Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 15

—— What seem’d its head,

The likeness of a kingly crown had on.


Sodor, or Holm-Peel, so is named the castle to which our Julian directed his course early on the following morning, is one of those extraordinary monuments of antiquity with which this singular and interesting island abounds. It occupies the whole of a high rocky peninsula, or rather an island, for it is surrounded by the sea at high-water, and scarcely accessible even when the tide is out, although a stone causeway, of great solidity, erected for the express purpose, connects the island with the mainland. The whole space is surrounded by double walls of great strength and thickness; and the access to the interior, at the time which we treat of, was only by two flights of steep and narrow steps, divided from each other by a strong tower and guard-house; under the former of which, there is an entrance-arch. The open space within the walls extends to two acres, and contains many objects worthy of antiquarian curiosity. There were besides the castle itself, two cathedral churches, dedicated, the earlier to St. Patrick, the latter to St. Germain; besides two smaller churches; all of which had become, even in that day, more or less ruinous. Their decayed walls, exhibiting the rude and massive architecture of the most remote period, were composed of a ragged grey-stone, which formed a singular contrast with the bright red freestone of which the window-cases, corner-stones, arches, and other ornamental parts of the building, were composed.

Besides these four ruinous churches, the space of ground enclosed by the massive exterior walls of Holm-Peel exhibited many other vestiges of the olden time. There was a square mound of earth, facing, with its angles to the points of the compass, one of those motes, as they were called, on which, in ancient times, the northern tribes elected or recognised their chiefs, and held their solemn popular assemblies, or comitia. There was also one of those singular towers, so common in Ireland as to have proved the favourite theme of her antiquaries; but of which the real use and meaning seems yet to be hidden in the mist of ages. This of Holm-Peel had been converted to the purpose of a watch-tower. There were, besides, Runic monuments, of which legends could not be deciphered; and later inscriptions to the memory of champions, of whom the names only were preserved from oblivion. But tradition and superstitious eld, still most busy where real history is silent, had filled up the long blank of accurate information with tales of Sea-kings and Pirates, Hebridean Chiefs and Norwegian Resolutes, who had formerly warred against, and in defence of, this famous castle. Superstition, too, had her tales of fairies, ghosts, and spectres — her legions of saints and demons, of fairies and of familiar spirits, which in no corner of the British empire are told and received with more absolute credulity than in the Isle of Man.

Amidst all these ruins of an older time arose the Castle itself — now ruinous — but in Charles II.‘s reign well garrisoned, and, in a military point of view, kept in complete order. It was a venerable and very ancient building, containing several apartments of sufficient size and height to be termed noble. But in the surrender of the island by Christian, the furniture had been, in a great measure, plundered or destroyed by the republican soldiers; so that, as we have before hinted, its present state was ill adapted for the residence of the noble proprietor. Yet it had been often the abode, not only of the Lords of Man, but of those state prisoners whom the Kings of Britain sometimes committed to their charge.

In this Castle of Holm-Peel the great king-maker, Richard, Earl of Warwick, was confined, during one period of his eventful life, to ruminate at leisure on his farther schemes of ambition. And here, too, Eleanor, the haughty wife of the good Duke of Gloucester, pined out in seclusion the last days of her banishment. The sentinels pretended that her discontented spectre was often visible at night, traversing the battlements of the external walls, or standing motionless beside a particular solitary turret of one of the watch-towers with which they are flanked; but dissolving into air at cock-crow, or when the bell tolled from the yet remaining tower of St. Germain’s church.

Such was Holm-Peel, as records inform us, till towards the end of the seventeenth century.

It was in one of the lofty but almost unfurnished apartments of this ancient Castle that Julian Peveril found his friend the Earl of Derby, who had that moment sat down to a breakfast composed of various sorts of fish. “Welcome, most imperial Julian,” he said; “welcome to our royal fortress; in which, as yet, we are not like to be starved with hunger, though well-nigh dead for cold.”

Julian answered by inquiring the meaning of this sudden movement.

