In these distracted times, when each man dreads
The bloody stratagems of busy hands.
At the door of the Cat and Fiddle, Julian received the usual attention paid to the customers of an inferior house of entertainment. His horse was carried by a ragged lad, who acted as hostler, into a paltry stable; where, however, the nag was tolerably supplied with food and litter.
Having seen the animal on which his comfort, perhaps his safety, depended, properly provided for, Peveril entered the kitchen, which indeed was also the parlour and hall of the little hostelry, to try what refreshment he could obtain for himself. Much to his satisfaction, he found there was only one guest in the house besides himself; but he was less pleased when he found that he must either go without dinner, or share with that single guest the only provisions which chanced to be in the house, namely, a dish of trouts and eels, which their host, the miller, had brought in from his mill-stream.
At the particular request of Julian, the landlady undertook to add a substantial dish of eggs and bacon, which perhaps she would not have undertaken for, had not the sharp eye of Peveril discovered the flitch hanging in its smoky retreat, when, as its presence could not be denied, the hostess was compelled to bring it forward as a part of her supplies.
She was a buxom dame about thirty, whose comely and cheerful countenance did honour to the choice of the jolly miller, her loving mate; and was now stationed under the shade of an old-fashioned huge projecting chimney, within which it was her province to “work i’ the fire,” and provide for the wearied wayfaring man, the good things which were to send him rejoicing on his course. Although, at first, the honest woman seemed little disposed to give herself much additional trouble on Julian’s account, yet the good looks, handsome figure, and easy civility of her new guest, soon bespoke the principal part of her attention; and while busy in his service, she regarded him, from time to time, with looks, where something like pity mingled with complacency. The rich smoke of the rasher, and the eggs with which it was flanked, already spread itself through the apartment; and the hissing of these savoury viands bore chorus to the simmering of the pan, in which the fish were undergoing a slower decoction. The table was covered with a clean huck-aback napkin, and all was in preparation for the meal, which Julian began to expect with a good deal of impatience, when the companion, who was destined to share it with him, entered the apartment.
At the first glance Julian recognised, to his surprise, the same indifferently dressed, thin-looking person, who, during the first bargain which he had made with Bridlesley, had officiously interfered with his advice and opinion. Displeased at having the company of any stranger forced upon him, Peveril was still less satisfied to find one who might make some claim of acquaintance with him, however slender, since the circumstances in which he stood compelled him to be as reserved as possible. He therefore turned his back upon his destined messmate, and pretended to amuse himself by looking out of the window, determined to avoid all intercourse until it should be inevitably forced upon him.
In the meanwhile, the other stranger went straight up to the landlady, where she toiled on household cares intent, and demanded of her, what she meant by preparing bacon and eggs, when he had positively charged her to get nothing ready but the fish.
The good woman, important as every cook in the discharge of her duty, deigned not for some time so much as to acknowledge that she heard the reproof of her guest; and when she did so, it was only to repel it in a magisterial and authoritative tone. —“If he did not like bacon — (bacon from their own hutch, well fed on pease and bran)— if he did not like bacon and eggs —(new-laid eggs, which she had brought in from the hen-roost with her own hands)— why so put case — it was the worse for his honour, and the better for those who did.”
“The better for those who like them?” answered the guest; “that is as much as to say I am to have a companion, good woman.”
“Do not good woman me, sir,” replied the miller’s wife, “till I call you good man; and, I promise you, many would scruple to do that to one who does not love eggs and bacon of a Friday.”
“Nay, my good lady,” said her guest, “do not fix any misconstruction upon me — I dare say the eggs and the bacon are excellent; only they are rather a dish too heavy for my stomach.”
“Ay, or your conscience perhaps, sir,” answered the hostess. “And now, I bethink me, you must needs have your fish fried with oil, instead of the good drippings I was going to put to them. I would I could spell the meaning of all this now; but I warrant John Bigstaff, the constable, could conjure something out of it.”
