Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 12

Ah me! for aught that ever I could read,

Could ever hear by tale or history,

The course of true love never did run smooth!

Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The celebrated passage which we have prefixed to this chapter has, like most observations of the same author, its foundation in real experience. The period at which love is formed for the first time, and felt most strongly, is seldom that at which there is much prospect of its being brought to a happy issue. The state of artificial society opposes many complicated obstructions to early marriages; and the chance is very great, that such obstacles prove insurmountable. In fine, there are few men who do not look back in secret to some period of their youth, at which a sincere and early affection was repulsed, or betrayed, or become abortive from opposing circumstances. It is these little passages of secret history, which leave a tinge of romance in every bosom, scarce permitting us, even in the most busy or the most advanced period of life, to listen with total indifference to a tale of true love.

Julian Peveril had so fixed his affections, as to insure the fullest share of that opposition which early attachments are so apt to encounter. Yet nothing so natural as that he should have done so. In early youth, Dame Debbitch had accidentally met with the son of her first patroness, and who had himself been her earliest charge, fishing in the little brook already noticed, which watered the valley in which she resided with Alice Bridgenorth. The dame’s curiosity easily discovered who he was; and besides the interest which persons in her condition usually take in the young people who have been under their charge, she was delighted with the opportunity to talk about former times — about Martindale Castle, and friends there — about Sir Geoffrey and his good lady — and, now and then, about Lance Outram the park-keeper.

The mere pleasure of gratifying her inquiries, would scarce have had power enough to induce Julian to repeat his visits to the lonely glen; but Deborah had a companion — a lovely girl — bred in solitude, and in the quiet and unpretending tastes which solitude encourages — spirited, also, and inquisitive, and listening, with laughing cheek, and an eager eye, to every tale which the young angler brought from the town and castle.

The visits of Julian to the Black Fort were only occasional — so far Dame Deborah showed common-sense — which was, perhaps, inspired by the apprehension of losing her place, in case of discovery. She had, indeed, great confidence in the strong and rooted belief — amounting almost to superstition — which Major Bridgenorth entertained, that his daughter’s continued health could only be insured by her continuing under the charge of one who had acquired Lady Peveril’s supposed skill in treating those subject to such ailments. This belief Dame Deborah had improved to the utmost of her simple cunning — always speaking in something of an oracular tone, upon the subject of her charge’s health, and hinting at certain mysterious rules necessary to maintain it in the present favourable state. She had availed herself of this artifice, to procure for herself and Alice a separate establishment at the Black Fort; for it was originally Major Bridgenorth’s resolution, that his daughter and her governante should remain under the same roof with the sister-inlaw of his deceased wife, the widow of the unfortunate Colonel Christian. But this lady was broken down with premature age, brought on by sorrow; and, in a short visit which Major Bridgenorth made to the island, he was easily prevailed on to consider her house at Kirk-Truagh, as a very cheerless residence for his daughter. Dame Deborah, who longed for domestic independence, was careful to increase this impression by alarming her patron’s fears on account of Alice’s health. The mansion of Kirk-Truagh stood, she said, much exposed to the Scottish winds, which could not but be cold, as they came from a country where, as she was assured, there was ice and snow at midsummer. In short, she prevailed, and was put into full possession of the Black Fort, a house which, as well as Kirk-Truagh, belonged formerly to Christian, and now to his widow.

Still, however, it was enjoined on the governante and her charge, to visit Kirk-Truagh from time to time, and to consider themselves as under the management and guardianship of Mistress Christian — a state of subjection, the sense of which Deborah endeavoured to lessen, by assuming as much freedom of conduct as she possibly dared, under the influence, doubtless, of the same feelings of independence, which induced her, at Martindale Hall, to spurn the advice of Mistress Ellesmere.

It was this generous disposition to defy control which induced her to procure for Alice, secretly, some means of education, which the stern genius of puritanism would have proscribed. She ventured to have her charge taught music — nay, even dancing; and the picture of the stern Colonel Christian trembled on the wainscot where it was suspended, while the sylph-like form of Alice, and the substantial person of Dame Deborah, executed French chaussées and borrées, to the sound of a small kit, which screamed under the bow of Monsieur De Pigal, half smuggler, half dancing-master. This abomination reached the ears of the Colonel’s widow, and by her was communicated to Bridgenorth, whose sudden appearance in the island showed the importance he attached to the communication. Had she been faithless to her own cause, that had been the latest hour of Mrs. Deborah’s administration. But she retreated into her stronghold.

