Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 6

You shall have no worse prison than my chamber,

Nor jailer than myself.

THE CAPTAIN.

The command which Lady Peveril laid on her domestics to arm themselves, was so unlike the usual gentle acquiescence of her manners, that Major Bridgenorth was astonished. “How mean you, madam?” said he; “I thought myself under a friendly roof.”

“And you are so, Master Bridgenorth,” said the Lady Peveril, without departing from the natural calmness of her voice and manner; “but it is a roof which must not be violated by the outrage of one friend against another.”

“It is well, madam,” said Bridgenorth, turning to the door of the apartment. “The worthy Master Solsgrace has already foretold, that the time was returned when high houses and proud names should be once more an excuse for the crimes of those who inhabit the one and bear the other. I believed him not, but now see he is wiser than I. Yet think not I will endure this tamely. The blood of my brother — of the friend of my bosom — shall not long call from the altar, ‘How long, O Lord, how long!’ If there is one spark of justice left in this unhappy England, that proud woman and I shall meet where she can have no partial friend to protect her.”

So saying, he was about to leave the apartment, when Lady Peveril said, “You depart not from this place, Master Bridgenorth, unless you give me your word to renounce all purpose against the noble Countess’s liberty upon the present occasion.”

“I would sooner,” answered he, “subscribe to my own dishonour, madam, written down in express words, than to any such composition. If any man offers to interrupt me, his blood be on his own head!” As Major Bridgenorth spoke, Whitaker threw open the door, and showed that, with the alertness of an old soldier, who was not displeased to see things tend once more towards a state of warfare, he had got with him four stout fellows in the Knight of the Peak’s livery, well armed with swords and carabines, buff-coats, and pistols at their girdles.

“I will see,” said Major Bridgenorth, “if any of these men be so desperate as to stop me, a freeborn Englishman, and a magistrate in the discharge of my duty.”

So saying, he advanced upon Whitaker and his armed assistants, with his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Do not be so desperate, Master Bridgenorth,” exclaimed Lady Peveril; and added, in the same moment, “Lay hold upon, and disarm him, Whitaker; but do him no injury.”

Her commands were obeyed. Bridgenorth, though a man of moral resolution, was not one of those who undertook to cope in person with odds of a description so formidable. He half drew his sword, and offered such show of resistance as made it necessary to secure him by actual force; but then yielded up his weapon, and declared that, submitting to force which one man was unable to resist, he made those who commanded, and who employed it, responsible for assailing his liberty without a legal warrant.

“Never mind a warrant on a pinch, Master Bridgenorth,” said old Whitaker; “sure enough you have often acted upon a worse yourself. My lady’s word is as good as a warrant, sure, as Old Noll’s commission; and you bore that many a day, Master Bridgenorth, and, moreover, you laid me in the stocks for drinking the King’s health, Master Bridgenorth, and never cared a farthing about the laws of England.”

“Hold your saucy tongue, Whitaker,” said the Lady Peveril; “and do you, Master Bridgenorth, not take it to heart that you are detained prisoner for a few hours, until the Countess of Derby can have nothing to fear from your pursuit. I could easily send an escort with her that might bid defiance to any force you could muster; but I wish, Heaven knows, to bury the remembrance of old civil dissensions, not to awaken new. Once more, will you think better of it — assume your sword again, and forget whom you have now seen at Martindale Castle?”

“Never,” said Bridgenorth. “The crime of this cruel woman will be the last of human injuries which I can forget. The last thought of earthly kind which will leave me, will be the desire that justice shall be done on her.”

“If such be your sentiments,” said Lady Peveril, “though they are more allied to revenge than to justice, I must provide for my friend’s safety, by putting restraint upon your person. In this room you will be supplied with every necessary of life, and every convenience; and a message shall relieve your domestics of the anxiety which your absence from the Hall is not unlikely to occasion. When a few hours, at most two days, are over, I will myself relieve you from confinement, and demand your pardon for now acting as your obstinacy compels me to do.”

The Major made no answer, but that he was in her hands, and must submit to her pleasure; and then turned sullenly to the window, as if desirous to be rid of their presence.