There was a pause here; but Julian, somewhat alarmed at the tone which the conversation assumed, became interested in watching the dumb show which succeeded. By bringing his head a little towards the left, but without turning round, or quitting the projecting latticed window where he had taken his station, he could observe that the stranger, secured, as he seemed to think himself, from observation, had sidled close up to the landlady, and, as he conceived, had put a piece of money into her hand. The altered tone of the miller’s moiety corresponded very much with this supposition.
“Nay, indeed, and forsooth,” she said, “her house was Liberty Hall; and so should every publican’s be. What was it to her what gentlefolks ate or drank, providing they paid for it honestly? There were many honest gentlemen, whose stomachs could not abide bacon, grease, or dripping, especially on a Friday; and what was that to her, or any one in her line, so gentlefolks paid honestly for the trouble? Only, she would say, that her bacon and eggs could not be mended betwixt this and Liverpool, and that she would live and die upon.”
“I shall hardly dispute it,” said the stranger; and turning towards Julian, he added, “I wish this gentleman, who I suppose is my trencher-companion, much joy of the dainties which I cannot assist him in consuming.”
“I assure you, sir,” answered Peveril, who now felt himself compelled to turn about, and reply with civility, “that it was with difficulty I could prevail on my landlady to add my cover to yours, though she seems now such a zealot for the consumption of eggs and bacon.”
“I am zealous for nothing,” said the landlady, “save that men would eat their victuals, and pay their score; and if there be enough in one dish to serve two guests, I see little purpose in dressing them two; however, they are ready now, and done to a nicety. — Here, Alice! Alice!”
The sound of that well-known name made Julian start; but the Alice who replied to the call ill resembled the vision which his imagination connected with the accents, being a dowdy slipshod wench, the drudge of the low inn which afforded him shelter. She assisted her mistress in putting on the table the dishes which the latter had prepared; and a foaming jug of home-brewed ale being placed betwixt them, was warranted by Dame Whitecraft as excellent; “for,” said she, “we know by practice that too much water drowns the miller, and we spare it on our malt as we would in our mill-dam.”
“I drink to your health in it, dame,” said the elder stranger; “and a cup of thanks for these excellent fish; and to the drowning of all unkindness between us.”
“I thank you, sir,” said the dame, “and wish you the like; but I dare not pledge you, for our Gaffer says that ale is brewed too strong for women; so I only drink a glass of canary at a time with a gossip, or any gentleman guest that is so minded.”
“You shall drink one with me, then, dame,” said Peveril, “so you will let me have a flagon.”
“That you shall, sir, and as good as ever was broached; but I must to the mill, to get the key from the goodman.”
So saying, and tucking her clean gown through the pocket-holes, that her steps might be the more alert, and her dress escape dust, off she tripped to the mill, which lay close adjoining.
“A dainty dame, and dangerous, is the miller’s wife,” said the stranger, looking at Peveril. “Is not that old Chaucer’s phrase?”
“I— I believe so,” said Peveril, not much read in Chaucer, who was then even more neglected than at present; and much surprised at a literary quotation from one of the mean appearance exhibited by the person before him.
“Yes,” answered the stranger, “I see that you, like other young gentlemen of the time, are better acquainted with Cowley and Waller, than with the ‘well of English undefiled.’ I cannot help differing. There are touches of nature about the old bard of Woodstock, that, to me, are worth all the turns of laborious wit in Cowley, and all the ornate and artificial simplicity of his courtly competitor. The description, for instance, of his country coquette —
‘Wincing she was, as is a wanton colt,
Sweet as a flower, and upright as a bolt.’
Then, again, for pathos, where will you mend the dying scene of Arcite?
‘Alas, my heart’s queen! alas, my wife!
Giver at once, and ender of my life.
What is this world? — What axen men to have?
Now with his love — now in his cold grave
Alone, withouten other company.’
But I tire you, sir; and do injustice to the poet, whom I remember but by halves.”
“On the contrary, sir,” replied Peveril, “you make him more intelligible to me in your recitation, than I have found him when I have tried to peruse him myself.”
