Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 7

Fang. — A rescue! a rescue!

Mrs. Quickly. — Good people, bring a rescue or two.

Henry IV. Part I.

The followers of Peveril were so well accustomed to the sound of “Boot and Saddle,” that they were soon mounted and in order; and in all the form, and with some of the dignity of danger, proceeded to escort the Countess of Derby through the hilly and desert tract of country which connects the frontier of the shire with the neighbouring county of Cheshire. The cavalcade moved with considerable precaution, which they had been taught by the discipline of the Civil Wars. One wary and well-mounted trooper rode about two hundred yards in advance; followed, at about half that distance, by two more, with their carabines advanced, as if ready for action. About one hundred yards behind the advance, came the main body; where the Countess of Derby, mounted on Lady Peveril’s ambling palfrey (for her own had been exhausted by the journey from London to Martindale Castle), accompanied by one groom, of approved fidelity, and one waiting-maid, was attended and guarded by the Knight of the Peak, and three files of good and practised horsemen. In the rear came Whitaker, with Lance Outram, as men of especial trust, to whom the covering the retreat was confided. They rode, as the Spanish proverb expresses it, “with the beard on the shoulder,” looking around, that is, from time to time, and using every precaution to have the speediest knowledge of any pursuit which might take place.

But, however wise in discipline, Peveril and his followers were somewhat remiss in civil policy. The Knight had communicated to Whitaker, though without any apparent necessity, the precise nature of their present expedition; and Whitaker was equally communicative to his comrade Lance, the keeper. “It is strange enough, Master Whitaker,” said the latter, when he had heard the case, “and I wish you, being a wise man, would expound it; — why, when we have been wishing for the King — and praying for the King — and fighting for the King — and dying for the King, for these twenty years, the first thing we find to do on his return, is to get into harness to resist his warrant?”

“Pooh! you silly fellow,” said Whitaker, “that is all you know of the true bottom of our quarrel! Why, man, we fought for the King’s person against his warrant, all along from the very beginning; for I remember the rogues’ proclamations, and so forth, always ran in the name of the King and Parliament.”

“Ay! was it even so?” replied Lance. “Nay, then, if they begin the old game so soon again, and send out warrants in the King’s name against his loyal subjects, well fare our stout Knight, say I, who is ready to take them down in their stocking-soles. And if Bridgenorth takes the chase after us, I shall not be sorry to have a knock at him for one.”

“Why, the man, bating he is a pestilent Roundhead and Puritan,” said Whitaker, “is no bad neighbour. What has he done to thee, man?”

“He has poached on the manor,” answered the keeper.

“The devil he has!” replied Whitaker. “Thou must be jesting, Lance. Bridgenorth is neither hunter nor hawker; he hath not so much of honesty in him.”

“Ay, but he runs after game you little think of, with his sour, melancholy face, that would scare babes and curdle milk,” answered Lance.

“Thou canst not mean the wenches?” said Whitaker; “why, he hath been melancholy mad with moping for the death of his wife. Thou knowest our lady took the child, for fear he should strangle it for putting him in mind of its mother, in some of his tantrums. Under her favour, and among friends, there are many poor Cavaliers’ children, that care would be better bestowed upon — But to thy tale.”

“Why, thus it runs,” said Lance. “I think you may have noticed, Master Whitaker, that a certain Mistress Deborah hath manifested a certain favour for a certain person in a certain household.”

“For thyself, to wit,” answered Whitaker; “Lance Outram, thou art the vainest coxcomb ——”

“Coxcomb?” said Lance; “why, ’twas but last night the whole family saw her, as one would say, fling herself at my head.”

“I would she had been a brickbat then, to have broken it, for thy impertinence and conceit,” said the steward.

