Now rede me, rede me, brother dear,
Throughout Merry England,
Where will I find a messenger,
Betwixt us two to send.
BALLAD OF KING ESTMERE.
Julian’s first encounter, after re-entering the Castle, was with its young Lord, who received him with his usual kindness and lightness of humour.
“Thrice welcome, Sir Knight of Dames,” said the Earl; “here you rove gallantly, and at free will, through our dominions, fulfilling of appointments, and achieving amorous adventures; while we are condemned to sit in our royal halls, as dull and as immovable as if our Majesty was carved on the stern of some Manx smuggling dogger, and christened the King Arthur of Ramsey.”
“Nay, in that case you would take the sea,” said Julian, “and so enjoy travel and adventure enough.”
“Oh, but suppose me wind-bound, or detained in harbour by a revenue pink, or ashore, if you like it, and lying high and dry upon the sand. Imagine the royal image in the dullest of all predicaments, and you have not equalled mine.”
“I am happy to hear, at least, that you have had no disagreeable employment,” said Julian; “the morning’s alarm has blown over, I suppose?”
“In faith it has, Julian; and our close inquiries cannot find any cause for the apprehended insurrection. That Bridgenorth is in the island seems certain; but private affairs of consequence are alleged as the cause of his visit; and I am not desirous to have him arrested unless I could prove some malpractices against him and his companions. In fact, it would seem we had taken the alarm too soon. My mother speaks of consulting you on the subject, Julian; and I will not anticipate her solemn communication. It will be partly apologetical, I suppose; for we begin to think our retreat rather unroyal, and that, like the wicked, we have fled when no man pursued. This idea afflicts my mother, who, as a Queen-Dowager, a Queen-Regent, a heroine, and a woman in general, would be extremely mortified to think that her precipitate retreat hither had exposed her to the ridicule of the islanders; and she is disconcerted and out of humour accordingly. In the meanwhile, my sole amusement has been the grimaces and fantastic gestures of that ape Fenella, who is more out of humour, and more absurd, in consequence, than you ever saw her. Morris says, it is because you pushed her downstairs, Julian — how is that?”
“Nay, Morris has misreported me,” answered Julian; “I did but lift her up stairs to be rid of her importunity; for she chose, in her way, to contest my going abroad in such an obstinate manner, that I had no other mode of getting rid of her.”
“She must have supposed your departure, at a moment so critical, was dangerous to the state of our garrison,” answered the Earl; “it shows how dearly she esteems my mother’s safety, how highly she rates your prowess. But, thank Heaven, there sounds the dinner-bell. I would the philosophers, who find a sin and waste of time in good cheer, could devise us any pastime half so agreeable.”
The meal which the young Earl had thus longed for, as a means of consuming a portion of the time which hung heavy on his hands, was soon over; as soon, at least, as the habitual and stately formality of the Countess’s household permitted. She herself, accompanied by her gentlewomen and attendants, retired early after the tables were drawn; and the young gentlemen were left to their own company. Wine had, for the moment, no charms for either; for the Earl was out of spirits from ennui, and impatience of his monotonous and solitary course of life; and the events of the day had given Peveril too much matter for reflection, to permit his starting amusing or interesting topics of conversation. After having passed the flask in silence betwixt them once or twice, they withdrew each to a separate embrasure of the windows of the dining apartment, which, such was the extreme thickness of the wall, were deep enough to afford a solitary recess, separated, as it were, from the chamber itself. In one of these sat the Earl of Derby, busied in looking over some of the new publications which had been forwarded from London; and at intervals confessing how little power or interest these had for him, by yawning fearfully as he looked out on the solitary expanse of waters, which, save from the flight of a flock of sea-gulls, or a solitary cormorant, offered so little of variety to engage his attention.