“You were only frightened by the antiquated spelling, and ‘the letters black,’” said his companion. “It is many a scholar’s case, who mistakes a nut, which he could crack with a little exertion, for a bullet, which he must needs break his teeth on; but yours are better employed. — Shall I offer you some of this fish?”
“Not so, sir,” replied Julian, willing to show himself a man of reading in his turn; “I hold with old Caius, and profess to fear judgment, to fight where I cannot choose, and to eat no fish.”
The stranger cast a startled look around him at this observation, which Julian had thrown out, on purpose to ascertain, if possible, the quality of his companion, whose present language was so different from the character he had assumed at Bridlesley’s. His countenance, too, although the features were of an ordinary, not to say mean cast, had that character of intelligence which education gives to the most homely face; and his manners were so easy and disembarrassed, as plainly showed a complete acquaintance with society, as well as the habit of mingling with it in the higher stages. The alarm which he had evidently shown at Peveril’s answer, was but momentary; for he almost instantly replied, with a smile, “I promise you, sir, that you are in no dangerous company; for notwithstanding my fish dinner, I am much disposed to trifle with some of your savoury mess, if you will indulge me so far.”
Peveril accordingly reinforced the stranger’s trencher with what remained of the bacon and eggs, and saw him swallow a mouthful or two with apparent relish; but presently after began to dally with his knife and fork, like one whose appetite was satiated; and then took a long draught of the black jack, and handed his platter to the large mastiff dog, who, attracted by the smell of the dinner, had sat down before him for some time, licking his chops, and following with his eye every morsel which the guest raised to his head.
“Here, my poor fellow,” said he, “thou hast had no fish, and needest this supernumerary trencher-load more than I do. I cannot withstand thy mute supplication any longer.”
The dog answered these courtesies by a civil shake of the tail, while he gobbled up what was assigned him by the stranger’s benevolence, in the greater haste, that he heard his mistress’s voice at the door.
“Here is the canary, gentlemen,” said the landlady; “and the goodman has set off the mill, to come to wait on you himself. He always does so, when company drink wine.”
“That he may come in for the host’s, that is, for the lion’s share,” said the stranger, looking at Peveril.
“The shot is mine,” said Julian; “and if mine host will share it, I will willingly bestow another quart on him, and on you, sir. I never break old customs.”
These sounds caught the ear of Gaffer Whitecraft, who had entered the room, a strapping specimen of his robust trade, prepared to play the civil, or the surly host, as his company should be acceptable or otherwise. At Julian’s invitation, he doffed his dusty bonnet — brushed from his sleeve the looser particles of his professional dust — and sitting down on the end of a bench, about a yard from the table, filled a glass of canary, and drank to his guests, and “especially to this noble gentleman,” indicating Peveril, who had ordered the canary.
Julian returned the courtesy by drinking his health, and asking what news were about in the country?
“Nought, sir, I hears on nought, except this Plot, as they call it, that they are pursuing the Papishers about; but it brings water to my mill, as the saying is. Between expresses hurrying hither and thither, and guards and prisoners riding to and again, and the custom of the neighbours, that come to speak over the news of an evening, nightly, I may say, instead of once a week, why, the spigot is in use, gentlemen, and your land thrives; and then I, serving as constable, and being a known Protestant, I have tapped, I may venture to say, it may be ten stands of ale extraordinary, besides a reasonable sale of wine for a country corner. Heaven make us thankful, and keep all good Protestants from Plot and Popery.”
“I can easily conceive, my friend,” said Julian, “that curiosity is a passion which runs naturally to the alehouse; and that anger, and jealousy, and fear, are all of them thirsty passions, and great consumers of home-brewed. But I am a perfect stranger in these parts; and I would willingly learn, from a sensible man like you, a little of this same Plot, of which men speak so much, and appear to know so little.”
“Learn a little of it? — Why, it is the most horrible — the most damnable, bloodthirsty beast of a Plot — But hold, hold, my good master; I hope, in the first place, you believe there is a Plot; for, otherwise, the Justice must have a word with you, as sure as my name is John Whitecraft.”