The Countess and the Lady Peveril left the apartment arm in arm; and the lady issued forth her directions to Whitaker concerning the mode in which she was desirous that Bridgenorth should be guarded and treated during his temporary confinement; at the same time explaining to him, that the safety of the Countess of Derby required that he should be closely watched.

In all proposals for the prisoner’s security, such as the regular relief of guards, and the like, Whitaker joyfully acquiesced, and undertook, body for body, that he should be detained in captivity for the necessary period. But the old steward was not half so docile when it came to be considered how the captive’s bedding and table should be supplied; and he thought Lady Peveril displayed a very undue degree of attention to her prisoner’s comforts. “I warrant,” he said, “that the cuckoldly Roundhead ate enough of our fat beef yesterday to serve him for a month; and a little fasting will do his health good. Marry, for drink, he shall have plenty of cold water to cool his hot liver, which I will be bound is still hissing with the strong liquors of yesterday. And as for bedding, there are the fine dry board — more wholesome than the wet straw I lay upon when I was in the stocks, I trow.”

“Whitaker,” said the lady peremptorily, “I desire you to provide Master Bridgenorth’s bedding and food in the way I have signified to you; and to behave yourself towards him in all civility.”

“Lack-a-day! yes, my lady,” said Whitaker; “you shall have all your directions punctually obeyed; but as an old servant, I cannot but speak my mind.”

The ladies retired after this conference with the steward in the antechamber, and were soon seated in another apartment, which was peculiarly dedicated to the use of the mistress of the mansion — having, on the one side, access to the family bedroom; and, on the other, to the still-room which communicated with the garden. There was also a small door which, ascending a few steps, led to that balcony, already mentioned, that overhung the kitchen; and the same passage, by a separate door, admitted to the principal gallery in the chapel; so that the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Castle were placed almost at once within the reach of the same regulating and directing eye.*

* This peculiar collocation of apartments may be seen at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, once a seat of the Vernons, where, in the lady’s pew in the chapel, there is a sort of scuttle, which opens into the kitchen, so that the good lady could ever and anon, without much interruption of her religious duties, give an eye that the roast-meat was not permitted to burn, and that the turn-broche did his duty.

In the tapestried room, from which issued these various sally-ports, the Countess and Lady Peveril were speedily seated; and the former, smiling upon the latter, said, as she took her hand, “Two things have happened today, which might have surprised me, if anything ought to surprise me in such times:— the first is, that yonder roundheaded fellow should have dared to use such insolence in the house of Peveril of the Peak. If your husband is yet the same honest and downright Cavalier whom I once knew, and had chanced to be at home, he would have thrown the knave out of window. But what I wonder at still more, Margaret, is your generalship. I hardly thought you had courage sufficient to have taken such decided measures, after keeping on terms with the man so long. When he spoke of justices and warrants, you looked so overawed that I thought I felt the clutch of the parish-beadles on my shoulder, to drag me to prison as a vagrant.”

“We owe Master Bridgenorth some deference, my dearest lady,” answered the Lady Peveril; “he has served us often and kindly, in these late times; but neither he, nor any one else, shall insult the Countess of Derby in the house of Margaret Stanley.”

“Thou art become a perfect heroine, Margaret,” replied the Countess.

“Two sieges, and alarms innumerable,” said Lady Peveril, “may have taught me presence of mind. My courage is, I believe, as slender as ever.”

“Presence of mind is courage,” answered the Countess. “Real valour consists not in being insensible to danger, but in being prompt to confront and disarm it; — and we may have present occasion for all that we possess,” she added, with some slight emotion, “for I hear the trampling of horses’ steps on the pavement of the court.”

In one moment, the boy Julian, breathless with joy, came flying into the room, to say that papa was returned, with Lamington and Sam Brewer; and that he was himself to ride Black Hastings to the stable. In the second the tramp of the honest Knight’s heavy jack-boots was heard, as, in his haste to see his lady, he ascended the staircase by two steps at a time. He burst into the room; his manly countenance and disordered dress showing marks that he had been riding fast; and without looking to any one else, caught his good lady in his arms, and kissed her a dozen of times. — Blushing, and with some difficulty, Lady Peveril extricated herself from Sir Geoffrey’s arms; and in a voice of bashful and gentle rebuke, bid him, for shame, observe who was in the room.