Peveril, on his part, held a pamphlet also in his hand, without giving, or affecting to give it, even his occasional attention. His whole soul turned upon the interview which he had had that day with Alice Bridgenorth, and with her father; while he in vain endeavoured to form any hypothesis which could explain to him why the daughter, to whom he had no reason to think himself indifferent, should have been so suddenly desirous of their eternal separation, while her father, whose opposition he so much dreaded, seemed to be at least tolerant of his addresses. He could only suppose, in explanation, that Major Bridgenorth had some plan in prospect, which it was in his own power to farther or to impede; while, from the demeanour, and indeed the language, of Alice, he had but too much reason to apprehend that her father’s favour could only be conciliated by something, on his own part, approaching to dereliction of principle. But by no conjecture which he could form, could he make the least guess concerning the nature of that compliance, of which Bridgenorth seemed desirous. He could not imagine, notwithstanding Alice had spoken of treachery, that her father would dare to propose to him uniting in any plan by which the safety of the Countess, or the security of her little kingdom of Man, was to be endangered. This carried such indelible disgrace in the front, that he could not suppose the scheme proposed to him by any who was not prepared to defend with his sword, upon the spot, so flagrant an insult offered to his honour. And such a proceeding was totally inconsistent with the conduct of Major Bridgenorth in every other respect, besides his being too calm and cold-blooded to permit of his putting a mortal affront upon the son of his old neighbour, to whose mother he confessed so much of obligation.
While Peveril in vain endeavoured to extract something like a probable theory out of the hints thrown out by the father and by the daughter — not without the additional and lover-like labour of endeavouring to reconcile his passion to his honour and conscience — he felt something gently pull him by the cloak. He unclasped his arms, which, in meditation, had been folded on his bosom; and withdrawing his eyes from the vacant prospect of sea-coast and sea which they perused, without much consciousness upon what they rested, he beheld beside him the little dumb maiden, the elfin Fenella. She was seated on a low cushion or stool, with which she had nestled close to Peveril’s side, and had remained there for a short space of time, expecting, no doubt, he would become conscious of her presence; until, tired of remaining unnoticed, she at length solicited his attention in the manner which we have described. Startled out of his reverie by this intimation of her presence, he looked down, and could not, without interest, behold this singular and helpless being.
Her hair was unloosened, and streamed over her shoulders in such length, that much of it lay upon the ground, and in such quantity, that it formed a dark veil, or shadow, not only around her face, but over her whole slender and minute form. From the profusion of her tresses looked forth her small and dark, but well-formed features, together with the large and brilliant black eyes; and her whole countenance was composed into the imploring look of one who is doubtful of the reception she is about to meet with from a valued friend, while she confesses a fault, pleads an apology, or solicits a reconciliation. In short, the whole face was so much alive with expression, that Julian, though her aspect was so familiar to him, could hardly persuade himself but that her countenance was entirely new. The wild, fantastic, elvish vivacity of the features, seemed totally vanished, and had given place to a sorrowful, tender, and pathetic cast of countenance, aided by the expression of the large dark eyes, which, as they were turned up towards Julian, glistened with moisture, that, nevertheless, did not overflow the eyelids.
Conceiving that her unwonted manner arose from a recollection of the dispute which had taken place betwixt them in the morning, Peveril was anxious to restore the little maiden’s gaiety, by making her sensible that there dwelt on his mind no unpleasing recollection of their quarrel. He smiled kindly, and shook her hand in one of his; while, with the familiarity of one who had known her from childhood, he stroked down her long dark tresses with the other. She stooped her head, as if ashamed, and, at the same time, gratified with his caresses — and he was thus induced to continue them, until, under the veil of her rich and abundant locks, he suddenly felt his other hand, which she still held in hers, slightly touched with her lips, and, at the same time, moistened with a tear.
At once, and for the first time in his life, the danger of being misinterpreted in his familiarity with a creature to whom the usual modes of explanation were a blank, occurred to Julian’s mind; and, hastily withdrawing his hand, and changing his posture, he asked her, by a sign which custom had rendered familiar, whether she brought any message to him from the Countess. She started up, and arranged herself in her seat with the rapidity of lightning; and, at the same moment, with one turn of her hand, braided her length of locks into a natural head-dress of the most beautiful kind. There was, indeed, when she looked up, a blush still visible on her dark features; but their melancholy and languid expression had given place to that of wild and restless vivacity, which was most common to them. Her eyes gleamed with more than their wonted fire, and her glances were more piercingly wild and unsettled than usual. To Julian’s inquiry, she answered, by laying her hand on her heart — a motion by which she always indicated the Countess — and rising, and taking the direction of her apartment, she made a sign to Julian to follow her.