“It shall not need,” said Peveril; “for I assure you, mine host, I believe in the Plot as freely and fully as a man can believe in anything he cannot understand.”
“God forbid that anybody should pretend to understand it,” said the implicit constable; “for his worship the Justice says it is a mile beyond him; and he be as deep as most of them. But men may believe, though they do not understand; and that is what the Romanists say themselves. But this I am sure of, it makes a rare stirring time for justices, and witnesses, and constables. — So here’s to your health again, gentlemen, in a cup of neat canary.”
“Come, come, John Whitecraft,” said the wife, “do not you demean yourself by naming witnesses along with justices and constables. All the world knows how they come by their money.”
“Ay, but all the world knows that they do come by it, dame; and that is a great comfort. They rustle in their canonical silks, and swagger in their buff and scarlet, who but they? — Ay, ay, the cursed fox thrives — and not so cursed neither. Is there not Doctor Titus Oates, the saviour of the nation — does he not live at Whitehall, and eat off plate, and have a pension of thousands a year, for what I know? and is he not to be Bishop of Litchfield, so soon as Dr. Doddrum dies?”
“Then I hope Dr. Doddrum’s reverence will live these twenty years; and I dare say I am the first that ever wished such a wish,” said the hostess. “I do not understand these doings, not I; and if a hundred Jesuits came to hold a consult at my house, as they did at the White Horse Tavern, I should think it quite out of the line of business to bear witness against them, provided they drank well, and paid their score.”
“Very true, dame,” said her elder guest; “that is what I call keeping a good publican conscience; and so I will pay my score presently, and be jogging on my way.”
Peveril, on his part, also demanded a reckoning, and discharged it so liberally, that the miller flourished his hat as he bowed, and the hostess courtesied down to the ground.
The horses of both guests were brought forth; and they mounted, in order to depart in company. The host and hostess stood in the doorway, to see them depart. The landlord proffered a stirrup-cup to the elder guest, while the landlady offered Peveril a glass from her own peculiar bottle. For this purpose, she mounted on the horse-block, with flask and glass in hand; so that it was easy for the departing guest, although on horse-back, to return the courtesy in the most approved manner, namely, by throwing his arm over his landlady’s shoulder, and saluting her at parting.
Dame Whitecraft did not decline this familiarity; for there is no room for traversing upon a horse-block, and the hands which might have served her for resistance, were occupied with glass and bottle — matters too precious to be thrown away in such a struggle. Apparently, however, she had something else in her head; for as, after a brief affectation of reluctance, she permitted Peveril’s face to approach hers, she whispered in his ear, “Beware of trepans!”— an awful intimation, which, in those days of distrust, suspicion, and treachery, was as effectual in interdicting free and social intercourse, as the advertisement of “man-traps and spring-guns,” to protect an orchard. Pressing her hand, in intimation that he comprehended her hint, she shook his warmly in return, and bade God speed him. There was a cloud on John Whitecraft’s brow; nor did his final farewell sound half so cordial as that which had been spoken within doors. But then Peveril reflected, that the same guest is not always equally acceptable to landlord and landlady; and unconscious of having done anything to excite the miller’s displeasure, he pursued his journey without thinking farther of the matter.
Julian was a little surprised, and not altogether pleased, to find that his new acquaintance held the same road with him. He had many reasons for wishing to travel alone; and the hostess’s caution still rung in his ears. If this man, possessed of so much shrewdness as his countenance and conversation intimated, versatile, as he had occasion to remark, and disguised beneath his condition, should prove, as was likely, to be a concealed Jesuit or seminary-priest, travelling upon their great task of the conversion of England, and rooting out of the Northern heresy — a more dangerous companion, for a person in his own circumstances, could hardly be imagined; since keeping society with him might seem to authorise whatever reports had been spread concerning the attachment of his family to the Catholic cause. At the same time, it was very difficult, without actual rudeness, to shake off the company of one who seemed so determined, whether spoken to or not, to remain alongside of him.
