other sectaries, whose stern enthusiasm had contributed so greatly to effect the overthrow of the late King’s throne, were sought after, suppressed, and dispersed, whenever they could be discovered.

Julian was soon satisfied that the meeting into which he was thus secretly introduced was one of the latter class; and, to judge by the violence of the preacher, of the most desperate character. He was still more effectually convinced of this, when, at a sign from Bridgenorth, he cautiously unclosed a part of the curtain which hung before the gallery, and thus, unseen himself, looked down on the audience, and obtained a view of the preacher.

About two hundred persons were assembled beneath, in an area filled up with benches, as if for the exercise of worship; and they were all of the male sex, and well armed with pikes and muskets, as well as swords and pistols. Most of them had the appearance of veteran soldiers, now past the middle of life, yet retaining such an appearance of strength as might well supply the loss of youthful agility. They stood, or sat, in various attitudes of stern attention; and, resting on their spears and muskets, kept their eyes firmly fixed on the preacher, who ended the violence of his declamation by displaying from the pulpit a banner, on which was represented a lion, with the motto, “Vicit Leo ex tribu Judæ.

The torrent of mystical yet animating eloquence of the preacher — an old grey-haired man, whom zeal seemed to supply with the powers of voice and action, of which years had deprived him — was suited to the taste of his audience, but could not be transferred to these pages without scandal and impropriety. He menaced the rulers of England with all the judgments denounced on those of Moab and Assyria — he called upon the saints to be strong, to be up and doing; and promised those miracles which, in the campaigns of Joshua, and his successors, the valiant Judges of Israel, supplied all odds against the Amorites, Midianites, and Philistines. He sounded trumpets, opened vials, broke seals, and denounced approaching judgments under all the mystical signs of the Apocalypse. The end of the world was announced, accompanied with all its preliminary terrors.

Julian, with deep anxiety, soon heard enough to make him aware that the meeting was likely to terminate in open insurrection, like that of the Fifth-Monarchy men, under Venner, at an earlier period of Charles’s reign; and he was not a little concerned at the probability of Bridgenorth being implicated in so criminal and desperate an undertaking. If he had retained any doubts of the issue of the meeting, they must have been removed when the preacher called on his hearers to renounce all expectation which had hitherto been entertained of safety to the nation, from the execution of the ordinary laws of the land. This, he said, was at best but a carnal seeking after earthly aid — a going down to Egypt for help, which the jealousy of their Divine Leader would resent as a fleeing to another rock, and a different banner, from that which was this day displayed over them. — And here he solemnly swung the bannered lion over their heads, as the only sign under which they ought to seek for life and safety. He then proceeded to insist, that recourse to ordinary justice was vain as well as sinful.

“The event of that day at Westminster,” he said, “might teach them that the man at Whitehall was even as the man his father;” and closed a long tirade against the vices of the Court, with assurance “that Tophet was ordained of old — for the King it was made hot.”

As the preacher entered on a description of the approaching theocracy, which he dared to prophesy, Bridgenorth, who appeared for a time to have forgotten the presence of Julian, whilst with stern and fixed attention he drunk in the words of the preacher, seemed suddenly to collect himself, and, taking Julian by the hand, led him out of the gallery, of which he carefully closed the door, into an apartment at no great distance.

When they arrived there, he anticipated the expostulations of Julian, by asking him, in a tone of severe triumph, whether these men he had seen were likely to do their work negligently, or whether it would not be perilous to attempt to force their way from a house, when all the avenues were guarded by such as he had now seen — men of war from their childhood upwards.

“In the name of Heaven,” said Julian, without replying to Bridgenorth’s question, “for what desperate purpose have you assembled so many desperate men? I am well aware that your sentiments of religion are peculiar; but beware how you deceive yourself — No views of religion can sanction rebellion and murder; and such are the natural and necessary consequences of the doctrine we have just heard poured into the ears of fanatical and violent enthusiasts.”

“My son,” said Bridgenorth calmly, “in the days of my non-age, I thought as you do. I deemed it sufficient to pay my tithes of cummin and aniseed — my poor petty moral observances of the old law; and I thought I was heaping up precious things, when they were in value no more than the husks of the swine-trough. Praised be Heaven, the scales are fallen from mine eyes; and after forty years’ wandering in the desert of Sinai, I am at length arrived in the Land of Promise — My corrupt human nature has left me — I have cast my slough, and can now with some conscience put my hand to the plough, certain that there is no weakness left in me where-through I may look back. The furrows,” he added, bending his brows, while a gloomy fire filled his large eyes, “must be drawn long and deep, and watered by the blood of the mighty.”