“Dancing,” she said, “was exercise, regulated and timed by music; and it stood to reason, that it must be the best of all exercise for a delicate person, especially as it could be taken within doors, and in all states of the weather.”

Bridgenorth listened, with a clouded and thoughtful brow, when, in exemplification of her doctrine, Mistress Deborah, who was no contemptible performer on the viol, began to jangle Sellenger’s Round, and desired Alice to dance an old English measure to the tune. As the half-bashful, half-smiling girl, about fourteen — for such was her age — moved gracefully to the music, the father’s eye unavoidably followed the light spring of her step, and marked with joy the rising colour in her cheek. When the dance was over, he folded her in his arms, smoothed her somewhat disordered locks with a father’s affectionate hand, smiled, kissed her brow, and took his leave, without one single word farther interdicting the exercise of dancing. He did not himself communicate the result of his visit at the Black Fort to Mrs. Christian, but she was not long of learning it, by the triumph of Dame Deborah on her next visit.

“It is well,” said the stern old lady; “my brother Bridgenorth hath permitted you to make a Herodias of Alice, and teach her dancing. You have only now to find her a partner for life — I shall neither meddle nor make more in their affairs.”

In fact, the triumph of Dame Deborah, or rather of Dame Nature, on this occasion, had more important effects than the former had ventured to anticipate; for Mrs. Christian, though she received with all formality the formal visits of the governante and her charge, seemed thenceforth so pettish with the issue of her remonstrance, upon the enormity of her niece dancing to a little fiddle, that she appeared to give up interference in her affairs, and left Dame Debbitch and Alice to manage both education and housekeeping — in which she had hitherto greatly concerned herself — much after their own pleasure.

It was in this independent state that they lived, when Julian first visited their habitation; and he was the rather encouraged to do so by Dame Deborah, that she believed him to be one of the last persons in the world with whom Mistress Christian would have desired her niece to be acquainted — the happy spirit of contradiction superseding, with Dame Deborah, on this, as on other occasions, all consideration of the fitness of things. She did not act altogether without precaution neither. She was aware she had to guard not only against any reviving interest or curiosity on the part of Mistress Christian, but against the sudden arrival of Major Bridgenorth, who never failed once in the year to make his appearance at the Black Fort when least expected, and to remain there for a few days. Dame Debbitch, therefore, exacted of Julian, that his visits should be few and far between; that he should condescend to pass for a relation of her own, in the eyes of two ignorant Manx girls and a lad, who formed her establishment; and that he should always appear in his angler’s dress made of the simple Loughtan, or buff-coloured wool of the island, which is not subjected to dyeing. By these cautions, she thought his intimacy at the Black Fort would be entirely unnoticed, or considered as immaterial, while, in the meantime, it furnished much amusement to her charge and herself.

This was accordingly the case during the earlier part of their intercourse, while Julian was a lad, and Alice a girl two or three years younger. But as the lad shot up to youth, and the girl to womanhood, even Dame Deborah Debbitch’s judgment saw danger in their continued intimacy. She took an opportunity to communicate to Julian who Miss Bridgenorth actually was, and the peculiar circumstances which placed discord between their fathers. He heard the story of their quarrel with interest and surprise, for he had only resided occasionally at Martindale Castle, and the subject of Bridgenorth’s quarrel with his father had never been mentioned in his presence. His imagination caught fire at the sparks afforded by this singular story; and, far from complying with the prudent remonstrance of Dame Deborah, and gradually estranging himself from the Black Fort and its fair inmate, he frankly declared, he considered his intimacy there, so casually commenced, as intimating the will of Heaven, that Alice and he were designed for each other, in spite of every obstacle which passion or prejudice could raise up betwixt them. They had been companions in infancy; and a little exertion of memory enabled him to recall his childish grief for the unexpected and sudden disappearance of his little companion, whom he was destined again to meet with in the early bloom of opening beauty, in a country which was foreign to them both.

