Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 11

Mona — long hid from those who roam the main.


The Isle of Man, in the middle of the seventeenth century, was very different, as a place of residence, from what it is now. Men had not then discovered its merit as a place of occasional refuge from the storms of life, and the society to be there met with was of a very uniform tenor. There were no smart fellows, whom fortune had tumbled from the seat of their barouches — no plucked pigeons or winged rooks — no disappointed speculators — no ruined miners — in short, no one worth talking to. The society of the island was limited to the natives themselves, and a few merchants, who lived by contraband trade. The amusements were rare and monotonous, and the mercurial young Earl was soon heartily tired of his dominions. The islanders, also, become too wise for happiness, had lost relish for the harmless and somewhat childish sports in which their simple ancestors had indulged themselves. May was no longer ushered in by the imaginary contest between the Queen of returning winter and advancing spring; the listeners no longer sympathised with the lively music of the followers of the one, or the discordant sounds with which the other asserted a more noisy claim to attention. Christmas, too, closed, and the steeples no longer jangled forth a dissonant peal. The wren, to seek for which used to be the sport dedicated to the holytide, was left unpursued and unslain. Party spirit had come among these simple people, and destroyed their good humour, while it left them their ignorance. Even the races, a sport generally interesting to people of all ranks, were no longer performed, because they were no longer interesting. The gentlemen were divided by feuds hitherto unknown, and each seemed to hold it scorn to be pleased with the same diversions that amused those of the opposite faction. The hearts of both parties revolted from the recollection of former days, when all was peace among them, when the Earl of Derby, now slaughtered, used to bestow the prize, and Christian, since so vindictively executed, started horses to add to the amusement.

Julian was seated in the deep recess which led to a latticed window of the old Castle; and, with his arms crossed, and an air of profound contemplation, was surveying the long perspective of ocean, which rolled its successive waves up to the foot of the rock on which the ancient pile is founded. The Earl was suffering under the infliction of ennui — now looking into a volume of Homer — now whistling — now swinging on his chair — now traversing the room — till, at length, his attention became swallowed up in admiration of the tranquillity of his companion.

“King of Men!” he said, repeating the favourite epithet by which Homer describes Agamemnon — “I trust, for the old Greek’s sake, he had a merrier office than being King of Man — Most philosophical Julian, will nothing rouse thee — not even a bad pun on my own royal dignity?”

“I wish you would be a little more the King in Man,” said Julian, starting from his reverie, “and then you would find more amusement in your dominions.”

“What! dethrone that royal Semiramis my mother,” said the young lord, “who has as much pleasure in playing Queen as if she were a real Sovereign? — I wonder you can give me such counsel.”

“Your mother, as you well know, my dear Derby, would be delighted, did you take any interest in the affairs of the island.”

“Ay, truly, she would permit me to be King; but she would choose to remain Viceroy over me. Why, she would only gain a subject the more, by my converting my spare time, which is so very valuable to me, to the cares of royalty. No, no, Julian, she thinks it power, to direct all the affairs of these poor Manxmen; and, thinking it power, she finds it pleasure. I shall not interfere, unless she hold a high court of justice again. I cannot afford to pay another fine to my brother, King Charles — But I forget — this is a sore point with you.”

“With the Countess, at least,” replied Julian; “and I wonder you will speak of it.”

“Why, I bear no malice against the poor man’s memory any more than yourself, though I have not the same reasons for holding it in veneration,” replied the Earl of Derby; “and yet I have some respect for it too. I remember their bringing him out to die — It was the first holiday I ever had in my life, and I heartily wish it had been on some other account.”

“I would rather hear you speak of anything else, my lord,” said Julian.

“Why, there it goes,” answered the Earl; “whenever I talk of anything that puts you on your mettle, and warms your blood, that runs as cold as a merman’s — to use a simile of this happy island — hey pass! you press me to change the subject. — Well, what shall we talk of? — O Julian, if you had not gone down to earth yourself among the castles and caverns of Derbyshire, we should have had enough of delicious topics — the play-houses, Julian — Both the King’s house and the Duke’s — Louis’s establishment is a jest to them; — and the Ring in the Park, which beats the Corso at Naples — and the beauties, who beat the whole world!”

“I am very willing to hear you speak on the subject, my lord,” answered Julian; “the less I have seen of London world myself, the more I am likely to be amused by your account of it.”

“Ay, my friend — but where to begin? — with the wit of Buckingham, and Sedley, and Etherege, or with the grace of Harry Jermyn — the courtesy of the Duke of Monmouth, or with the loveliness of La Belle Hamilton — of the Duchess of Richmond — of Lady — — the person of Roxalana, the smart humour of Mrs. Nelly ——”

“Or what say you to the bewitching sorceries of Lady Cynthia?” demanded his companion.