The distance was not great betwixt the dining apartment and that to which Peveril now followed his mute guide; yet, in going thither, he had time enough to suffer cruelly from the sudden suspicion, that this unhappy girl had misinterpreted the uniform kindness with which he had treated her, and hence come to regard him with feelings more tender than those which belong to friendship. The misery which such a passion was likely to occasion to a creature in her helpless situation, and actuated by such lively feelings, was great enough to make him refuse credit to the suspicion which pressed itself upon his mind; while, at the same time, he formed the internal resolution so to conduct himself towards Fenella, as to check such misplaced sentiments, if indeed she unhappily entertained them towards him.
When they reached the Countess’s apartment, they found her with writing implements, and many sealed letters before her. She received Julian with her usual kindness; and having caused him to be seated, beckoned to the mute to resume her needle. In an instant Fenella was seated at an embroidering-frame; where, but for the movement of her dexterous fingers, she might have seemed a statue, so little did she move from her work either head or eye. As her infirmity rendered her presence no bar to the most confidential conversation, the Countess proceeded to address Peveril as if they had been literally alone together.
“Julian,” she said, “I am not now about to complain to you of the sentiments and conduct of Derby. He is your friend — he is my son. He has kindness of heart and vivacity of talent; and yet ——”
“Dearest lady,” said Peveril, “why will you distress yourself with fixing your eye on deficiencies which arise rather from a change of times and manners, than any degeneracy of my noble friend? Let him be once engaged in his duty, whether in peace or war, and let me pay the penalty if he acquits not himself becoming his high station.”
“Ay,” replied the Countess; “but when will the call of duty prove superior to that of the most idle or trivial indulgence which can serve to drive over the lazy hour? His father was of another mould; and how often was it my lot to entreat that he would spare, from the rigid discharge of those duties which his high station imposed, the relaxation absolutely necessary to recruit his health and his spirits!”
“Still, my dearest lady,” said Peveril, “you must allow, that the duties to which the times summoned your late honoured lord, were of a more stirring, as well as a more peremptory cast, than those which await your son.”
“I know not that,” said the Countess. “The wheel appears to be again revolving; and the present period is not unlikely to bring back such scenes as my young years witnessed. — Well, be it so; they will not find Charlotte de la Tremouille broken in spirit, though depressed by years. It was even on this subject I would speak with you, my young friend. Since our first early acquaintance — when I saw your gallant behaviour as I issued forth to your childish eye, like an apparition, from my place of concealment in your father’s castle — it has pleased me to think you a true son of Stanley and Peveril. I trust your nurture in this family has been ever suited to the esteem in which I hold you. — Nay, I desire no thanks. — I have to require of you, in return, a piece of service, not perhaps entirely safe to yourself, but which, as times are circumstanced, no person is so well able to render to my house.”
“You have been ever my good and noble lady,” answered Peveril, “as well as my kind, and I may say maternal, protectress. You have a right to command the blood of Stanley in the veins of every one — You have a thousand rights to command it in mine.”*
* The reader cannot have forgotten that the Earl of Derby was head of the great house of Stanley.
“My advices from England,” said the Countess, “resemble more the dreams of a sick man, than the regular information which I might have expected from such correspondents as mine; — their expressions are like those of men who walk in their sleep, and speak by snatches of what passes in their dreams. It is said, a plot, real or fictitious, has been detected among the Catholics, which has spread far wider and more uncontrollable terror than that of the fifth of November. Its outlines seem utterly incredible, and are only supported by the evidence of wretches, the meanest and most worthless in the creation; yet it is received by the credulous people of England with the most undoubting belief.”