Dame Deborah was confounded at the consequences of her communication, which had thus blown into a flame the passion which she hoped it would have either prevented or extinguished. She had not the sort of head which resists the masculine and energetic remonstrances of passionate attachment, whether addressed to her on her own account, or on behalf of another. She lamented, and wondered, and ended her feeble opposition, by weeping, and sympathising, and consenting to allow the continuance of Julian’s visits, provided he should only address himself to Alice as a friend; to gain the world, she would consent to nothing more. She was not, however, so simple, but that she also had her forebodings of the designs of Providence on this youthful couple; for certainly they could not be more formed to be united than the good estates of Martindale and Moultrassie.

Then came a long sequence of reflections. Martindale Castle wanted but some repairs to be almost equal to Chatsworth. The Hall might be allowed to go to ruin; or, what would be better, when Sir Geoffrey’s time came (for the good knight had seen service, and must be breaking now), the Hall would be a good dowery-house, to which my lady and Ellesmere might retreat; while (empress of the still-room, and queen of the pantry) Mistress Deborah Debbitch should reign housekeeper at the Castle, and extend, perhaps, the crown-matrimonial to Lance Outram, provided he was not become too old, too fat, or too fond of ale.

Such were the soothing visions under the influence of which the dame connived at an attachment, which lulled also to pleasing dreams, though of a character so different, her charge and her visitant.

The visits of the young angler became more and more frequent; and the embarrassed Deborah, though foreseeing all the dangers of discovery, and the additional risk of an explanation betwixt Alice and Julian, which must necessarily render their relative situation so much more delicate, felt completely overborne by the enthusiasm of the young lover, and was compelled to let matters take their course.

The departure of Julian for the continent interrupted the course of his intimacy at the Black Fort, and while it relieved the elder of its inmates from much internal apprehension, spread an air of languor and dejection over the countenance of the younger, which, at Bridgenorth’s next visit to the Isle of Man, renewed all his terrors for his daughter’s constitutional malady.

Deborah promised faithfully she should look better the next morning, and she kept her word. She had retained in her possession for some time a letter which Julian had, by some private conveyance, sent to her charge, for his youthful friend. Deborah had dreaded the consequences of delivering it as a billet-doux, but, as in the case of the dance, she thought there could be no harm in administering it as a remedy.

It had complete effect; and next day the cheeks of the maiden had a tinge of the rose, which so much delighted her father, that, as he mounted his horse, he flung his purse into Deborah’s hand, with the desire she should spare nothing that could make herself and his daughter happy, and the assurance that she had his full confidence.

This expression of liberality and confidence from a man of Major Bridgenorth’s reserved and cautious disposition, gave full plumage to Mistress Deborah’s hopes; and emboldened her not only to deliver another letter of Julian’s to the young lady, but to encourage more boldly and freely than formerly the intercourse of the lovers when Peveril returned from abroad.

At length, in spite of all Julian’s precaution, the young Earl became suspicious of his frequent solitary fishing parties; and he himself, now better acquainted with the world than formerly, became aware that his repeated visits and solitary walks with a person so young and beautiful as Alice, might not only betray prematurely the secret of his attachment, but be of essential prejudice to her who was its object.

Under the influence of this conviction, he abstained, for an unusual period, from visiting the Black Fort. But when he next indulged himself with spending an hour in the place where he would gladly have abode for ever, the altered manner of Alice — the tone in which she seemed to upbraid his neglect, penetrated his heart, and deprived him of that power of self-command, which he had hitherto exercised in their interviews. It required but a few energetic words to explain to Alice at once his feelings, and to make her sensible of the real nature of her own. She wept plentifully, but her tears were not all of bitterness. She sat passively still, and without reply, while he explained to her, with many an interjection, the circumstances which had placed discord between their families; for hitherto, all that she had known was, that Master Peveril, belonging to the household of the great Countess or Lady of Man, must observe some precautions in visiting a relative of the unhappy Colonel Christian. But, when Julian concluded his tale with the warmest protestations of eternal love, “My poor father!” she burst forth, “and was this to be the end of all thy precautions? — This, that the son of him that disgraced and banished thee, should hold such language to your daughter?”