“Faith, I would have kept these to myself,” said the Earl, “to follow your prudent example. But since you ask me, I fairly own I cannot tell what to say of them; only I think of them twenty times as often as all the beauties I have spoken of. And yet she is neither the twentieth part so beautiful as the plainest of these Court beauties, nor so witty as the dullest I have named, nor so modish — that is the great matter — as the most obscure. I cannot tell what makes me dote on her, except that she is a capricious as her whole sex put together.”

“That I should think a small recommendation,” answered his companion.

“Small, do you term it,” replied the Earl, “and write yourself a brother of the angle? Why, which like you best? to pull a dead strain on a miserable gudgeon, which you draw ashore by main force, as the fellows here tow in their fishing-boats — or a lively salmon, that makes your rod crack, and your line whistle — plays you ten thousand mischievous pranks — wearies your heart out with hopes and fears — and is only laid panting on the bank, after you have shown the most unmatchable display of skill, patience, and dexterity? — But I see you have a mind to go on angling after your own old fashion. Off laced coat, and on brown jerkin; — lively colours scare fish in the sober waters of the Isle of Man; — faith, in London you will catch few, unless the bait glistens a little. But you are going? — Well, good luck to you. I will take to the barge; — the sea and wind are less inconstant than the tide you have embarked on.”

“You have learned to say all these smart things in London, my lord,” answered Julian; “but we shall have you a penitent for them, if Lady Cynthia be of my mind. Adieu, and pleasure till we meet.”

The young men parted accordingly; and while the Earl betook him to his pleasure voyage, Julian, as his friend had prophesied, assumed the dress of one who means to amuse himself with angling. The hat and feather were exchanged for a cap of grey cloth; the deeply-laced cloak and doublet for a simple jacket of the same colour, with hose conforming; and finally, with rod in hand, and pannier at his back, mounted upon a handsome Manx pony, young Peveril rode briskly over the country which divided him from one of those beautiful streams that descend to the sea from the Kirk-Merlagh mountains.

Having reached the spot where he meant to commence his day’s sport, Julian let his little steed graze, which, accustomed to the situation, followed him like a dog; and now and then, when tired of picking herbage in the valley through which the stream winded, came near her master’s side, and, as if she had been a curious amateur of the sport, gazed on the trouts as Julian brought them struggling to the shore. But Fairy’s master showed, on that day, little of the patience of a real angler, and took no heed to old Isaac Walton’s recommendation, to fish the streams inch by inch. He chose, indeed, with an angler’s eye, the most promising casts, which the stream broke sparkling over a stone, affording the wonted shelter to a trout; or where, gliding away from a rippling current to a still eddy it streamed under the projecting bank, or dashed from the pool of some low cascade. By this judicious selection of spots whereon to employ his art, the sportsman’s basket was soon sufficiently heavy, to show that his occupation was not a mere pretext; and so soon as this was the case, he walked briskly up the glen, only making a cast from time to time, in case of his being observed from any of the neighbouring heights.

It was a little green and rocky valley through which the brook strayed, very lonely, although the slight track of an unformed road showed that it was occasionally traversed, and that it was not altogether void of inhabitants. As Peveril advanced still farther, the right bank reached to some distance from the stream, leaving a piece of meadow ground, the lower part of which, being close to the brook, was entirely covered with rich herbage, being possibly occasionally irrigated by its overflow. The higher part of the level ground afforded a stance for an old house, of singular structure, with a terraced garden, and a cultivated field or two beside it. In former times, a Danish or Norwegian fastness had stood here, called the Black Fort, from the colour of a huge healthy hill, which, rising behind the building, appeared to be the boundary of the valley, and to afford the source of the brook. But the original structure had been long demolished, as, indeed, it probably only consisted of dry stones, and its materials had been applied to the construction of the present mansion — the work of some churchman during the sixteenth century, as was evident from the huge stone-work of its windows, which scarce left room for light to pass through, as well as from two or three heavy buttresses, which projected from the front of the house, and exhibited on their surface little niches for images. These had been carefully destroyed, and pots of flowers were placed in the niches in their stead, besides their being ornamented by creeping plants of various kinds, fancifully twined around them. The garden was also in good order; and though the spot was extremely solitary, there was about it altogether an air of comfort, accommodation, and even elegance, by no means generally characteristic of the habitations of the island at the time.

With much circumspection, Julian Peveril approached the low Gothic porch, which defended the entrance of the mansion from the tempests incident to its situation, and was, like the buttresses, overrun with ivy and other creeping plants. An iron ring, contrived so as when drawn up and down to rattle against the bar of notched iron through which it was suspended, served the purpose of a knocker; and to this he applied himself, though with the greatest precaution.