“One,” said the Countess, advancing to him, “who is right glad to see that Sir Geoffrey Peveril, though turned courtier and favourite, still values the treasure which she had some share in bestowing upon him. You cannot have forgot the raising of the leaguer of Latham House!”

“The noble Countess of Derby!” said Sir Geoffrey, doffing his plumed hat with an air of deep deference, and kissing with much reverence the hand which she held out to him; “I am as glad to see your ladyship in my poor house, as I would be to hear that they had found a vein of lead in the Brown Tor. I rode hard, in the hope of being your escort through the country. I feared you might have fallen into bad hands, hearing there was a knave sent out with a warrant from the Council.”

“When heard you so? and from whom?”

“It was from Cholmondley of Vale Royal,” said Sir Geoffrey; “he is come down to make provision for your safety through Cheshire; and I promised to bring you there in safety. Prince Rupert, Ormond, and other friends, do not doubt the matter will be driven to a fine; but they say the Chancellor, and Harry Bennet, and some others of the over-sea counsellors, are furious at what they call a breach of the King’s proclamation. Hang them, say I! — They left us to bear all the beating; and now they are incensed that we should wish to clear scores with those who rode us like nightmares!”

“What did they talk of for my chastisement?” said the Countess.

“I wot not,” said Sir Geoffrey; “some friends, as I said, from our kind Cheshire, and others, tried to bring it to a fine; but some, again, spoke of nothing but the Tower, and a long imprisonment.”

“I have suffered imprisonment long enough for King Charles’s sake,” said the Countess; “and have no mind to undergo it at his hand. Besides, if I am removed from the personal superintendence of my son’s dominions in Man, I know not what new usurpation may be attempted there. I must be obliged to you, cousin, to contrive that I may get in security to Vale Royal, and from thence I know I shall be guarded safely to Liverpool.”

“You may rely on my guidance and protection, noble lady,” answered her host, “though you had come here at midnight, and with the rogue’s head in your apron, like Judith in the Holy Apocrypha, which I joy to hear once more read in churches.”

“Do the gentry resort much to the Court?” said the lady.

“Ay, madam,” replied Sir Geoffrey; “and according to our saying, when miners do begin to bore in these parts, it is for the grace of God, and what they there may find.”

“Meet the old Cavaliers with much countenance?” continued the Countess.

“Faith, madam, to speak truth,” replied the Knight, “the King hath so gracious a manner, that it makes every man’s hopes blossom, though we have seen but few that have ripened into fruit.”

“You have not, yourself, my cousin,” answered the Countess, “had room to complain of ingratitude, I trust? Few have less deserved it at the King’s hand.”

Sir Geoffrey was unwilling, like most prudent persons, to own the existence of expectations which had proved fallacious, yet had too little art in his character to conceal his disappointment entirely. “Who, I, madam?” he said; “Alas! what should a poor country knight expect from the King, besides the pleasure of seeing him in Whitehall once more, and enjoying his own again? And his Majesty was very gracious when I was presented, and spoke to me of Worcester, and of my horse, Black Hastings — he had forgot his name, though — faith, and mine, too, I believe, had not Prince Rupert whispered it to him. And I saw some old friends, such as his Grace of Ormond, Sir Marmaduke Langdale, Sir Philip Musgrave, and so forth; and had a jolly rouse or two, to the tune of old times.”

“I should have thought so many wounds received — so many dangers risked — such considerable losses — merited something more than a few smooth words,” said the Countess.

“Nay, my lady, there were other friends of mine who had the same thought,” answered Peveril. “Some were of opinion that the loss of so many hundred acres of fair land was worth some reward of honour at least; and there were who thought my descent from William the Conqueror — craving your ladyship’s pardon for boasting it in your presence — would not have become a higher rank or title worse than the pedigree of some who have been promoted. But what said the witty Duke of Buckingham, forsooth? (whose grandsire was a Lei’stershire Knight — rather poorer, and scarcely so well-born as myself)— Why, he said, that if all of my degree who deserved well of the King in the late times were to be made peers, the House of Lords must meet upon Salisbury Plain!”