“Well, but do but hearken. The next morning — that is, this very blessed morning — I thought of going to lodge a buck in the park, judging a bit of venison might be wanted in the larder, after yesterday’s wassail; and, as I passed under the nursery window, I did but just look up to see what madam governante was about; and so I saw her, through the casement, whip on her hood and scarf as soon as she had a glimpse of me. Immediately after I saw the still-room door open, and made sure she was coming through the garden, and so over the breach and down to the park; and so, thought I, ‘Aha, Mistress Deb, if you are so ready to dance after my pipe and tabor, I will give you a couranto before you shall come up with me.’ And so I went down Ivy-tod Dingle, where the copse is tangled, and the ground swampy, and round by Haxley-bottom, thinking all the while she was following, and laughing in my sleeve at the round I was giving her.”

“You deserved to be ducked for it,” said Whitaker, “for a weather-headed puppy; but what is all this Jack-a-lantern story to Bridgenorth?”

“Why, it was all along of he, man,” continued Lance, “that is, of Bridgenorth, that she did not follow me — Gad, I first walked slow, and then stopped, and then turned back a little, and then began to wonder what she had made of herself, and to think I had borne myself something like a jackass in the matter.”

“That I deny,” said Whitaker, “never jackass but would have borne him better — but go on.”

“Why, turning my face towards the Castle, I went back as if I had my nose bleeding, when just by the Copely thorn, which stands, you know, a flight-short from the postern-gate, I saw Madam Deb in close conference with the enemy.”

“What enemy?” said the steward.

“What enemy! why, who but Bridgenorth? They kept out of sight, and among the copse; but, thought I, it is hard if I cannot stalk you, that have stalked so many bucks. If so, I had better give my shafts to be pudding pins. So I cast round the thicket, to watch their waters; and may I never bend crossbow again, if I did not see him give her gold, and squeeze her by the hand!”

“And was that all you saw pass between them?” said the steward.

“Faith, and it was enough to dismount me from my hobby,” said Lance. “What! when I thought I had the prettiest girl in the Castle dancing after my whistle, to find that she gave me the bag to hold, and was smuggling in a corner with a rich old Puritan!”

“Credit me, Lance, it is not as thou thinkest,” said Whitaker. “Bridgenorth cares not for these amorous toys, and thou thinkest of nothing else. But it is fitting our Knight should know that he has met with Deborah in secret, and given her gold; for never Puritan gave gold yet, but it was earnest for some devil’s work done, or to be done.”

“Nay, but,” said Lance, “I would not be such a dog-bolt as to go and betray the girl to our master. She hath a right to follow her fancy, as the dame said who kissed her cow — only I do not much approve her choice, that is all. He cannot be six years short of fifty; and a verjuice countenance, under the penthouse of a slouched beaver, and bag of meagre dried bones, swaddled up in a black cloak, is no such temptation, methinks.”

“I tell you once more,” said Whitaker, “you are mistaken; and that there neither is, nor can be, any matter of love between them, but only some intrigue, concerning, perhaps, this same noble Countess of Derby. I tell thee, it behoves my master to know it, and I will presently tell it to him.”

So saying, and in spite of all the remonstrances which Lance continued to make on behalf of Mistress Deborah, the steward rode up to the main body of their little party, and mentioned to the Knight, and the Countess of Derby, what he had just heard from the keeper, adding at the same time his own suspicions, that Master Bridgenorth of Moultrassie Hall was desirous to keep up some system of espial in the Castle of Martindale, either in order to secure his menaced vengeance on the Countess of Derby, as authoress of his brother-inlaw’s death, or for some unknown, but probably sinister purpose.

The Knight of the Peak was filled with high resentment at Whitaker’s communication. According to his prejudices, those of the opposite faction were supposed to make up by wit and intrigue what they wanted in open force; and he now hastily conceived that his neighbour, whose prudence he always respected, and sometimes even dreaded, was maintaining for his private purposes, a clandestine correspondence with a member of his family. If this was for the betrayal of his noble guest, it argued at once treachery and presumption; or, viewing the whole as Lance had done, a criminal intrigue with a woman so near the person of Lady Peveril, was in itself, he deemed, a piece of sovereign impertinence and disrespect on the part of such a person as Bridgenorth, against whom Sir Geoffrey’s anger was kindled accordingly.

Whitaker had scarce regained his post in the rear, when he again quitted it, and galloped to the main body with more speed than before, with the unpleasing tidings that they were pursued by half a score of horseman, and better.