“This is a singular delusion, to rise without some real ground,” answered Julian.
“I am no bigot, cousin, though a Catholic,” replied the Countess. “I have long feared that the well-meant zeal of our priests for increasing converts, would draw on them the suspicion of the English nation. These efforts have been renewed with double energy since the Duke of York conformed to the Catholic faith; and the same event has doubled the hate and jealousy of the Protestants. So far, I fear, there may be just cause of suspicion, that the Duke is a better Catholic than an Englishman, and that bigotry has involved him, as avarice, or the needy greed of a prodigal, has engaged his brother, in relations with France, whereof England may have too much reason to complain. But the gross, thick, and palpable fabrications of conspiracy and murder, blood and fire — the imaginary armies — the intended massacres — form a collection of falsehoods, that one would have thought indigestible, even by the coarse appetite of the vulgar for the marvellous and horrible; but which are, nevertheless, received as truth by both Houses of Parliament, and questioned by no one who is desirous to escape the odious appellation of friend to the bloody Papists, and favourer of their infernal schemes of cruelty.”
“But what say those who are most likely to be affected by these wild reports?” said Julian. “What say the English Catholics themselves? — a numerous and wealthy body, comprising so many noble names?”
“Their hearts are dead within them,” said the Countess. “They are like sheep penned up in the shambles, that the butcher may take his choice among them. In the obscure and brief communications which I have had by a secure hand, they do but anticipate their own utter ruin, and ours — so general is the depression, so universal the despair.”
“But the King,” said Peveril — “the King and the Protestant Royalists — what say they to this growing tempest?”
“Charles,” replied the Countess, “with his usual selfish prudence, truckles to the storm; and will let cord and axe do their work on the most innocent men in his dominions, rather than lose an hour of pleasure in attempting their rescue. And, for the Royalists, either they have caught the general delirium which has seized on Protestants in general, or they stand aloof and neutral, afraid to show any interest in the unhappy Catholics, lest they be judged altogether such as themselves, and abettors of the fearful conspiracy in which they are alleged to be engaged. In fact, I cannot blame them. It is hard to expect that mere compassion for a persecuted sect — or, what is yet more rare, an abstract love of justice — should be powerful enough to engage men to expose themselves to the awakened fury of a whole people; for, in the present state of general agitation, whoever disbelieves the least tittle of the enormous improbabilities which have been accumulated by these wretched reformers, is instantly hunted down, as one who would smother the discovery of the Plot. It is indeed an awful tempest; and, remote as we lie from its sphere, we must expect soon to feel its effects.”
“Lord Derby already told me something of this,” said Julian; “and that there were agents in this island whose object was to excite insurrection.”
“Yes,” answered the Countess, and her eye flashed fire as she spoke; “and had my advice been listened to, they had been apprehended in the very fact; and so dealt with, as to be a warning to all others how they sought this independent principality on such an errand. But my son, who is generally so culpably negligent of his own affairs, was pleased to assume the management of them upon this crisis.”
“I am happy to learn, madam,” answered Peveril, “that the measures of precaution which my kinsman has adopted, have had the complete effect of disconcerting the conspiracy.”
“For the present, Julian; but they should have been such as would have made the boldest tremble to think of such infringement of our rights in future. But Derby’s present plan is fraught with greater danger; and yet there is something in it of gallantry, which has my sympathy.”
“What is it, madam?” inquired Julian anxiously; “and in what can I aid it, or avert its dangers?”
“He purposes,” said the Countess, “instantly to set forth for London. He is, he says, not merely the feudal chief of a small island, but one of the noble Peers of England, who must not remain in the security of an obscure and distant castle, when his name, or that of his mother, is slandered before his Prince and people. He will take his place, he says, in the House of Lords, and publicly demand justice for the insult thrown on his house, by perjured and interested witnesses.”
“It is a generous resolution, and worthy of my friend,” said Julian Peveril. “I will go with him and share his fate, be it what it may.”