“And that bad jest passed for a good argument!” said the Countess; “and well it might, where good arguments pass for bad jests. But here comes one I must be acquainted with.”

This was little Julian, who now re-entered the hall, leading his little sister, as if he had brought her to bear witness to the boastful tale which he told his father, of his having manfully ridden Black Hastings to the stable-yard, alone in the saddle; and that Saunders though he walked by the horse’s head, did not once put his hand upon the rein, and Brewer, though he stood beside him, scarce held him by the knee. The father kissed the boy heartily; and the Countess, calling him to her so soon as Sir Geoffrey had set him down, kissed his forehead also, and then surveyed all his features with a keen and penetrating eye.

“He is a true Peveril,” said she, “mixed as he should be with some touch of the Stanley. Cousin, you must grant me my boon, and when I am safely established, and have my present affair arranged, you must let me have this little Julian of yours some time hence, to be nurtured in my house, held as my page, and the playfellow of the little Derby. I trust in Heaven, they will be such friends as their fathers have been, and may God send them more fortunate times!”

“Marry, and I thank you for the proposal with all my heart, madam,” said the Knight. “There are so many noble houses decayed, and so many more in which the exercise and discipline for the training of noble youths is given up and neglected, that I have often feared I must have kept Gil to be young master at home; and I have had too little nurture myself to teach him much, and so he would have been a mere hunting hawking knight of Derbyshire. But in your ladyship’s household, and with the noble young Earl, he will have all, and more than all, the education which I could desire.”

“There shall be no distinction betwixt them, cousin,” said the Countess; “Margaret Stanley’s son shall be as much the object of care to me as my own, since you are kindly disposed to entrust him to my charge. — You look pale, Margaret,” she continued, “and the tear stands in your eye? Do not be so foolish, my love — what I ask is better than you can desire for your boy; for the house of my father, the Duke de la Tremouille, was the most famous school of chivalry in France; nor have I degenerated from him, or suffered any relaxation in that noble discipline which trained young gentlemen to do honour to their race. You can promise your Julian no such advantages, if you train him up a mere home-bred youth.”

“I acknowledge the importance of the favour, madam,” said Lady Peveril, “and must acquiesce in what your ladyship honours us by proposing, and Sir Geoffrey approves of; but Julian is an only child, and ——”

“An only son,” said the Countess, “but surely not an only child. You pay too high deference to our masters, the male sex, if you allow Julian to engross all your affection, and spare none for this beautiful girl.”

So saying, she set down Julian, and, taking Alice Bridgenorth on her lap, began to caress her; and there was, notwithstanding her masculine character, something so sweet in the tone of her voice and in the cast of her features, that the child immediately smiled, and replied to her marks of fondness. This mistake embarrassed Lady Peveril exceedingly. Knowing the blunt impetuosity of her husband’s character, his devotion to the memory of the deceased Earl of Derby, and his corresponding veneration for his widow, she was alarmed for the consequences of his hearing the conduct of Bridgenorth that morning, and was particularly desirous that he should not learn it save from herself in private, and after due preparation. But the Countess’s error led to a more precipitate disclosure.

“That pretty girl, madam,” answered Sir Geoffrey, “is none of ours — I wish she were. She belongs to a neighbour hard by — a good man, and, to say truth, a good neighbour — though he was carried off from his allegiance in the late times by a d — d Presbyterian scoundrel, who calls himself a parson, and whom I hope to fetch down from his perch presently, with a wannion to him! He has been cock of the roost long enough. — There are rods in pickle to switch the Geneva cloak with, I can tell the sour-faced rogues that much. But this child is the daughter of Bridgenorth — neighbour Bridgenorth, of Moultrassie Hall.”

“Bridgenorth?” said the Countess; “I thought I had known all the honourable names in Derbyshire — I remember nothing of Bridgenorth. — But stay — was there not a sequestrator and committeeman of that name? Sure, it cannot be he?”

Peveril took some shame to himself, as he replied, “It is the very man whom your ladyship means, and you may conceive the reluctance with which I submitted to receive good offices from one of his kidney; but had I not done so, I should have scarce known how to find a roof to cover Dame Margaret’s head.”