He received no answer for some time, and indeed it seemed as if the house was totally uninhabited; when, at length, his impatience getting the upper hand, he tried to open the door, and, as it was only upon the latch, very easily succeeded. He passed through a little low-arched hall, the upper end of which was occupied by a staircase, and turning to the left, opened the door of a summer parlour, wainscoted with black oak, and very simply furnished with chairs and tables of the same materials; the former cushioned with the leather. The apartment was gloomy — one of those stone-shafted windows which we have mentioned, with its small latticed panes, and thick garland of foliage, admitting but an imperfect light.

Over the chimneypiece (which was of the same massive materials with the panelling of the apartment) was the only ornament of the room; a painting, namely, representing an officer in the military dress of the Civil Wars. It was a green jerkin, then the national and peculiar wear of the Manxmen; his short band which hung down on the cuirass — the orange-coloured scarf, but, above all, the shortness of his close-cut hair, showing evidently to which of the great parties he had belonged. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sword; and in the left he held a small Bible, bearing the inscription, “In hoc signo.” The countenance was of a light complexion, with fair and almost effeminate blue eyes, and an oval form of face — one of those physiognomies, to which, though not otherwise unpleasing, we naturally attach the idea of melancholy and of misfortune.* Apparently it was well known to Julian Peveril; for after having looked at it for a long time, he could not forbear muttering aloud, “What would I give that that man had never been born, or that he still lived!”

* I am told that a portrait of the unfortunate William Christian is still preserved in the family of Waterson of Ballnabow of Kirk Church, Rushin. William Dhône is dressed in a green coat without collar or cape, after the fashion of those puritanic times, with the head in a close cropt wig, resembling the bishop’s peruke of the present day. The countenance is youthful and well-looking, very unlike the expression of foreboding melancholy. I have so far taken advantage of this criticism, as to bring my ideal portrait in the present edition, nearer to the complexion at least of the fair-haired William Dhône.

“How now — how is this?” said a female, who entered the room as he uttered this reflection. “You here, Master Peveril, in spite of all the warnings you have had! You here in the possession of folk’s house when they are abroad, and talking to yourself, as I shall warrant!”

“Yes, Mistress Deborah,” said Peveril, “I am here once more, as you see, against every prohibition, and in defiance of all danger. — Where is Alice?”

“Where you will never see her, Master Julian — you may satisfy yourself of that,” answered Mistress Deborah, for it was that respectable governante; and sinking down at the same time upon one of the large leathern chairs, she began to fan herself with her handkerchief, and complain of the heat in a most ladylike fashion.

In fact, Mistress Debbitch, while her exterior intimated a considerable change of condition for the better, and her countenance showed the less favourable effects of the twenty years which had passed over her head, was in mind and manners very much what she had been when she battled the opinions of Madam Ellesmere at Martindale Castle. In a word, she was self-willed, obstinate, and coquettish as ever, otherwise no ill-disposed person. Her present appearance was that of a woman of the better rank. From the sobriety of the fashion of her dress, and the uniformity of its colours, it was plain she belonged to some sect which condemned superfluous gaiety in attire; but no rules, not those of a nunnery or of a quaker’s society, can prevent a little coquetry in that particular, where a woman is desirous of being supposed to retain some claim to personal attention. All Mistress Deborah’s garments were so arranged as might best set off a good-looking woman, whose countenance indicated ease and good cheer — who called herself five-and-thirty, and was well entitled, if she had a mind, to call herself twelve or fifteen years older.

Julian was under the necessity of enduring all her tiresome and fantastic airs, and awaiting with patience till she had “prinked herself and pinned herself”— flung her hoods back, and drawn them forward — snuffed at a little bottle of essences — closed her eyes like a dying fowl — turned them up like duck in a thunderstorm; when at length, having exhausted her round of minauderies, she condescended to open the conversation.

“These walks will be the death of me,” she said, “and all on your account, Master Julian Peveril; for if Dame Christian should learn that you have chosen to make your visits to her niece, I promise you Mistress Alice would be soon obliged to find other quarters, and so should I.”

“Come now, Mistress Deborah, be good-humoured,” said Julian; “consider, was not all this intimacy of ours of your own making? Did you not make yourself known to me the very first time I strolled up this glen with my fishing-rod, and tell me that you were my former keeper, and that Alice had been my little playfellow? And what could there be more natural, than that I should come back and see two such agreeable persons as often as I could?”

“Yes,” said Dame Deborah; “but I did not bid you fall in love with us, though, or propose such a matter as marriage either to Alice or myself.”

“To do you justice, you never did, Deborah,” answered the youth; “but what of that? Such things will come out before one is aware. I am sure you must have heard such proposals fifty times when you least expected them.”