Peveril tried the experiment of riding slow; but his companion, determined not to drop him, slackened his pace, so as to keep close by him. Julian then spurred his horse to a full trot; and was soon satisfied, that the stranger, notwithstanding the meanness of his appearance, was so much better mounted than himself, as to render vain any thought of outriding him. He pulled up his horse to a more reasonable pace, therefore, in a sort of despair. Upon his doing so, his companion, who had been hitherto silent, observed, that Peveril was not so well qualified to try speed upon the road, as he would have been had he abode by his first bargain of horse-flesh that morning.
Peveril assented dryly, but observed, that the animal would serve his immediate purpose, though he feared it would render him indifferent company for a person better mounted.
“By no means,” answered his civil companion; “I am one of those who have travelled so much, as to be accustomed to make my journey at any rate of motion which may be most agreeable to my company.”
Peveril made no reply to this polite intimation, being too sincere to tender the thanks which, in courtesy, were the proper answer. — A second pause ensued, which was broken by Julian asking the stranger whether their roads were likely to lie long together in the same direction.
“I cannot tell,” said the stranger, smiling, “unless I knew which way you were travelling.”
“I am uncertain how far I shall go to-night,” said Julian, willingly misunderstanding the purport of the reply.
“And so am I,” replied the stranger; “but though my horse goes better than yours, I think it will be wise to spare him; and in case our road continues to lie the same way, we are likely to sup, as we have dined together.”
Julian made no answer whatever to this round intimation, but continued to ride on, turning, in his own mind, whether it would not be wisest to come to a distinct understanding with his pertinacious attendant, and to explain, in so many words, that it was his pleasure to travel alone. But, besides that the sort of acquaintance which they had formed during dinner, rendered him unwilling to be directly uncivil towards a person of gentleman-like manners, he had also to consider that he might very possibly be mistaken in this man’s character and purpose; in which case, the cynically refusing the society of a sound Protestant, would afford as pregnant matter of suspicion, as travelling in company with a disguised Jesuit.
After brief reflection, therefore, he resolved to endure the encumbrance of the stranger’s society, until a fair opportunity should occur to rid himself of it; and, in the meantime, to act with as much caution as he possibly could, in any communication that might take place between them; for Dame Whitecraft’s parting caution still rang anxiously in his ears, and the consequences of his own arrest upon suspicion, must deprive him of every opportunity of serving his father, or the countess, or Major Bridgenorth, upon whose interest, also, he had promised himself to keep an eye.
While he revolved these things in his mind, they had journeyed several miles without speaking; and now entered upon a more waste country, and worse roads, than they had hitherto found, being, in fact, approaching the more hilly district of Derbyshire. In travelling on a very stony and uneven lane, Julian’s horse repeatedly stumbled; and, had he not been supported by the rider’s judicious use of the bridle, must at length certainly have fallen under him.
“These are times which crave wary riding, sir,” said his companion; “and by your seat in the saddle, and your hand on the rein, you seem to understand it to be so.”
“I have been long a horseman, sir,” answered Peveril.
“And long a traveller, too, sir, I should suppose; since by the great caution you observe, you seem to think the human tongue requires a curb, as well as the horse’s jaws.”
“Wiser men than I have been of opinion,” answered Peveril, “that it were a part of prudence to be silent, when men have little or nothing to say.”
“I cannot approve of their opinion,” answered the stranger. “All knowledge is gained by communication, either with the dead, through books, or, more pleasingly, through the conversation of the living. The deaf and dumb, alone, are excluded from improvement; and surely their situation is not so enviable that we should imitate them.”
At this illustration, which awakened a startling echo in Peveril’s bosom, the young man looked hard at his companion; but in the composed countenance, and calm blue eye, he read no consciousness of a farther meaning than the words immediately and directly implied. He paused a moment, and then answered, “You seem to be a person, sir, of shrewd apprehension; and I should have thought it might have occurred to you, that in the present suspicious times, men may, without censure, avoid communication with strangers. You know not me; and to me you are totally unknown. There is not room for much discourse between us, without trespassing on the general topics of the day, which carry in them seeds of quarrel between friends, much more betwixt strangers. At any other time, the society of an intelligent companion would have been most acceptable upon my solitary ride; but at present ——”
“At present!” said the other, interrupting him. “You are like the old Romans, who held that hostis meant both a stranger and an enemy. I will therefore be no longer a stranger. My name is Ganlesse — by profession I am a Roman Catholic priest — I am travelling here in dread of my life — and I am very glad to have you for a companion.”