The Countess, as he spoke, raised the child gently from her lap, and placed it upon the carpet, though little Alice showed a disinclination to the change of place, which the lady of Derby and Man would certainly have indulged in a child of patrician descent and loyal parentage.

“I blame you not,” she said; “no one knows what temptation will bring us down to. Yet I did think Peveril of the Peak would have resided in its deepest cavern, sooner than owed an obligation to a regicide.”

“Nay, madam,” answered the Knight, “my neighbour is bad enough, but not so bad as you would make him; he is but a Presbyterian — that I must confess — but not an Independent.”

“A variety of the same monster,” said the Countess, “who hallooed while the others hunted, and bound the victim whom the Independents massacred. Betwixt such sects I prefer the Independents. They are at least bold, bare-faced, merciless villains, have more of the tiger in them, and less of the crocodile. I have no doubt it was that worthy gentleman who took it upon him this morning ——”

She stopped short, for she saw Lady Peveril was vexed and embarrassed.

“I am,” she said, “the most luckless of beings. I have said something, I know not what, to distress you, Margaret — Mystery is a bad thing, and betwixt us there should be none.”

“There is none, madam,” said Lady Peveril, something impatiently; “I waited but an opportunity to tell my husband what had happened — Sir Geoffrey, Master Bridgenorth was unfortunately here when the Lady Derby and I met; and he thought it part of his duty to speak of ——”

“To speak of what?” said the Knight, bending his brows. “You were ever something too fond, dame, of giving way to the usurpation of such people.”

“I only mean,” said Lady Peveril, “that as the person — he to whom Lord Derby’s story related — was the brother of his late lady, he threatened — but I cannot think that he was serious.”

“Threaten? — threaten the Lady of Derby and Man in my house! — the widow of my friend — the noble Charlotte of Latham House! — by Heaven, the prick-eared slave shall answer it! How comes it that my knaves threw him not out of the window?”

“Alas! Sir Geoffrey, you forget how much we owe him,” said the lady.

“Owe him!” said the Knight, still more indignant; for in his singleness of apprehension he conceived that his wife alluded to pecuniary obligations — “if I do owe him some money, hath he not security for it? and must he have the right, over and above, to domineer and play the magistrate in Martindale Castle? — Where is he? — what have you made of him? I will — I must speak with him.”

“Be patient, Sir Geoffrey,” said the Countess, who now discerned the cause of her kinswoman’s apprehension; “and be assured I did not need your chivalry to defend me against this discourteous faitour, as Morte d’Arthur would have called him. I promise you my kinswoman hath fully righted my wrong; and I am so pleased to owe my deliverance entirely to her gallantry, that I charge and command you, as a true knight, not to mingle in the adventure of another.”

Lady Peveril, who knew her husband’s blunt and impatient temper, and perceived that he was becoming angry, now took up the story, and plainly and simply pointed out the cause of Master Bridgenorth’s interference.

“I am sorry for it,” said the Knight; “I thought he had more sense; and that this happy change might have done some good upon him. But you should have told me this instantly — It consists not with my honour that he should be kept prisoner in this house, as if I feared anything he could do to annoy the noble Countess, while she is under my roof, or within twenty miles of this Castle.”

So saying, and bowing to the Countess, he went straight to the gilded chamber, leaving Lady Peveril in great anxiety for the event of an angry meeting between a temper hasty as that of her husband, and stubborn like that of Bridgenorth. Her apprehensions were, however, unnecessary; for the meeting was not fated to take place.

When Sir Geoffrey Peveril, having dismissed Whitaker and his sentinels, entered the gilded chamber, in which he expected to find his captive, the prisoner had escaped, and it was easy to see in what manner. The sliding panel had, in the hurry of the moment, escaped the memory of Lady Peveril, and of Whitaker, the only persons who knew anything of it. It was probable that a chink had remained open, sufficient to indicate its existence to Bridgenorth; who withdrawing it altogether, had found his way into the secret apartment with which it communicated, and from thence to the postern of the Castle by another secret passage, which had been formed in the thickness of the wall, as is not uncommon in ancient mansions; the lords of which were liable to so many mutations of fortune, that they usually contrived to secure some lurking place and secret mode of retreat from their fortresses. That Bridgenorth had discovered and availed himself of this secret mode of retreat was evident; because the private doors communicating with the postern and the sliding panel in the gilded chamber were both left open.