“Ride on briskly to Hartley-nick,” said the Knight, “and there, with God to help, we will bide the knaves. — Countess of Derby — one word and a short one — Farewell! — you must ride forward with Whitaker and another careful fellow, and let me alone to see that no one treads on your skirts.”

“I will abide with you and stand them,” said the Countess; “you know of old, I fear not to look on man’s work.”

“You must ride on, madam,” said the Knight, “for the sake of the young Earl, and the rest of my noble friends’ family. There is no manly work which can be worth your looking upon; it is but child’s play that these fellows bring with them.”

As she yielded a reluctant consent to continue her flight, they reached the bottom of Hartley-nick, a pass very steep and craggy, and where the road, or rather path, which had hitherto passed over more open ground, became pent up and confined betwixt copsewood on the one side, and, on the other, the precipitous bank of a mountain stream.

The Countess of Derby, after an affectionate adieu to Sir Geoffrey, and having requested him to convey her kind commendations to her little page-elect and his mother, proceeded up the pass at a round pace, and with her attendants and escort, was soon out of sight. Immediately after she had disappeared, the pursuers came up with Sir Geoffrey Peveril, who had divided and drawn up his party so as completely to occupy the road at three different points.

The opposite party was led, as Sir Geoffrey had expected, by Major Bridgenorth. At his side was a person in black, with a silver greyhound on his arm; and he was followed by about eight or ten inhabitants of the village of Martindale Moultrassie, two or three of whom were officers of the peace, and others were personally known to Sir Geoffrey as favourers of the subverted government.

As the party rode briskly up, Sir Geoffrey called to them to halt; and as they continued advancing, he ordered his own people to present their pistols and carabines; and after assuming that menacing attitude, he repeated, with a voice of thunder, “Halt, or we fire!”

The other party halted accordingly, and Major Bridgenorth advanced, as if to parley.

“Why, how now, neighbour,” said Sir Geoffrey, as if he had at that moment recognised him for the first time — “what makes you ride so sharp this morning? Are you not afraid to harm your horse, or spoil your spurs?”

“Sir Geoffrey,” said the Major, “I have not time for jesting — I’m on the King’s affairs.”

“Are you sure it is not upon Old Noll’s, neighbour? You used to hold his the better errand,” said the Knight, with a smile which gave occasion to a horse-laugh among his followers.

“Show him your warrant,” said Bridgenorth to the man in black formerly mentioned, who was a pursuivant. Then taking the warrant from the officer, he gave it to Sir Geoffrey —“To this, at least, you will pay regard.”

“The same regard which you would have paid to it a month back or so,” said the Knight, tearing the warrant to shreds. —“What a plague do you stare at? Do you think you have a monopoly of rebellion, and that we have not a right to show a trick of disobedience in our turn?”

“Make way, Sir Geoffrey Peveril,” said Bridgenorth, “or you will compel me to do that I may be sorry for. I am in this matter the avenger of the blood of one of the Lord’s saints, and I will follow the chase while Heaven grants me an arm to make my way.”

“You shall make no way here but at your peril,” said Sir Geoffrey; “this is my ground — I have been harassed enough for these twenty years by saints, as you call yourselves. I tell you, master, you shall neither violate the security of my house, nor pursue my friends over the grounds, nor tamper, as you have done, amongst my servants, with impunity. I have had you in respect for certain kind doings, which I will not either forget or deny, and you will find it difficult to make me draw a sword or bend a pistol against you; but offer any hostile movement, or presume to advance a foot, and I will make sure of you presently. And for those rascals, who come hither to annoy a noble lady on my bounds, unless you draw them off, I will presently send some of them to the devil before their time.”