“Alas, foolish boy!” answered the Countess, “as well may you ask a hungry lion to feel compassion, as a prejudiced and furious people to do justice. They are like the madman at the height of frenzy, who murders without compunction his best and dearest friend; and only wonders and wails over his own cruelty, when he is recovered from his delirium.”
“Pardon me, dearest lady,” said Julian, “this cannot be. The noble and generous people of England cannot be thus strangely misled. Whatever prepossessions may be current among the more vulgar, the House of Legislature cannot be deeply infected by them — they will remember their own dignity.”
“Alas! cousin,” answered the Countess, “when did Englishmen, even of the highest degree, remember anything, when hurried away by the violence of party feeling? Even those who have too much sense to believe in the incredible fictions which gull the multitude, will beware how they expose them, if their own political party can gain a momentary advantage by their being accredited. It is amongst such, too, that your kinsman has found friends and associates. Neglecting the old friends of his house, as too grave and formal companions for the humour of the times, his intercourse has been with the versatile Shaftesbury — the mercurial Buckingham — men who would not hesitate to sacrifice to the popular Moloch of the day, whatsoever or whomsoever, whose ruin could propitiate the deity. — Forgive a mother’s tears, kinsman; but I see the scaffold at Bolton again erected. If Derby goes to London while these bloodhounds are in full cry, obnoxious as he is, and I have made him by my religious faith, and my conduct in this island, he dies his father’s death. And yet upon what other course to resolve! ——”
“Let me go to London, madam,” said Peveril, much moved by the distress of his patroness; “your ladyship was wont to rely something on my judgment. I will act for the best — will communicate with those whom you point out to me, and only with them; and I trust soon to send you information that this delusion, however strong it may now be, is in the course of passing away; at the worst, I can apprise you of the danger, should it menace the Earl or yourself; and may be able also to point out the means by which it may be eluded.”
The Countess listened with a countenance in which the anxiety of maternal affection, which prompted her to embrace Peveril’s generous offer, struggled with her native disinterested and generous disposition. “Think what you ask of me, Julian,” she replied with a sigh. “Would you have me expose the life of my friend’s son to those perils to which I refuse my own? — No, never!”
“Nay, but madam,” replied Julian, “I do not run the same risk — my person is not known in London — my situation, though not obscure in my own country, is too little known to be noticed in that huge assemblage of all that is noble and wealthy. No whisper, I presume, however indirect, has connected my name with the alleged conspiracy. I am a Protestant, above all; and can be accused of no intercourse, direct or indirect, with the Church of Rome. My connections also lie amongst those, who, if they do not, or cannot, befriend me, cannot, at least, be dangerous to me. In a word, I run no danger where the Earl might incur great peril.”
“Alas!” said the Countess of Derby, “all this generous reasoning may be true; but it could only be listened to by a widowed mother. Selfish as I am, I cannot but reflect that my kinswoman has, in all events, the support of an affectionate husband — such is the interested reasoning to which we are not ashamed to subject our better feelings.”
“Do not call it so, madam,” answered Peveril; “think of me as the younger brother of my kinsman. You have ever done by me the duties of a mother; and have a right to my filial service, were it at a risk ten times greater than a journey to London, to inquire into the temper of the times. I will instantly go and announce my departure to the Earl.”
“Stay, Julian,” said the Countess; “if you must make this journey in our behalf — and, alas! I have not generosity enough to refuse your noble proffer — you must go alone, and without communication with Derby. I know him well; his lightness of mind is free from selfish baseness; and for the world, would he not suffer you to leave Man without his company. And if he went with you, your noble and disinterested kindness would be of no avail — you would but share his ruin, as the swimmer who attempts to save a drowning man is involved in his fate, if he permit the sufferer to grapple with him.”
“It shall be as you please, madam,” said Peveril. “I am ready to depart upon half-an-hour’s notice.”
“This night, then,” said the Countess, after a moment’s pause —“this night I will arrange the most secret means of carrying your generous project into effect; for I would not excite that prejudice against you, which will instantly arise, were it known you had so lately left this island, and its Popish lady. You will do well, perhaps, to use a feigned name in London.”