“Upon my word,” replied the Earl, “you know nearly as much of it as I do. My mother has told me nothing about it; supposing I believe, that I shall at length be tempted to inquire; but she will find herself much mistaken. I shall give her credit for full wisdom in her proceedings, rather than put her to the trouble to render a reason, though no woman can render one better.”

“Come, come; this is affectation, my good friend,” said Julian. “You should inquire into these matters a little more curiously.”

“To what purpose?” said the Earl. “To hear old stories about the Tinwald laws, and the contending rights of the lords and the clergy, and all the rest of that Celtic barbarism, which, like Burgesse’s thorough-paced doctrine enters at one ear, paces through, and goes out at the other?”

“Come, my lord,” said Julian, “you are not so indifferent as you would represent yourself — you are dying of curiosity to know what this hurry is about; only you think it the courtly humour to appear careless about your own affairs.”

“Why, what should it be about,” said the young Earl “unless some factious dispute between our Majesty’s minister, Governor Nowel, and our vassals? or perhaps some dispute betwixt our Majesty and the ecclesiastical jurisdictions? for all which our Majesty cares as little as any king in Christendom.”

“I rather suppose there is intelligence from England,” said Julian. “I heard last night in Peel-town, that Greenhalgh is come over with unpleasant news.”

“He brought me nothing that was pleasant, I wot well,” said the Earl. “I expected something from St. Evremond or Hamilton — some new plays by Dryden or Lee, and some waggery or lampoons from the Rose Coffee-house; and the fellow has brought me nothing but a parcel of tracts about Protestants and Papists, and a folio play-book, one of the conceptions, as she calls them, of that old mad-woman the Duchess of Newcastle.”

“Hush, my lord, for Heaven’s sake,” said Peveril; “here comes the Countess; and you know she takes fire at the least slight to her ancient friend.”

“Let her read her ancient friend’s works herself, then,” said the Earl, “and think her as wise as she can; but I would not give one of Waller’s songs, or Denham’s satires, for a whole cart-load of her Grace’s trash. — But here comes our mother with care on her brow.”

The Countess of Derby entered the apartment accordingly, holding in her hand a number of papers. Her dress was a mourning habit, with a deep train of black velvet, which was borne by a little favourite attendant, a deaf and dumb girl, whom, in compassion to her misfortune, the Countess had educated about her person for some years. Upon this unfortunate being, with the touch of romance which marked many of her proceedings, Lady Derby had conferred the name of Fenella, after some ancient princess of the island. The Countess herself was not much changed since we last presented her to our readers. Age had rendered her step more slow, but not less majestic; and while it traced some wrinkles on her brow, had failed to quench the sedate fire of her dark eye. The young men rose to receive her with the formal reverence which they knew she loved, and were greeted by her with equal kindness.

“Cousin Peveril,” she said (for so she always called Julian, in respect of his mother being a kinswoman of her husband), “you were ill abroad last night, when we much needed your counsel.”

Julian answered with a blush which he could not prevent, “That he had followed his sport among the mountains too far — had returned late — and finding her ladyship was removed from Castletown, had instantly followed the family hither; but as the night-bell was rung, and the watch set, he had deemed it more respectful to lodge for the night in the town.”

“It is well,” said the Countess; “and, to do you justice, Julian, you are seldom a truant neglecter of appointed hours, though, like the rest of the youth of this age, you sometimes suffer your sports to consume too much of time that should be spent otherwise. But for your friend Philip, he is an avowed contemner of good order, and seems to find pleasure in wasting time, even when he does not enjoy it.”

“I have been enjoying my time just now at least,” said the Earl, rising from table, and picking his teeth carelessly. “These fresh mullets are delicious, and so is the Lachrymæ Christi. I pray you to sit down to breakfast, Julian, and partake the goods my royal foresight has provided. Never was King of Man nearer being left to the mercy of the execrable brandy of his dominions. Old Griffiths would never, in the midst of our speedy retreat of last night, have had sense enough to secure a few flasks, had I not given him a hint on that important subject. But presence of mind amid danger and tumult, is a jewel I have always possessed.”