Sir Geoffrey returned to the ladies with looks of perplexity. While he deemed Bridgenorth within his reach, he was apprehensive of nothing he could do; for he felt himself his superior in personal strength, and in that species of courage which induces a man to rush, without hesitation, upon personal danger. But when at a distance, he had been for many years accustomed to consider Bridgenorth’s power and influence as something formidable; and notwithstanding the late change of affairs, his ideas so naturally reverted to his neighbour as a powerful friend or dangerous enemy, that he felt more apprehension on the Countess’s score, than he was willing to acknowledge even to himself. The Countess observed his downcast and anxious brow, and requested to know if her stay there was likely to involve him in any trouble, or in any danger.

“The trouble should be welcome,” said Sir Geoffrey, “and more welcome the danger, which should come on such an account. My plan was, that your ladyship should have honoured Martindale with a few days’ residence, which might have been kept private until the search after you was ended. Had I seen this fellow Bridgenorth, I have no doubt I could have compelled him to act discreetly; but he is now at liberty, and will keep out of my reach; and, what is worse, he has the secret of the priest’s chamber.”

Here the Knight paused, and seemed much embarrassed.

“You can, then, neither conceal nor protect me?” said the Countess.

“Pardon, my honoured lady,” answered the Knight, “and let me say out my say. The plain truth is, that this man hath many friends among the Presbyterians here, who are more numerous than I would wish them; and if he falls in with the pursuivant fellow who carries the warrant of the Privy Council, it is likely he will back him with force sufficient to try to execute it. And I doubt whether any of our friends can be summoned together in haste, sufficient to resist such a power as they are like to bring together.”

“Nor would I wish any friends to take arms, in my name, against the King’s warrant, Sir Geoffrey,” said the Countess.

“Nay, for that matter,” replied the Knight, “an his Majesty will grant warrants against his best friends, he must look to have them resisted. But the best I can think of in this emergence is — though the proposal be something inhospitable — that your ladyship should take presently to horse, if your fatigue will permit. I will mount also, with some brisk fellows, who will lodge you safe at Vale Royal, though the Sheriff stopped the way with a whole posse comitatus.”

The Countess of Derby willingly acquiesced in this proposal. She had enjoyed a night’s sound repose in the private chamber, to which Ellesmere had guided her on the preceding evening, and was quite ready to resume her route, or flight —“she scarce knew,” she said, “which of the two she should term it.”

Lady Peveril wept at the necessity which seemed to hurry her earliest friend and protectress from under her roof, at the instant when the clouds of adversity were gathering around her; but she saw no alternative equally safe. Nay, however strong her attachment to Lady Derby, she could not but be more readily reconciled to her hasty departure, when she considered the inconvenience, and even danger, in which her presence, at such a time, and in such circumstances, was likely to involve a man so bold and hot-tempered as her husband Sir Geoffrey.

While Lady Peveril, therefore, made every arrangement which time permitted and circumstances required, for the Countess prosecuting her journey, her husband, whose spirits always rose with the prospect of action, issued his orders to Whitaker to get together a few stout fellows, with back and breast pieces, and steel-caps. “There are the two lackeys, and Outram and Saunders, besides the other groom fellow, and Roger Raine, and his son; but bid Roger not come drunk again; — thyself, young Dick of the Dale and his servant, and a file or two of the tenants — we shall be enough for any force they can make. All these are fellows that will strike hard, and ask no question why — their hands are ever readier than their tongues, and their mouths are more made for drinking than speaking.”

Whitaker, apprised of the necessity of the case, asked if he should not warn Sir Jasper Cranbourne.

“Not a word to him, as you live,” said the Knight; “this may be an outlawry, as they call it, for what I know; and therefore I will bring no lands or tenements into peril, saving mine own. Sir Jasper hath had a troublesome time of it for many a year. By my will, he shall sit quiet for the rest of’s days.”

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