“I thank you for the information with all my heart,” said Peveril; “and to avail myself of it to the uttermost, I must beg you to ride forward, or lag behind, or take a side-path, at your own pleasure; for as I am no Catholic, and travel upon business of high concernment, I am exposed both to risk and delay, and even to danger, by keeping such suspicious company. And so, Master Ganlesse, keep your own pace, and I will keep the contrary; for I beg leave to forbear your company.”
As Peveril spoke thus, he pulled up his horse, and made a full stop.
The stranger burst out a-laughing. “What!” he said, “you forbear my company for a trifle of danger? Saint Anthony! How the warm blood of the Cavaliers is chilled in the young men of the present day! This young gallant, now, has a father, I warrant, who has endured as many adventures for hunting priests, as a knight-errant for distressed damsels.”
“This raillery avails nothing, sir,” said Peveril. “I must request you will keep your own way.”
“My way is yours,” said the pertinacious Master Ganlesse, as he called himself; “and we will both travel the safer, that we journey in company. I have the receipt of fern-seed, man, and walk invisible. Besides, you would not have me quit you in this lane, where there is no turn to right or left?”
Peveril moved on, desirous to avoid open violence — for which the indifferent tone of the traveller, indeed, afforded no apt pretext — yet highly disliking his company, and determined to take the first opportunity to rid himself of it.
The stranger proceeded at the same pace with him, keeping cautiously on his bridle hand, as if to secure that advantage in case of a struggle. But his language did not intimate the least apprehension. “You do me wrong,” he said to Peveril, “and you equally wrong yourself. You are uncertain where to lodge to-night — trust to my guidance. Here is an ancient hall, within four miles, with an old knightly Pantaloon for its lord — an all-be-ruffed Dame Barbara for the lady gay — a Jesuit, in a butler’s habit, to say grace — an old tale of Edgehill and Worster fights to relish a cold venison pasty, and a flask of claret mantled with cobwebs — a bed for you in the priest’s hiding-hole — and, for aught I know, pretty Mistress Betty, the dairy-maid, to make it ready.”
“This has no charms for me, sir,” said Peveril, who, in spite of himself, could not but be amused with the ready sketch which the stranger gave of many an old mansion in Cheshire and Derbyshire, where the owners retained the ancient faith of Rome.
“Well, I see I cannot charm you in this way,” continued his companion; “I must strike another key. I am no longer Ganlesse, the seminary priest, but (changing his tone, and snuffling in the nose) Simon Canter, a poor preacher of the Word, who travels this way to call sinners to repentance; and to strengthen, and to edify, and to fructify among the scattered remnant who hold fast the truth. — What say you to this, sir?”
“I admire your versatility, sir, and could be entertained with it at another time. At present sincerity is more in request.”
“Sincerity!” said the stranger; —“a child’s whistle, with but two notes in it — yea, yea, and nay, nay. Why, man, the very Quakers have renounced it, and have got in its stead a gallant recorder, called Hypocrisy, that is somewhat like Sincerity in form, but of much greater compass, and combines the whole gamut. Come, be ruled — be a disciple of Simon Canter for the evening, and we will leave the old tumble-down castle of the knight aforesaid, on the left hand, for a new brick-built mansion, erected by an eminent salt-boiler from Namptwich, who expects the said Simon to make a strong spiritual pickle for the preservation of a soul somewhat corrupted by the evil communications of this wicked world. What say you? He has two daughters — brighter eyes never beamed under a pinched hood; and for myself, I think there is more fire in those who live only to love and to devotion, than in your court beauties, whose hearts are running on twenty follies besides. You know not the pleasure of being conscience-keeper to a pretty precisian, who in one breath repeats her foibles, and in the next confesses her passion. Perhaps, though, you may have known such in your day? Come, sir, it grows too dark to see your blushes; but I am sure they are burning on your cheek.”