“Fie, fie, fie, Master Julian Peveril,” said the governante; “I would have you to know that I have always so behaved myself, that the best of the land would have thought twice of it, and have very well considered both what he was going to say, and how he was going to say it, before he came out with such proposals to me.”

“True, true, Mistress Deborah,” continued Julian; “but all the world hath not your discretion. Then Alice Bridgenorth is a child — a mere child; and one always asks a baby to be one’s little wife, you know. Come, I know you will forgive me. Thou wert ever the best-natured, kindest woman in the world; and you know you have said twenty times we were made for each other.”

“Oh no, Master Julian Peveril; no, no, no!” ejaculated Deborah. “I may indeed have said your estates were born to be united; and to be sure it is natural for me, that come of the old stock of the yeomanry of Peveril of the Peak’s estate, to wish that it was all within the ring fence again; which sure enough it might be, were you to marry Alice Bridgenorth. But then there is the knight your father, and my lady your mother; and there is her father, that is half crazy with his religion; and her aunt that wears eternal black grogram for that unlucky Colonel Christian; and there is the Countess of Derby, that would serve us all with the same sauce if we were thinking of anything that would displease her. And besides all that, you have broke your word with Mistress Alice, and everything is over between you; and I am of opinion it is quite right it should be all over. And perhaps it may be, Master Julian, that I should have thought so a long time ago, before a child like Alice put it into my head; but I am so good-natured.”

No flatterer like a lover, who wishes to carry his point.

“You are the best-natured, kindest creature in the world, Deborah. — But you have never seen the ring I bought for you at Paris. Nay, I will put it on your finger myself; — what! your foster-son, whom you loved so well, and took such care of?”

He easily succeeded in putting a pretty ring of gold, with a humorous affectation of gallantry, on the fat finger of Mistress Deborah Debbitch. Hers was a soul of a kind often to be met with, both among the lower and higher vulgar, who, without being, on a broad scale, accessible to bribes or corruption, are nevertheless much attached to perquisites, and considerably biassed in their line of duty, though perhaps insensibly, by the love of petty observances, petty presents, and trivial compliments. Mistress Debbitch turned the ring round, and round, and round, and at length said, in a whisper, “Well, Master Julian Peveril, it signifies nothing denying anything to such a young gentleman as you, for young gentlemen are always so obstinate! and so I may as well tell you, that Mistress Alice walked back from the Kirk-Truagh along with me, just now, and entered the house at the same time with myself.”

“Why did you not tell me so before?” said Julian, starting up; “where — where is she?”

“You had better ask why I tell you so now, Master Julian,” said Dame Deborah; “for, I promise you, it is against her express commands; and I would not have told you, had you not looked so pitiful; — but as for seeing you, that she will not — and she is in her own bedroom, with a good oak door shut and bolted upon her — that is one comfort. — And so, as for any breach of trust on my part — I promise you the little saucy minx gives it no less name — it is quite impossible.”

“Do not say so, Deborah — only go — only try — tell her to hear me — tell her I have a hundred excuses for disobeying her commands — tell her I have no doubt to get over all obstacles at Martindale Castle.”

“Nay, I tell you it is all in vain,” replied the Dame. “When I saw your cap and rod lying in the hall, I did but say, ‘There he is again,’ and she ran up the stairs like a young deer; and I heard key turned, and bolt shot, ere I could say a single word to stop her — I marvel you heard her not.”

“It was because I am, as I ever was, an owl — a dreaming fool, who let all those golden minutes pass, which my luckless life holds out to me so rarely. — Well — tell her I go — go for ever — go where she will hear no more of me — where no one shall hear more of me!”

“Oh, the Father!” said the dame, “hear how he talks! — What will become of Sir Geoffrey, and your mother, and of me, and of the Countess, if you were to go so far as you talk of? And what would become of poor Alice too? for I will be sworn she likes you better than she says, and I know she used to sit and look the way that you used to come up the stream, and now and then ask me if the morning were good for fishing. And all the while you were on the continent, as they call it, she scarcely smiled once, unless it was when she got two beautiful long letters about foreign parts.”

“Friendship, Dame Deborah — only friendship — cold and calm remembrance of one who, by your kind permission, stole in on your solitude now and then, with news from the living world without — Once, indeed, I thought — but it is all over — farewell.”

So saying, he covered his face with one hand, and extended the other, in the act of bidding adieu to Dame Debbitch, whose kind heart became unable to withstand the sight of his affliction.

“Now, do not be in such haste,” she said; “I will go up again, and tell her how it stands with you, and bring her down, if it is in woman’s power to do it.”

And so saying, she left the apartment, and ran upstairs.

Julian Peveril, meanwhile, paced the apartment in great agitation, waiting the success of Deborah’s intercession; and she remained long enough absent to give us time to explain, in a short retrospect, the circumstances which had led to his present situation.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00