“I wish, then, Philip, you would exert it to better purpose,” said the Countess, half smiling, half displeased; for she doated upon her son with all a mother’s fondness, even when she was most angry with him for being deficient in the peculiar and chivalrous disposition which had distinguished his father, and which was so analogous to her own romantic and high-minded character. “Lend me your signet,” she added with a sigh; “for it were, I fear, vain to ask you to read over these despatches from England, and execute the warrants which I have thought necessary to prepare in consequence.”

“My signet you shall command with all my heart, madam,” said Earl Philip; “but spare me the revision of what you are much more capable to decide upon. I am, you know, a most complete Roi fainéant, and never once interfered with my Maire de palais in her proceedings.”

The Countess made signs to her little train-bearer, who immediately went to seek for wax and a light, with which she presently returned.

In the meanwhile the Countess continued, addressing Peveril. “Philip does himself less than justice. When you were absent, Julian (for if you had been here I would have given you the credit of prompting your friend), he had a spirited controversy with the Bishop, for an attempt to enforce spiritual censures against a poor wretch, by confining her in the vault under the chapel.”*

* Beneath the only one of the four churches in Castle Rushin, which is or was kept a little in repair, is a prison or dungeon, for ecclesiastical offenders. “This,” says Waldron, “is certainly one of the most dreadful places that imagination can form; the sea runs under it through the hollows of the rock with such a continual roar, that you would think it were every moment breaking in upon you, and over it are the vaults for burying the dead. The stairs descending to this place of terrors are not above thirty, but so steep and narrow, that they are very difficult to go down, a child of eight or nine years not being able to pass them but sideways.”— WALDRON’S Description of the Isle of Man, in his Works, p. 105, folio.

“Do not think better of me than I deserve,” said the Earl to Peveril; “my mother has omitted to tell you the culprit was pretty Peggy of Ramsey, and her crime what in Cupid’s courts would have been called a peccadillo.”

“Do not make yourself worse than you are,” replied Peveril, who observed the Countess’s cheek redden — “you know you would have done as much for the oldest and poorest cripple in the island. Why, the vault is under the burial-ground of the chapel, and, for aught I know, under the ocean itself, such a roaring do the waves make in its vicinity. I think no one could remain there long, and retain his reason.”

“It is an infernal hole,” answered the Earl, “and I will have it built up one day — that is full certain. — But hold — hold — for God’s sake, madam — what are you going to do? — Look at the seal before you put it to the warrant — you will see it is a choice antique cameo Cupid, riding on a flying fish — I had it for twenty zechins, from Signor Furabosco at Rome — a most curious matter for an antiquary, but which will add little faith to a Manx warrant.

“My signet — my signet — Oh! you mean that with the three monstrous legs, which I supposed was devised as the most preposterous device, to represent our most absurd Majesty of Man. — The signet — I have not seen it since I gave it to Gibbon, my monkey, to play with. — He did whine for it most piteously — I hope he has not gemmed the green breast of ocean with my symbol of sovereignty!”

“Now, by Heaven,” said the Countess, trembling, and colouring deeply with anger, “it was your father’s signet! the last pledge which he sent, with his love to me, and his blessing to thee, the night before they murdered him at Bolton!”

“Mother, dearest mother,” said the Earl, startled out of his apathy, and taking her hand, which he kissed tenderly, “I did but jest — the signet is safe — Peveril knows that it is so. — Go fetch it, Julian, for Heaven’s sake — here are my keys — it is in the left-hand drawer of my travelling cabinet — Nay, mother, forgive me — it was but a mauvaise plaisanterie; only an ill-imagined jest, ungracious, and in bad taste, I allow — but only one of Philip’s follies. Look at me, dearest mother, and forgive me.”

The Countess turned her eyes towards him, from which the tears were fast falling.