“Make room at your proper peril,” said Major Bridgenorth; and he put his right hand on his holster-pistol. Sir Geoffrey closed with him instantly, seized him by the collar, and spurred Black Hastings, checking him at the same time, so that the horse made a courbette, and brought the full weight of his chest against the counter of the other. A ready soldier might, in Bridgenorth’s situation, have rid himself of his adversary with a bullet. But Bridgenorth’s courage, notwithstanding his having served some time with the Parliament army, was rather of a civil than a military character; and he was inferior to his adversary, not only in strength and horsemanship, but also and especially in the daring and decisive resolution which made Sir Geoffrey thrust himself readily into personal contest. While, therefore, they tugged and grappled together upon terms which bore such little accordance with their long acquaintance and close neighbourhood, it was no wonder that Bridgenorth should be unhorsed with much violence. While Sir Geoffrey sprung from the saddle, the party of Bridgenorth advanced to rescue their leader, and that of the Knight to oppose them. Swords were unsheathed, and pistols presented; but Sir Geoffrey, with the voice of a herald, commanded both parties to stand back, and to keep the peace.

The pursuivant took the hint, and easily found a reason for not prosecuting a dangerous duty. “The warrant,” he said, “was destroyed. They that did it must be answerable to the Council; for his part, he could proceed no farther without his commission.”

“Well said, and like a peaceable fellow!” said Sir Geoffrey. —“Let him have refreshment at the Castle — his nag is sorely out of condition. — Come, neighbour Bridgenorth, get up, man — I trust you have had no hurt in this mad affray? I was loath to lay hand on you, man, till you plucked out your petronel.”

As he spoke thus, he aided the Major to rise. The pursuivant, meanwhile, drew aside; and with him the constable and head-borough, who were not without some tacit suspicion, that though Peveril was interrupting the direct course of law in this matter, yet he was likely to have his offence considered by favourable judges; and therefore it might be as much for their interest and safety to give way as to oppose him. But the rest of the party, friends of Bridgenorth, and of his principles, kept their ground notwithstanding this defection, and seemed, from their looks, sternly determined to rule their conduct by that of their leader, whatever it might be.

But it was evident that Bridgenorth did not intend to renew the struggle. He shook himself rather roughly free from the hands of Sir Geoffrey Peveril; but it was not to draw his sword. On the contrary, he mounted his horse with a sullen and dejected air; and, making a sign to his followers, turned back the same road which he had come. Sir Geoffrey looked after him for some minutes. “Now, there goes a man,” said he, “who would have been a right honest fellow had he not been a Presbyterian. But there is no heartiness about them — they can never forgive a fair fall upon the sod — they bear malice, and that I hate as I do a black cloak, or a Geneva skull-cap, and a pair of long ears rising on each side on’t, like two chimneys at the gable ends of a thatched cottage. They are as sly as the devil to boot; and, therefore, Lance Outram, take two with you, and keep after them, that they may not turn our flank, and get on the track of the Countess again after all.”

“I had as soon they should course my lady’s white tame doe,” answered Lance, in the spirit of his calling. He proceeded to execute his master’s orders by dogging Major Bridgenorth at a distance, and observing his course from such heights as commanded the country. But it was soon evident that no manoeuvre was intended, and that the Major was taking the direct road homeward. When this was ascertained, Sir Geoffrey dismissed most of his followers; and retaining only his own domestics, rode hastily forward to overtake the Countess.

It is only necessary to say farther, that he completed his purpose of escorting the Countess of Derby to Vale Royal, without meeting any further hindrance by the way. The lord of the mansion readily undertook to conduct the high-minded lady to Liverpool, and the task of seeing her safely embarked for her son’s hereditary dominions, where there was no doubt of her remaining in personal safety until the accusation against her for breach of the Royal Indemnity, by the execution of Christian, could be brought to some compromise.

For a length of time this was no easy matter. Clarendon, then at the head of Charles’s administration, considered her rash action, though dictated by motives which the human breast must, in some respects, sympathise with, as calculated to shake the restored tranquillity of England, by exciting the doubts and jealousies of those who had to apprehend the consequences of what is called, in our own time, a reaction. At the same time, the high services of this distinguished family — the merits of the Countess herself — the memory of her gallant husband — and the very peculiar circumstances of jurisdiction which took the case out of all common rules, pleaded strongly in her favour; and the death of Christian was at length only punished by the imposition of a heavy fine, amounting, we believe, to many thousand pounds; which was levied, with great difficulty, out of the shattered estates of the young Earl of Derby.

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