“Pardon me, madam,” said Julian; “I will do nothing that can draw on me unnecessary attention; but to bear a feigned name, or affect any disguise beyond living with extreme privacy, would, I think, be unwise as well as unworthy; and what, if challenged, I might find some difficulty in assigning a reason for, consistent with perfect fairness of intentions.”
“I believe you are right,” answered the Countess, after a moment’s consideration; and then added, “You propose, doubtless, to pass through Derbyshire, and visit Martindale Castle?”
“I should wish it, madam, certainly,” replied Peveril, “did time permit, and circumstances render it advisable.”
“Of that,” said the Countess, “you must yourself judge. Despatch is, doubtless, desirable; on the other hand, arriving from your own family-seat, you will be less an object of doubt and suspicion, than if you posted up from hence, without even visiting your parents. You must be guided in this — in all — by your own prudence. Go, my dearest son — for to me you should be dear as a son — go, and prepare for your journey. I will get ready some despatches, and a supply of money — Nay, do not object. Am I not your mother; and are you not discharging a son’s duty? Dispute not my right of defraying your expenses. Nor is this all; for, as I must trust your zeal and prudence to act in our behalf when occasion shall demand, I will furnish you with effectual recommendations to our friends and kindred, entreating and enjoining them to render whatever aid you may require, either for your own protection, or the advancement of what you may propose in our favour.”
Peveril made no farther opposition to an arrangement, which in truth the moderate state of his own finances rendered almost indispensable, unless with his father’s assistance; and the Countess put into his hand bills of exchange to the amount of two hundred pounds, upon a merchant in the city. She then dismissed Julian for the space of an hour; after which, she said, she must again require his presence.
The preparations for his journey were not of a nature to divert the thoughts which speedily pressed on him. He found that half-an-hour’s conversation had once more completely changed his immediate prospects and plans for the future. He had offered to the Countess of Derby a service, which her uniform kindness had well deserved at his hand; but, by her accepting it, he was upon the point of being separated from Alice Bridgenorth, at a time when she was become dearer to him than ever, by her avowal of mutual passion. Her image rose before him, such as he had that day pressed her to his bosom — her voice was in his ear, and seemed to ask whether he could desert her in the crisis which everything seemed to announce as impending. But Julian Peveril, his youth considered, was strict in judging his duty, and severely resolved in executing it. He trusted not his imagination to pursue the vision which presented itself; but resolutely seizing his pen, wrote to Alice the following letter, explaining his situation, as far as justice to the Countess permitted him to do so:—
“I leave you, dearest Alice,” thus ran the letter. —“I leave you; and though, in doing so, I but obey the command you have laid on me, yet I can claim little merit for my compliance, since, without additional and most forcible reasons in aid of your orders, I fear I should have been unable to comply with them. But family affairs of importance compel me to absent myself from this island, for, I fear, more than one week. My thoughts, hopes, and wishes will be on the moment that shall restore me to the Black Fort, and its lovely valley. Let me hope that yours will sometimes rest on the lonely exile, whom nothing could render such, but the command of honour and duty. Do not fear that I mean to involve you in a private correspondence, and let not your father fear it. I could not love you so much, but for the openness and candour of your nature; and I would not that you concealed from Major Bridgenorth one syllable of what I now avow. Respecting other matters, he himself cannot desire the welfare of our common country with more zeal than I do. Differences may occur concerning the mode in which that is to be obtained; but, in the principle, I am convinced there can be only one mind between us; nor can I refuse to listen to his experience and wisdom, even where they may ultimately fail to convince me. Farewell — Alice, farewell! Much might be added to that melancholy word, but nothing that could express the bitterness with which it is written. Yet I could transcribe it again and again, rather than conclude the last communication which I can have with you for some time. My sole comfort is, that my stay will scarce be so long as to permit you to forget one who never can forget you.”
