Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 33

’Tis the black ban-dog of our jail — Pray look on him,

But at a wary distance — rouse him not —

He bays not till he worries.


The coach stopped before those tremendous gates, which resemble those of Tartarus, save only that they rather more frequently permit safe and honourable egress; although at the price of the same anxiety and labour with which Hercules, and one or two of the demi-gods, extricated themselves from the Hell of the ancient mythology, and sometimes, it is said, by the assistance of the golden boughs.

Julian stepped out of the vehicle, carefully supported on either side by his companions, and also by one or two turnkeys, whom the first summons of the deep bell at the gate had called to their assistance. That attention, it may be guessed, was not bestowed lest he should make a false step, so much as for fear of his attempting an escape, of which he had no intentions. A few prentices and straggling boys of the neighbouring market, which derived considerable advantage from increase of custom, in consequence of the numerous committals on account of the Popish Plot, and who therefore were zealous of Protestants, saluted him on his descent with jubilee shouts of “Whoop, Papist! whoop, Papist! D——n to the Pope, and all his adherents!”

Under such auspices, Peveril was ushered in beneath that gloomy gateway, where so many bid adieu on their entrance at once to honour and to life. The dark and dismal arch under which he soon found himself opened upon a large courtyard, where a number of debtors were employed in playing at handball, pitch-and-toss, hustle-cap, and other games, for which relaxations the rigour of their creditors afforded them full leisure, while it debarred them the means of pursuing the honest labour by which they might have redeemed their affairs, and maintained their starving and beggared families.

But with this careless and desperate group Julian was not to be numbered, being led, or rather forced, by his conductors, into a low arched door, which, carefully secured by bolts and bars, opened for his reception on one side of the archway, and closed, with all its fastenings, the moment after his hasty entrance. He was then conducted along two or three gloomy passages, which, where they intersected each other, were guarded by as many strong wickets, one of iron gates, and the others of stout oak, clinched with plates, and studded with nails of the same metal. He was not allowed to pause until he found himself hurried into a little round vaulted room, which several of these passages opened into, and which seemed, with respect to the labyrinth through part of which he had passed, to resemble the central point of a spider’s web, in which the main lines of that reptile’s curious maze are always found to terminate.

The resemblance did not end here; for in this small vaulted apartment, the walls of which were hung round with musketoons, pistols, cutlasses, and other weapons, as well as with many sets of fetters and irons of different construction, all disposed in great order, and ready for employment, a person sat, who might not unaptly be compared to a huge bloated and bottled spider, placed there to secure the prey which had fallen into his toils.

This official had originally been a very strong and square-built man, of large size, but was now so overgrown, from overfeeding, perhaps, and want of exercise, as to bear the same resemblance to his former self which a stall-fed ox still retains to a wild bull. The look of no man is so inauspicious as a fat man, upon whose features ill-nature has marked an habitual stamp. He seems to have reversed the old proverb of “laugh and be fat,” and to have thriven under the influence of the worst affections of the mind. Passionate we can allow a jolly mortal to be; but it seems unnatural to his goodly case to be sulky and brutal. Now this man’s features, surly and tallow-coloured; his limbs, swelled and disproportioned; his huge paunch and unwieldy carcass, suggested the idea, that, having once found his way into this central recess, he had there fattened, like the weasel in the fable, and fed largely and foully, until he had become incapable of retreating through any of the narrow paths that terminated at his cell; and was thus compelled to remain, like a toad under the cold stone, fattening amid the squalid airs of the dungeons by which he was surrounded, which would have proved pestiferous to any other than such a congenial inhabitant. Huge iron-clasped books lay before this ominous specimen of pinguitude — the records of the realm of misery, in which office he officiated as prime minister; and had Peveril come thither as an unconcerned visitor, his heart would have sunk within him at considering the mass of human wretchedness which must needs be registered in these fatal volumes. But his own distresses sat too heavy on his mind to permit any general reflections of this nature.

The constable and this bulky official whispered together, after the former had delivered to the latter the warrant of Julian’s commitment. The word whispered is not quite accurate, for their communication was carried on less by words than by looks and expressive signs; by which, in all such situations, men learn to supply the use of language, and to add mystery to what is in itself sufficiently terrible to the captive. The only words which could be heard were those of the Warden, or, as he was called then, the Captain of the Jail, “Another bird to the cage ——?”

“Who will whistle ‘Pretty Pope of Rome,’ with any starling in your Knight’s ward,” answered the constable, with a facetious air, checked, however, by the due respect to the supreme presence in which he stood.

The Grim Feature relaxed into something like a smile as he heard the officer’s observation; but instantly composing himself into the stern solemnity which for an instant had been disturbed, he looked fiercely at his new guest, and pronounced with an awful and emphatic, yet rather an under-voice, the single and impressive word, “Garnish!