“You err, Alice, you err,” cried Julian eagerly. “That I hold this language — that the son of Peveril addresses thus the daughter of your father — that he thus kneels to you for forgiveness of injuries which passed when we were both infants, shows the will of Heaven, that in our affection should be quenched the discord of our parents. What else could lead those who parted infants on the hills of Derbyshire, to meet thus in the valleys of Man?”

Alice, however new such a scene, and, above all, her own emotions, might be, was highly endowed with that exquisite delicacy which is imprinted in the female heart, to give warning of the slightest approach to impropriety in a situation like hers.

“Rise, rise, Master Peveril,” she said; “do not do yourself and me this injustice — we have done both wrong — very wrong; but my fault was done in ignorance. O God! my poor father, who needs comfort so much — is it for me to add to his misfortunes? Rise!” she added more firmly; “if you retain this unbecoming posture any longer, I will leave the room and you shall never see me more.”

The commanding tone of Alice overawed the impetuosity of her lover, who took in silence a seat removed to some distance from hers, and was again about to speak. “Julian,” said she in a milder tone, “you have spoken enough, and more than enough. Would you had left me in the pleasing dream in which I could have listened to you for ever! but the hour of wakening is arrived.” Peveril waited the prosecution of her speech as a criminal while he waits his doom; for he was sufficiently sensible that an answer, delivered not certainly without emotion, but with firmness and resolution, was not to be interrupted. “We have done wrong,” she repeated, “very wrong; and if we now separate for ever, the pain we may feel will be but a just penalty for our error. We should never have met: meeting, we should part as soon as possible. Our farther intercourse can but double our pain at parting. Farewell, Julian; and forget we ever have seen each other!”

“Forget!” said Julian; “never, never. To you, it is easy to speak the word — to think the thought. To me, an approach to either can only be by utter destruction. Why should you doubt that the feud of our fathers, like so many of which we have heard, might be appeased by our friendship? You are my only friend. I am the only one whom Heaven has assigned to you. Why should we separate for the fault of others, which befell when we were but children?”

“You speak in vain, Julian,” said Alice; “I pity you — perhaps I pity myself — indeed, I should pity myself, perhaps, the most of the two; for you will go forth to new scenes and new faces, and will soon forget me; but, I, remaining in this solitude, how shall I forget? — that, however, is not now the question — I can bear my lot, and it commands us to part.”

“Hear me yet a moment,” said Peveril; “this evil is not, cannot be remediless. I will go to my father — I will use the intercession of my mother, to whom he can refuse nothing — I will gain their consent — they have no other child — and they must consent, or lose him for ever. Say, Alice, if I come to you with my parents’ consent to my suit, will you again say, with that tone so touching and so sad, yet so incredibly determined — Julian, we must part?” Alice was silent. “Cruel girl, will you not even deign to answer me?” said her lover.

“I would refer you to my father,” said Alice, blushing and casting her eyes down; but instantly raising them again, she repeated, in a firmer and a sadder tone, “Yes, Julian, I would refer you to my father; and you would find that your pilot, Hope, had deceived you; and that you had but escaped the quicksands to fall upon the rocks.”

“I would that could be tried!” said Julian. “Methinks I could persuade your father that in ordinary eyes our alliance is not undesirable. My family have fortune, rank, long descent — all that fathers look for when they bestow a daughter’s hand.”

“All this would avail you nothing,” said Alice. “The spirit of my father is bent upon the things of another world; and if he listened to hear you out, it would be but to tell you that he spurned your offers.”

“You know not — you know not, Alice,” said Julian. “Fire can soften iron — thy father’s heart cannot be so hard, or his prejudices so strong, but I shall find some means to melt him. Forbid me not — Oh, forbid me not at least the experiment!”

“I can but advise,” said Alice; “I can forbid you nothing; for, to forbid, implies power to command obedience. But if you will be wise, and listen to me — Here, and on this spot, we part for ever!”

“Not so, by Heaven!” said Julian, whose bold and sanguine temper scarce saw difficulty in attaining aught which he desired. “We now part, indeed, but it is that I may return armed with my parents’ consent. They desire that I should marry — in their last letters they pressed it more openly — they shall have their desire; and such a bride as I will present to them has not graced their house since the Conqueror gave it origin. Farewell, Alice! Farewell, for a brief space!”

She replied, “Farewell, Julian! Farewell for ever!”