“Philip,” she said, “you try me too unkindly, and too severely. If times are changed, as I have heard you allege — if the dignity of rank, and the high feelings of honour and duty, are now drowned in giddy jests and trifling pursuits, let me at least, who live secluded from all others, die without perceiving the change which has happened, and, above all, without perceiving it in mine own son. Let me not learn the general prevalence of this levity, which laughs at every sense of dignity or duty, through your personal disrespect — Let me not think that when I die ——”

“Speak nothing of it, mother,” said the Earl, interrupting her affectionately. “It is true, I cannot promise to be all my father and his fathers were; for we wear silk vests for their steel coats, and feathered beavers for their crested helmets. But believe me, though to be an absolute Palmerin of England is not in my nature, no son ever loved a mother more dearly, or would do more to oblige her. And that you may own this, I will forthwith not only seal the warrants, to the great endangerment of my precious fingers, but also read the same from end to end, as well as the despatches thereunto appertaining.”

A mother is easily appeased, even when most offended; and it was with an expanding heart that the Countess saw her son’s very handsome features, while reading these papers, settle into an expression of deep seriousness, such as they seldom wore. It seemed to her as if the family likeness to his gallant but unfortunate father increased, when the expression of their countenances became similar in gravity. The Earl had no sooner perused the despatches, which he did with great attention, than he rose and said, “Julian, come with me.”

The Countess looked surprised. “I was wont to share your father’s counsels, my son,” she said; “but do not think that I wish to intrude myself upon yours. I am too well pleased to see you assume the power and the duty of thinking for yourself, which is what I have so long urged you to do. Nevertheless, my experience, who have been so long administrator of your authority in Man, might not, I think, be superfluous to the matter in hand.”

“Hold me excused, dearest mother,” said the Earl gravely. “The interference was none of my seeking; had you taken your own course, without consulting me, it had been well; but since I have entered on the affair — and it appears sufficiently important — I must transact it to the best of my own ability.”

“Go, then, my son,” said the Countess, “and may Heaven enlighten thee with its counsel, since thou wilt have none of mine. — I trust that you, Master Peveril, will remind him of what is fit for his own honour; and that only a coward abandons his rights, and only a fool trusts his enemies.”

The Earl answered not, but, taking Peveril by the arm, led him up a winding stair to his own apartment, and from thence into a projecting turret, where, amidst the roar of waves and sea-mews’ clang, he held with him the following conversation:—

“Peveril, it is well I looked into these warrants. My mother queens it at such a rate as may cost me not only my crown, which I care little for, but perhaps my head, which, though others may think little of, I would feel it an inconvenience to be deprived of.”

“What on earth is the matter?” said Peveril, with considerable anxiety.

“It seems,” said the Earl of Derby, “that old England who takes a frolicsome brain-fever once every two or three years, for the benefit of her doctors, and the purification of the torpid lethargy brought on by peace and prosperity, is now gone stark staring mad on the subject of a real or supposed Popish plot. I read one programme on the subject, by a fellow called Oates, and thought it the most absurd foolery I ever perused. But that cunning fellow Shaftesbury, and some others amongst the great ones, having taken it up, and are driving on at such a rate as makes harness crack, and horses smoke for it. The King, who has sworn never to kiss the pillow his father went to sleep on, temporises, and gives way to the current; the Duke of York, suspected and hated on account of his religion, is about to be driven to the continent; several principal Catholic nobles are in the Tower already; and the nation, like a bull at Tutbury-running, is persecuted with so many inflammatory rumours and pestilent pamphlets, that she has cocked her tail, flung up her heels, taken the bit betwixt her teeth and is as furiously unmanageable as in the year 1642.”

“All this you must have known already,” said Peveril; “I wonder you told me not of news so important.”

“It would have taken long to tell,” said the Earl; “moreover, I desired to have you solus; thirdly, I was about to speak when my mother entered; and, to conclude, it was no business of mine. But these despatches of my politic mother’s private correspondent put a new face on the whole matter; for it seems some of the informers — a trade which, having become a thriving one, is now pursued by many — have dared to glance at the Countess herself as an agent in this same plot — ay, and have found those that are willing enough to believe their report.”

“On mine honour,” said Peveril, “you both take it with great coolness. I think the Countess the more composed of the two; for, except her movement hither, she exhibited no mark of alarm, and, moreover, seemed no way more anxious to communicate the matter to your lordship than decency rendered necessary.”