There was a change in Bridgenorth’s tone and manner, when he used these singular expressions, which convinced Julian that his mind, which had wavered for so many years between his natural good sense and the insane enthusiasm of the time, had finally given way to the latter; and, sensible of the danger in which the unhappy man himself, the innocent and beautiful Alice, and his own father, were likely to be placed — to say nothing of the general risk of the community by a sudden insurrection, he at the same time felt that there was no chance of reasoning effectually with one, who would oppose spiritual conviction to all arguments which reason could urge against his wild schemes. To touch his feeling seemed a more probable resource; and Julian therefore conjured Bridgenorth to think how much his daughter’s honour and safety were concerned in his abstaining from the dangerous course which he meditated. “If you fall,” he said, “must she not pass under the power and guardianship of her uncle, whom you allow to have shown himself capable of the grossest mistake in the choice of her female protectress; and whom I believe, upon good grounds, to have made that infamous choice with his eyes open?”

“Young man,” answered Bridgenorth, “you make me feel like the poor bird, around whose wing some wanton boy has fixed a line, to pull the struggling wretch to earth at his pleasure. Know, since thou wilt play this cruel part, and drag me down from higher contemplations, that she with whom Alice is placed, and who hath in future full power to guide her motions, and decide her fate, despite of Christian and every one else, is — I will not tell thee who she is — Enough — no one — thou least of all, needs to fear for her safety.”

At this moment a side-door opened, and Christian himself came into the apartment. He started and coloured when he saw Julian Peveril; then turning to Bridgenorth with an assumed air of indifference, asked, “Is Saul among the prophets? — Is a Peveril among the saints?”

“No, brother,” replied Bridgenorth, “his time is not come more than thine own — thou art too deep in the ambitious intrigues of manhood, and he in the giddy passions of youth, to hear the still calm voice — You will both hear it, as I trust and pray.”

“Master Ganlesse, or Christian, or by whatever name you are called,” said Julian, “by whatever reasons you guide yourself in this most perilous matter, you at least are not influenced by any idea of an immediate divine command for commencing hostilities against the state. Leaving, therefore, for the present, whatever subjects of discussion may be between us, I implore you, as a man of shrewdness and sense, to join with me in dissuading Master Bridgenorth from the fatal enterprise which he now meditates.”

“Young gentleman,” said Christian, with great composure, “when we met in the west, I was willing to have made a friend of you, but you rejected the overture. You might, however, even then have seen enough of me to be assured, that I am not likely to rush too rashly on any desperate undertaking. As to this which lies before us, my brother Bridgenorth brings to it the simplicity, though not the harmlessness of the dove, and I the subtilty of the serpent. He hath the leading of saints who are moved by the spirit; and I can add to their efforts a powerful body, who have for their instigators the world, the devil, and the flesh.”

“And can you,” said Julian, looking at Bridgenorth, “accede to such an unworthy union?”

“I unite not with them,” said Bridgenorth; “but I may not, without guilt, reject the aid which Providence sends to assist His servants. We are ourselves few, though determined — Those whose swords come to help the cutting down of the harvest, must be welcome — When their work is wrought, they will be converted or scattered. — Have you been at York Place, brother, with that unstable epicure? We must have his last resolution, and that within an hour.”

Christian looked at Julian, as if his presence prevented him from returning an answer; upon which Bridgenorth arose, and taking the young man by the arm, led him out of the apartment, into that in which they had left his father; assuring him by the way, that determined and vigilant guards were placed in every different quarter by which escape could be effected, and that he would do well to persuade his father to remain a quiet prisoner for a few hours.

Julian returned him no answer, and Bridgenorth presently retired, leaving him alone with his father and Hudson. To their questions he could only briefly reply, that he feared they were trepanned, since they were in the house with at least two hundred fanatics, completely armed, and apparently prepared for desperate enterprise. Their own want of arms precluded the possibility of open violence; and however unpleasant it might be to remain in such a condition, it seemed difficult, from the strength of the fastenings at doors and windows, to attempt any secret escape without instantaneous detection.

The valiant dwarf alone nursed hopes, with which he in vain endeavoured to inspire his companions in affliction. “The fair one, whose eyes,” he said, “were like the twin stars of Leda”— for the little man was a great admirer of lofty language —“had not invited him, the most devoted, and, it might be, not the least favoured of her servants, into this place as a harbour, in order that he might therein suffer shipwreck; and he generously assured his friends, that in his safety they also should be safe.”

Sir Geoffrey, little cheered by this intimation, expressed his despair at not being able to get the length of Whitehall, where he trusted to find as many jolly Cavaliers as would help him to stifle the whole nest of wasps in their hive; while Julian was of opinion that the best service he could now render Bridgenorth, would be timeously to disclose his plot, and, if possible, to send him at the same time warning to save his person.

But we must leave them to meditate over their plans at leisure; no one of which, as they all depended on their previous escape from confinement, seemed in any great chance of being executed.

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