Julian, within a week of this interview, was at Martindale Castle, with the view of communicating his purpose. But the task which seems easy at a distance, proves as difficult, upon a nearer approach, as the fording of a river, which from afar appeared only a brook. There lacked not opportunities of entering upon the subject; for in the first ride which he took with his father, the Knight resumed the subject of his son’s marriage, and liberally left the lady to his choice; but under the strict proviso, that she was of a loyal and an honourable family; — if she had fortune, it was good and well, or rather, it was better than well; but if she was poor, why, “there is still some picking,” said Sir Geoffrey, “on the bones of the old estate; and Dame Margaret and I will be content with the less, that you young folks may have your share of it. I am turned frugal already, Julian. You see what a north-country shambling bit of a Galloway nag I ride upon — a different beast, I wot, from my own old Black Hastings, who had but one fault, and that was his wish to turn down Moultrassie avenue.”

“Was that so great a fault?” said Julian, affecting indifference, while his heart was trembling, as it seemed to him, almost in his very throat.

“It used to remind me of that base, dishonourable Presbyterian fellow, Bridgenorth,” said Sir Geoffrey; “and I would as lief think of a toad:— they say he has turned Independent, to accomplish the full degree of rascality. — I tell you, Gill, I turned off the cow-boy, for gathering nuts in his woods — I would hang a dog that would so much as kill a hare there. — But what is the matter with you? You look pale.”

Julian made some indifferent answer, but too well understood, from the language and tone which his father used, that his prejudices against Alice’s father were both deep and envenomed, as those of country gentlemen often become, who, having little to do or think of, are but too apt to spend their time in nursing and cherishing petty causes of wrath against their next neighbours.

In the course of the same day, he mentioned the Bridgenorth to his mother, as if in a casual manner. But the Lady Peveril instantly conjured him never to mention the name, especially in his father’s presence.

“Was that Major Bridgenorth, of whom I have heard the name mentioned,” said Julian, “so very bad a neighbour?”

“I do not say so,” said Lady Peveril; “nay, we were more than once obliged to him, in the former unhappy times; but your father and he took some passages so ill at each other’s hands, that the least allusion to him disturbs Sir Geoffrey’s temper, in a manner quite unusual, and which, now that his health is somewhat impaired, is sometimes alarming to me. For Heaven’s sake, then, my dear Julian, avoid upon all occasions the slightest allusion to Moultrassie, or any of its inhabitants.”

This warning was so seriously given, that Julian himself saw that mentioning his secret purpose would be the sure way to render it abortive, and therefore he returned disconsolate to the Isle.

Peveril had the boldness, however, to make the best he could of what had happened, by requesting an interview with Alice, in order to inform her what had passed betwixt his parents and him on her account. It was with great difficulty that this boon was obtained; and Alice Bridgenorth showed no slight degree of displeasure, when she discovered, after much circumlocution, and many efforts to give an air of importance to what he had to communicate, that all amounted but to this, that Lady Peveril continued to retain a favourable opinion of her father, Major Bridgenorth, which Julian would fain have represented as an omen of their future more perfect reconciliation.

“I did not think you would thus have trifled with me, Master Peveril,” said Alice, assuming an air of dignity; “but I will take care to avoid such intrusion in future — I request you will not again visit the Black Fort; and I entreat of you, good Mistress Debbitch, that you will no longer either encourage or permit this gentleman’s visits, as the result of such persecution will be to compel me to appeal to my aunt and father for another place of residence, and perhaps also for another and more prudent companion.”

This last hint struck Mistress Deborah with so much terror, that she joined her ward in requiring and demanding Julian’s instant absence, and he was obliged to comply with their request. But the courage of a youthful lover is not easily subdued; and Julian, after having gone through the usual round of trying to forget his ungrateful mistress, and entertaining his passion with augmented violence, ended by the visit to the Black Fort, the beginning of which we narrated in the last chapter.

We then left him anxious for, yet almost fearful of, an interview with Alice, which he prevailed upon Deborah to solicit; and such was the tumult of his mind, that, while he traversed the parlour, it seemed to him that the dark melancholy eyes of the slaughtered Christian’s portrait followed him wherever he went, with the fixed, chill, and ominous glance, which announced to the enemy of his race mishap and misfortune.

The door of the apartment opened at length, and these visions were dissipated.

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