“My good mother,” said the Earl, “loves power, though it has cost her dear. I wish I could truly say that my neglect of business is entirely assumed in order to leave it in her hands, but that better motive combines with natural indolence. But she seems to have feared I should not think exactly like her in this emergency, and she was right in supposing so.”

“How comes the emergency upon you?” said Julian; “and what form does the danger assume?”

“Marry, thus it is,” said the Earl: “I need not bid you remember the affair of Colonel Christian. That man, besides his widow, who is possessed of large property — Dame Christian of Kirk Truagh, whom you have often heard of, and perhaps seen — left a brother called Edward Christian, whom you never saw at all. Now this brother — but I dare say you know all about it.”

“Not I, on my honour,” said Peveril; “you know the Countess seldom or never alludes to the subject.”

“Why,” replied the Earl, “I believe in her heart she is something ashamed of that gallant act of royalty and supreme jurisdiction, the consequences of which maimed my estate so cruelly. — Well, cousin, this same Edward Christian was one of the dempsters at the time, and, naturally enough, was unwilling to concur in the sentence which adjudged his aîné to be shot like a dog. My mother, who was then in high force, and not to be controlled by any one, would have served the dempster with the same sauce with which she dressed his brother, had he not been wise enough to fly from the island. Since that time, the thing has slept on all hands; and though we knew that Dempster Christian made occasionally secret visits to his friends in the island, along with two or three other Puritans of the same stamp, and particularly a prick-eared rogue, called Bridgenorth, brother-inlaw to the deceased, yet my mother, thank Heaven, has hitherto had the sense to connive at them, though, for some reason or other, she holds this Bridgenorth in especial disfavour.”

“And why,” said Peveril, forcing himself to speak, in order to conceal the very unpleasant surprise which he felt, “why does the Countess now depart from so prudent a line of conduct?”

“You must know the case is now different. The rogues are not satisfied with toleration — they would have supremacy. They have found friends in the present heat of the popular mind. My mother’s name, and especially that of her confessor, Aldrick the Jesuit, have been mentioned in this beautiful maze of a plot, which if any such at all exists, she knows as little of as you or I. However, she is a Catholic, and that is enough; and I have little doubt, that if the fellows could seize on our scrap of a kingdom here, and cut all our throats, they would have the thanks of the present House of Commons, as willingly as old Christian had those of the Rump, for a similar service.”

“From whence did you receive all this information?” said Peveril, again speaking, though by the same effort which a man makes who talks in his sleep.

“Aldrick has seen the Duke of York in secret, and his Royal Highness, who wept while he confessed his want of power to protect his friends — and it is no trifle will wring tears from him — told him to send us information that we should look to our safety, for that Dempster Christian and Bridgenorth were in the island, with secret and severe orders; that they had formed a considerable party there, and were likely to be owned and protected in anything they might undertake against us. The people of Ramsey and Castletown are unluckily discontented about some new regulation of the imposts; and to tell you the truth, though I thought yesterday’s sudden remove a whim of my mother’s, I am almost satisfied they would have blockaded us in Rushin Castle, where we could not have held out for lack of provisions. Here we are better supplied, and, as we are on our guard, it is likely the intended rising will not take place.”

“And what is to be done in this emergency?” said Peveril.

“That is the very question, my gentle coz,” answered the Earl. “My mother sees but one way of going to work, and that is by royal authority. Here are the warrants she had prepared, to search for, take, and apprehend the bodies of Edward Christian and Robert — no, Ralph Bridgenorth, and bring them to instant trial. No doubt, she would soon have had them in the Castle court, with a dozen of the old matchlocks levelled against them — that is her way of solving all sudden difficulties.”

“But in which, I trust, you do not acquiesce, my lord,” answered Peveril, whose thoughts instantly reverted to Alice, if they could ever be said to be absent from her.

“Truly I acquiesce in no such matter,” said the Earl. “William Christian’s death cost me a fair half of my inheritance. I have no fancy to fall under the displeasure of my royal brother, King Charles, for a new escapade of the same kind. But how to pacify my mother, I know not. I wish the insurrection would take place, and then, as we are better provided than they can be, we might knock the knaves on the head; and yet, since they began the fray, we should keep the law on our side.”