Julian Peveril replied with assumed composure; for he had heard of the customs of such places, and was resolved to comply with them, so as if possible to obtain the favour of seeing his father, which he shrewdly guessed must depend on his gratifying the avarice of the keeper. “I am quite ready,” he said, “to accede to the customs of the place in which I unhappily find myself. You have but to name your demands, and I will satisfy them.”

So saying, he drew out his purse, thinking himself at the same time fortunate that he had retained about him a considerable sum of gold. The Captain remarked its width, depth, its extension, and depression, with an involuntary smile, which had scarce contorted his hanging under-lip, and the wiry and greasy moustache which thatched the upper, when it was checked by the recollection that there were regulations which set bounds to his rapacity, and prevented him from pouncing on his prey like a kite, and swooping it all off at once.

This chilling reflection produced the following sullen reply to Peveril:—“There were sundry rates. Gentlemen must choose for themselves. He asked nothing but his fees. But civility,” he muttered, “must be paid for.”

“And shall, if I can have it for payment,” said Peveril; “but the price, my good sir, the price?”

He spoke with some degree of scorn, which he was the less anxious to repress, that he saw, even in this jail, his purse gave him an indirect but powerful influence over his jailer.

The Captain seemed to feel the same; for, as he spoke, he plucked from his head, almost involuntarily, a sort of scalded fur-cap, which served it for covering. But his fingers revolting from so unusual an act of complaisance, began to indemnify themselves by scratching his grizzly shock-head, as he muttered, in a tone resembling the softened growling of a mastiff when he has ceased to bay the intruder who shows no fear of him — “There are different rates. There is the Little Ease, for common fees of the crown — rather dark, and the common sewer runs below it; and some gentlemen object to the company, who are chiefly padders and michers. Then the Master’s side — the garnish came to one piece — and none lay stowed there but who were in for murder at the least.”

“Name your highest price, sir, and take it,” was Julian’s concise reply.

“Three pieces for the Knight’s ward,” answered the governor of this terrestrial Tartarus.

“Take five, and place me with Sir Geoffrey,” was again Julian’s answer, throwing down the money upon the desk before him.

“Sir Geoffrey? — Hum! — ay, Sir Geoffrey,” said the jailer, as if meditating what he ought to do. “Well, many a man has paid money to see Sir Geoffrey — Scarce so much as you have, though. But then you are like to see the last of him. — Ha, ha ha!”

These broken muttered exclamations, which terminated somewhat like the joyous growl of a tiger over his meal, Julian could not comprehend; and only replied to by repeating his request to be placed in the same cell with Sir Geoffrey.

“Ay, master,” said the jailer, “never fear; I’ll keep word with you, as you seem to know something of what belongs to your station and mine. And hark ye, Jem Clink will fetch you the darbies.”

“Derby!” interrupted Julian — “Has the Earl or Countess ——”

“Earl or Countess! — Ha, ha, ha!” again laughed, or rather growled, the warden. “What is your head running on? You are a high fellow belike! but all is one here. The darbies are the fetlocks — the fast-keepers, my boy — the bail for good behaviour, my darling; and if you are not the more conforming, I can add you a steel nightcap, and a curious bosom-friend, to keep you warm of a winter night. But don’t be disheartened; you have behaved genteel; and you shall not be put upon. And as for this here matter, ten to one it will turn out chance-medley, or manslaughter, at the worst on it; and then it is but a singed thumb instead of a twisted neck — always if there be no Papistry about it, for then I warrant nothing. — Take the gentleman’s worship away, Clink.”

A turnkey, who was one of the party that had ushered Peveril into the presence of this Cerberus, now conveyed him out in silence; and, under his guidance, the prisoner was carried through a second labyrinth of passages with cells opening on each side, to that which was destined for his reception.

On the road through this sad region, the turnkey more than once ejaculated, “Why, the gentleman must be stark-mad! Could have had the best crown cell to himself for less than half the garnish, and must pay double to pig in with Sir Geoffrey! Ha, ha! — Is Sir Geoffrey akin to you, if any one may make free to ask?”

“I am his son,” answered Peveril sternly, in hopes to impose some curb on the fellow’s impertinence; but the man only laughed louder than before.

“His son! — Why, that’s best of all — Why, you are a strapping youth — five feet ten, if you be an inch — and Sir Geoffrey’s son! — Ha, ha, ha!”

“Truce with your impertinence,” said Julian. “My situation gives you no title to insult me!”

“No more I do,” said the turnkey, smothering his mirth at the recollection, perhaps, that the prisoner’s purse was not exhausted. “I only laughed because you said you were Sir Geoffrey’s son. But no matter —’tis a wise child that knows his own father. And here is Sir Geoffrey’s cell; so you and he may settle the fatherhood between you.”

So saying, he ushered his prisoner into a cell, or rather a strong room of the better order, in which there were four chairs, a truckle-bed, and one or two other articles of furniture.