He held the paper in his hand for a minute after he had folded, but before he had sealed it, while he hurriedly debated in his own mind whether he had not expressed himself towards Major Bridgenorth in so conciliating a manner as might excite hopes of proselytism, which his conscience told him he could not realise with honour. Yet, on the other hand, he had no right, from what Bridgenorth had said, to conclude that their principles were diametrically irreconcilable; for though the son of a high Cavalier, and educated in the family of the Countess of Derby, he was himself, upon principle, an enemy of prerogative, and a friend to the liberty of the subject. And with such considerations, he silenced all internal objections on the point of honour; although his conscience secretly whispered that these conciliatory expressions towards the father were chiefly dictated by the fear, that during his absence Major Bridgenorth might be tempted to change the residence of his daughter, and perhaps to convey her altogether out of his reach.
Having sealed his letter, Julian called his servant, and directed him to carry it under cover of one addressed to Mrs. Debbitch, to a house in the town of Rushin, where packets and messages intended for the family at Black Fort were usually deposited; and for that purpose to take horse immediately. He thus got rid of an attendant, who might have been in some degree a spy on his motions. He then exchanged the dress he usually wore for one more suited to travelling; and, having put a change or two of linen into a small cloak-bag, selected as arms a strong double-edged sword and an excellent pair of pistols, which last he carefully loaded with double bullets. Thus appointed, and with twenty pieces in his purse, and the bills we have mentioned secured in a private pocket-book, he was in readiness to depart as soon as he should receive the Countess’s commands.
The buoyant spirit of youth and hope, which had, for a moment, been chilled by the painful and dubious circumstances in which he was placed, as well as the deprivation which he was about to undergo, now revived in full vigour. Fancy, turning from more painful anticipations, suggested to him that he was now entering upon life, at a crisis when resolution and talents were almost certain to make the fortune of their possessor. How could he make a more honourable entry on the bustling scene, than sent by, and acting in behalf of, one of the noblest houses in England; and should he perform what his charge might render incumbent with the resolution and the prudence necessary to secure success, how many occurrences might take place to render his mediation necessary to Bridgenorth; and thus enable him, on the most equal and honourable terms, to establish a claim to his gratitude and to his daughter’s hand.
Whilst he was dwelling on such pleasing, though imaginary prospects, he could not help exclaiming aloud —“Yes, Alice, I will win thee nobly!” The words had scarce escaped his lips, when he heard at the door of his apartment, which the servant had left ajar, a sound like a deep sigh, which was instantly succeeded by a gentle tap —“Come in,” replied Julian, somewhat ashamed of his exclamation, and not a little afraid that it had been caught up by some eavesdropper —“Come in,” he again repeated; but his command was not obeyed; on the contrary, the knock was repeated somewhat louder. He opened the door, and Fenella stood before him.
With eyes that seemed red with recent tears, and with a look of the deepest dejection, the little mute, first touching her bosom, and beckoning with her finger, made to him the usual sign that the Countess desired to see him — then turned, as if to usher him to her apartment. As he followed her through the long gloomy vaulted passages which afforded communication betwixt the various apartments of the castle, he could not but observe that her usual light trip was exchanged for a tardy and mournful step, which she accompanied with low inarticulate moaning (which she was probably the less able to suppress, because she could not judge how far it was audible), and also with wringing of the hands, and other marks of extreme affliction.
At this moment a thought came across Peveril’s mind, which, in spite of his better reason, made him shudder involuntarily. As a Peaksman, and a long resident in the Isle of Man, he was well acquainted with many a superstitious legend, and particularly with a belief, which attached to the powerful family of the Stanleys, for their peculiar demon, a Banshie, or female spirit, who was wont to shriek “foreboding evil times;” and who was generally seen weeping and bemoaning herself before the death of any person of distinction belonging to the family. For an instant, Julian could scarcely divest himself of the belief that the wailing, jibbering form, which glided before him, with a lamp in her hand, was a genius of his mother’s race, come to announce to him as an analogous reflection, that if the suspicion which had crossed his mind concerning Fenella was a just one, her ill-fated attachment to him, like that of the prophetic spirit to his family, could bode nothing but disaster, and lamentation, and woe.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00