“Were it not better,” said Peveril, “if by any means these men could be induced to quit the island?”

“Surely,” replied the Earl; “but that will be no easy matter — they are stubborn on principle, and empty threats will not move them. This stormblast in London is wind in their sails, and they will run their length, you may depend on it. I have sent orders, however, to clap up the Manxmen upon whose assistance they depended, and if I can find the two worthies themselves, here are sloops enough in the harbour — I will take the freedom to send them on a pretty distant voyage, and I hope matters will be settled before they return to give an account of it.”

At this moment a soldier belonging to the garrison approached the two young men, with many bows and tokens of respect. “How now, friend?” said the Earl to him. “Leave off thy courtesies, and tell thy business.”

The man, who was a native islander, answered in Manx, that he had a letter for his honour, Master Julian Peveril. Julian snatched the billet hastily, and asked whence it came.

“It was delivered to him by a young woman,” the soldier replied, “who had given him a piece of money to deliver it into Master Peveril’s own hand.”

“Thou art a lucky fellow, Julian,” said the Earl. “With that grave brow of thine, and thy character for sobriety and early wisdom, you set the girls a-wooing, without waiting till they are asked; whilst I, their drudge and vassal, waste both language and leisure, without getting a kind word or look, far less a billet-doux.”

This the young Earl said with a smile of conscious triumph, as in fact he valued himself not a little upon the interest which he supposed himself to possess with the fair sex.

Meanwhile the letter impressed on Peveril a different train of thoughts from what his companion apprehended. It was in Alice’s hand, and contained these few words:—

“I fear what I am going to do is wrong; but I must see you. Meet me at noon at Goddard Crovan’s Stone, with as much secrecy as you may.”

The letter was signed only with the initials A. B.; but Julian had no difficulty in recognising the handwriting, which he had often seen, and which was remarkably beautiful. He stood suspended, for he saw the difficulty and impropriety of withdrawing himself from the Countess and his friend at this moment of impending danger; and yet, to neglect this invitation was not to be thought of. He paused in the utmost perplexity.

“Shall I read your riddle?” said the Earl. “Go where love calls you — I will make an excuse to my mother — only, most grave anchorite, be hereafter more indulgent to the failings of others than you have been hitherto, and blaspheme not the power of the little deity.”

“Nay, but, Cousin Derby —” said Peveril, and stopped short, for he really knew not what to say. Secured himself by a virtuous passion from the contagious influence of the time, he had seen with regret his noble kinsman mingle more in its irregularities than he approved of, and had sometimes played the part of a monitor. Circumstances seemed at present to give the Earl a right of retaliation. He kept his eye fixed on his friend, as if he waited till he should complete his sentence, and at length exclaimed, “What! cousin, quite à-la-mort! Oh, most judicious Julian! Oh, most precise Peveril! have you bestowed so much wisdom on me that you have none left for yourself? Come, be frank — tell me name and place — or say but the colour of the eyes of the most emphatic she — or do but let me have the pleasure to hear thee say, ‘I love!’— confess one touch of human frailty — conjugate the verb amo, and I will be a gentle schoolmaster, and you shall have, as father Richards used to say, when we were under his ferule, ‘licentia exeundi.’”

“Enjoy your pleasant humour at my expense, my lord,” said Peveril; “I fairly will confess thus much, that I would fain, if it consisted with my honour and your safety, have two hours at my own disposal; the more especially as the manner in which I shall employ them may much concern the safety of the island.”

“Very likely, I dare say,” answered the Earl, still laughing. “No doubt you are summoned out by some Lady Politic Wouldbe of the isle, to talk over some of the breast-laws: but never mind — go, and go speedily, that you may return as quickly as possible. I expect no immediate explosion of this grand conspiracy. When the rogues see us on our guard, they will be cautious how they break out. Only, once more make haste.”

Peveril thought this last advice was not to be neglected; and, glad to extricate himself from the raillery of his cousin, walked down towards the gate of the Castle, meaning to cross over to the village, and there take horse at the Earl’s stables, for the place of rendezvous.

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