“You take great freedom, sir,” said Peveril, as they now approached the end of the lane, where it opened on a broad common; “and you seem rather to count more on my forbearance, than you have room to do with safety. We are now nearly free of the lane which has made us companions for this late half hour. To avoid your farther company, I will take the turn to the left, upon that common; and if you follow me, it shall be at your peril. Observe, I am well armed; and you will fight at odds.”
“Not at odds,” returned the provoking stranger, “while I have my brown jennet, with which I can ride round and round you at pleasure; and this text, of a handful in length (showing a pistol which he drew from his bosom), which discharges very convincing doctrine on the pressure of a forefinger, and is apt to equalise all odds, as you call them, of youth and strength. Let there be no strife between us, however — the moor lies before us — choose your path on it — I take the other.”
“I wish you good night, sir,” said Peveril to the stranger. “I ask your forgiveness, if I have misconstrued you in anything; but the times are perilous, and a man’s life may depend on the society in which he travels.”
“True,” said the stranger; “but in your case, the danger is already undergone, and you should seek to counteract it. You have travelled in my company long enough to devise a handsome branch of the Popish Plot. How will you look, when you see come forth, in comely folio form, The Narrative of Simon Canter, otherwise called Richard Ganlesse, concerning the horrid Popish Conspiracy for the Murder of the King, and Massacre of all Protestants, as given on oath to the Honourable House of Commons; setting forth, how far Julian Peveril, younger of Martindale Castle, is concerned in carrying on the same ——”
“How, sir? What mean you?” said Peveril, much startled.
“Nay, sir,” replied his companion, “do not interrupt my title-page. Now that Oates and Bedloe have drawn the great prizes, the subordinate discoverers get little but by the sale of their Narrative; and Janeway, Newman, Simmons, and every bookseller of them, will tell you that the title is half the narrative. Mine shall therefore set forth the various schemes you have communicated to me, of landing ten thousand soldiers from the Isle of Man upon the coast of Lancashire; and marching into Wales, to join the ten thousand pilgrims who are to be shipped from Spain; and so completing the destruction of the Protestant religion, and of the devoted city of London. Truly, I think such a Narrative, well spiced with a few horrors, and published cum privilegio parliamenti, might, though the market be somewhat overstocked, be still worth some twenty or thirty pieces.”
“You seem to know me, sir,” said Peveril; “and if so, I think I may fairly ask you your purpose in thus bearing me company, and the meaning of all this rhapsody. If it be mere banter, I can endure it within proper limit; although it is uncivil on the part of a stranger. If you have any farther purpose, speak it out; I am not to be trifled with.”
“Good, now,” said the stranger, laughing, “into what an unprofitable chafe you have put yourself! An Italian fuoruscito, when he desires a parley with you, takes aim from behind a wall, with his long gun, and prefaces his conference with Posso tirare. So does your man-of-war fire a gun across the bows of a Hansmogan Indiaman, just to bring her to; and so do I show Master Julian Peveril, that, if I were one of the honourable society of witnesses and informers, with whom his imagination has associated me for these two hours past, he is as much within my danger now, as what he is ever likely to be.” Then, suddenly changing his tone to serious, which was in general ironical, he added, “Young man, when the pestilence is diffused through the air of a city, it is in vain men would avoid the disease, by seeking solitude, and shunning the company of their fellow-sufferers.”
“In what, then, consists their safety?” said Peveril, willing to ascertain, if possible, the drift of his companion’s purpose.
“In following the counsels of wise physicians;” such was the stranger’s answer.
“And as such,” said Peveril, “you offer me your advice?”
“Pardon me, young man,” said the stranger haughtily, “I see no reason I should do so. — I am not,” he added, in his former tone, “your fee’d physician — I offer no advice — I only say it would be wise that you sought it.”