Julian looked eagerly around for his father; but to his surprise the room appeared totally empty. He turned with anger on the turnkey, and charged him with misleading him; but the fellow answered, “No, no, master; I have kept faith with you. Your father, if you call him so, is only tappiced in some corner. A small hole will hide him; but I’ll rouse him out presently for you. — Here, hoicks! — Turn out, Sir Geoffrey! — Here is — Ha, ha, ha! — your son — or your wife’s son — for I think you have but little share in him — come to wait on you.”

Peveril knew not how to resent the man’s insolence; and indeed his anxiety, and apprehension of some strange mistake, mingled with, and in some degree neutralised his anger. He looked again and again, around and around the room; until at length he became aware of something rolled up in a dark corner, which rather resembled a small bundle of crimson cloth than any living creature. At the vociferation of the turnkey, however, the object seemed to acquire life and motion, uncoiled itself in some degree, and, after an effort or two, gained an erect posture; still covered from top to toe with the crimson drapery in which it was at first wrapped. Julian, at the first glance, imagined from the size that he saw a child of five years old; but a shrill and peculiar tone of voice soon assured him of his mistake.

“Warder,” said this unearthly sound, “what is the meaning of this disturbance? Have you more insults to heap on the head of one who hath ever been the butt of fortune’s malice? But I have a soul that can wrestle with all my misfortunes; it is as large as any of your bodies.”

“Nay, Sir Geoffrey, if this be the way you welcome your own son!” said the turnkey; “but you quality folks know your own ways best.”

“My son!” exclaimed the little figure. “Audacious ——”

“Here is some strange mistake,” said Peveril, in the same breath. “I sought Sir Geoffrey ——”

“And you have him before you, young man,” said the pigmy tenant of the cell, with an air of dignity; at the same time casting on the floor his crimson cloak, and standing before them in his full dignity of three feet six inches of height. “I who was the favoured servant of three successive Sovereigns of the Crown of England, am now the tenant of this dungeon, and the sport of its brutal keepers. I am Sir Geoffrey Hudson.”

Julian, though he had never before seen this important personage, had no difficulty in recognising, from description, the celebrated dwarf of Henrietta Maria, who had survived the dangers of civil war and private quarrel — the murder of his royal master, Charles I., and the exile of his widow — to fall upon evil tongues and evil days, amidst the unsparing accusations connected with the Popish Plot. He bowed to the unhappy old man, and hastened to explain to him, and to the turnkey, that it was Sir Geoffrey Peveril, of Martindale Castle in Derbyshire whose prison he desired to share.

“You should have said that before you parted with the gold-dust, my master,” answered the turnkey; “for t’other Sir Geoffrey, that is the big, tall, grey-haired man, was sent to the Tower last night; and the Captain will think he has kept his word well enow with you, by lodging you with this here Sir Geoffrey Hudson, who is the better show of the two.”

“I pray you go to your master,” said Peveril; “explain the mistake; and say to him I beg to be sent to the Tower.”

“The Tower! — Ha, ha, ha!” exclaimed the fellow. “The Tower is for lords and knights, and not for squires of low degree — for high treason, and not for ruffing on the streets with rapier and dagger; and there must go a secretary’s warrant to send you there.”

“At least, let me not be a burden on this gentleman,” said Julian. “There can be no use in quartering us together, since we are not even acquainted. Go tell your master of the mistake.”

“Why, so I should,” said Clink, still grinning, “if I were not sure that he knew it already. You paid to be sent to Sir Geoffrey, and he sent you to Sir Geoffrey. You are so put down in the register, and he will blot it for no man. Come, come, be comfortable, and you shall have light and easy irons — that’s all I can do for you.”

Resistance and expostulation being out of the question, Peveril submitted to have a light pair of fetters secured on his ankles, which allowed him, nevertheless, the power of traversing the apartment.

During this operation, he reflected that the jailer, who had taken the advantage of the equivoque betwixt the two Sir Geoffreys, must have acted as his assistant had hinted, and cheated him from malice prepense, since the warrant of committal described him as the son of Sir Geoffrey Peveril. It was therefore in vain, as well as degrading, to make farther application to such a man on the subject. Julian determined to submit to his fate, as what could not be averted by any effort of his own.

Even the turnkey was moved in some degree by his youth, good mien, and the patience with which, after the first effervescence of disappointment, the new prisoner resigned himself to his situation. “You seem a brave young gentleman,” he said; “and shall at least have a good dinner, and as good a pallet to sleep on, as is within the walls of Newgate. —— And, Master Sir Geoffrey, you ought to make much of him, since you do not like tall fellows; for I can tell you that Master Peveril is in for pinking long Jack Jenkins, that was the Master of Defence — as tall a man as in London, always excepting the King’s Porter, Master Evans, that carried you about in his pocket, Sir Geoffrey, as all the world heard tell.”

“Begone, fellow!” answered the dwarf. “Fellow, I scorn you!”

The turnkey sneered, withdrew, and locked the door behind him.

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