“And from whom, or where, can I obtain it?” said Peveril. “I wander in this country like one in a dream; so much a few months have changed it. Men who formerly occupied themselves with their own affairs, are now swallowed up in matters of state policy; and those tremble under the apprehension of some strange and sudden convulsion of empire, who were formerly only occupied by the fear of going to bed supperless. And to sum up the matter, I meet a stranger apparently well acquainted with my name and concerns, who first attaches himself to me, whether I will or no; and then refuses me an explanation of his business, while he menaces me with the strangest accusations.”
“Had I meant such infamy,” said the stranger, “believe me, I had not given you the thread of my intrigue. But be wise, and come one with me. There is, hard by, a small inn, where, if you can take a stranger’s warrant for it, we shall sleep in perfect security.”
“Yet, you yourself,” said Peveril, “but now were anxious to avoid observation; and in that case, how can you protect me?”
“Pshaw! I did but silence that tattling landlady, in the way in which such people are most readily hushed; and for Topham, and his brace of night owls, they must hawk at other and lesser game than I should prove.”
Peveril could not help admiring the easy and confident indifference with which the stranger seemed to assume a superiority to all the circumstances of danger around him; and after hastily considering the matter with himself, came to the resolution to keep company with him for this night at least; and to learn, if possible, who he really was, and to what party in the estate he was attached. The boldness and freedom of his talk seemed almost inconsistent with his following the perilous, though at that time the gainful trade of an informer. No doubt, such persons assumed every appearance which could insinuate them into the confidence of their destined victims; but Julian thought he discovered in this man’s manner, a wild and reckless frankness, which he could not but connect with the idea of sincerity in the present case. He therefore answered, after a moment’s recollection, “I embrace your proposal, sir; although, by doing so, I am reposing a sudden, and perhaps an unwary, confidence.”
“And what am I, then, reposing in you?” said the stranger. “Is not our confidence mutual?”
“No; much the contrary. I know nothing of you whatever — you have named me; and, knowing me to be Julian Peveril, know you may travel with me in perfect security.”
“The devil I do!” answered his companion. “I travel in the same security as with a lighted petard, which I may expect to explode every moment. Are you not the son of Peveril of the Peak, with whose name Prelacy and Popery are so closely allied, that no old woman of either sex in Derbyshire concludes her prayer without a petition to be freed from all three? And do you not come from the Popish Countess of Derby, bringing, for aught I know, a whole army of Manxmen in your pocket, with full complement of arms, ammunition, baggage, and a train of field artillery?”
“It is not very likely I should be so poorly mounted,” said Julian, laughing, “if I had such a weight to carry. But lead on, sir. I see I must wait for your confidence, till you think proper to confer it; for you are already so well acquainted with my affairs, that I have nothing to offer you in exchange for it.”
“Allons, then,” said his companion; “give your horse the spur, and raise the curb rein, lest he measure the ground with his nose instead of his paces. We are not now more than a furlong or two from the place of entertainment.”
They mended their pace accordingly, and soon arrived at the small solitary inn which the traveller had mentioned. When its light began to twinkle before them, the stranger, as if recollecting something he had forgotten, “By the way, you must have a name to pass by; for it may be ill travelling under your own, as the fellow who keeps this house is an old Cromwellian. What will you call yourself? — My name is — for the present — Ganlesse.”
“There is no occasion to assume a name at all,” answered Julian. “I do not incline to use a borrowed one, especially as I may meet with some one who knows my own.”
“I will call you Julian, then,” said Master Ganlesse; “for Peveril will smell, in the nostrils of mine host, of idolatry, conspiracy, Smithfield faggots, fish on Fridays, the murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, and the fire of purgatory.”
As he spoke thus, they alighted under the great broad-branched oak tree, that served to canopy the ale-bench, which, at an earlier hour, had groaned under the weight of a frequent conclave of rustic politicians. Ganlesse, as he dismounted, whistled in a particularly shrill note, and was answered from within the house.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00