There would have been nothing remarkable in this, had any other person been concerned; but Major Bridgenorth was so very quiet and orderly in all his proceedings—so little liable to act hastily or by impulse, that the least appearance of bustle where he was concerned, excited surprise and curiosity.
Lady Peveril broke her letter hastily open, and found that it contained the following lines:—
"For the Hands of the Honourable and Honoured Lady Peveril— These:
"Madam—Please it your Ladyship,—I write more to excuse myself to your ladyship, than to accuse either you or others, in respect that I am sensible it becomes our frail nature better to confess our own imperfections, than to complain of those of others. Neither do I mean to speak of past times, particularly in respect of your worthy ladyship, being sensible that if I have served you in that period when our Israel might be called triumphant, you have more than requited me, in giving to my arms a child, redeemed, as it were, from the vale of the shadow of death. And therefore, as I heartily forgive to your ladyship the unkind and violent measure which you dealt to me at our last meeting (seeing that the woman who was the cause of strife is accounted one of your kindred people), I do entreat you, in like manner, to pardon my enticing away from your service the young woman called Deborah Debbitch, whose direction, is, it may be, indispensable to the health of my dearest child. I had purposed, madam, with your gracious permission, that Alice should have remained at Martindale Castle, under your kind charge, until she could so far discern betwixt good and evil, that it should be matter of conscience to teach her the way in which she should go. For it is not unknown to your ladyship, and in no way do I speak it reproachfully, but rather sorrowfully, that a person so excellently gifted as yourself—I mean touching natural qualities—has not yet received that true light, which is a lamp to the paths, but are contented to stumble in darkness, and among the graves of dead men. It has been my prayer in the watches of the night, that your ladyship should cease from the doctrine which causeth to err; but I grieve to say, that our candlestick being about to be removed, the land will most likely be involved in deeper darkness than ever; and the return of the King, to which I and many looked forward as a manifestation of divine favour, seems to prove little else than a permitted triumph of the Prince of the Air, who setteth about to restore his Vanity-fair of bishops, deans, and such like, extruding the peaceful ministers of the word, whose labours have proved faithful to many hungry souls. So, hearing from a sure hand, that commission has gone forth to restore these dumb dogs, the followers of Laud and of Williams, who were cast forth by the late Parliament, and that an Act of Conformity, or rather of deformity, of worship, was to be expected, it is my purpose to flee from the wrath to come, and to seek some corner where I may dwell in peace, and enjoy liberty of conscience. For who would abide in the Sanctuary, after the carved work thereof is broken down, and when it hath been made a place for owls, and satyrs of the wilderness?—And herein I blame myself, madam, that I went in the singleness of my heart too readily into that carousing in the house of feasting, wherein my love of union, and my desire to show respect to your ladyship, were made a snare to me. But I trust it will be an atonement, that I am now about to absent myself from the place of my birth, and the house of my fathers, as well as from the place which holdeth the dust of those pledges of my affection. I have also to remember, that in this land my honour (after the worldly estimation) hath been abated, and my utility circumscribed, by your husband, Sir Geoffrey Peveril; and that without any chance of my obtaining reparation at his hand, whereby I may say the hand of a kinsman was lifted up against my credit and my life. These things are bitter to the taste of the old Adam; wherefore to prevent farther bickerings, and, it may be, bloodshed, it is better that I leave this land for a time. The affairs which remain to be settled between Sir Geoffrey and myself, I shall place in the hand of the righteous Master Joachim Win-the-Fight, an attorney in Chester, who will arrange them with such attention to Sir Geoffrey's convenience, as justice, and the due exercise of the law, will permit; for, as I trust I shall have grace to resist the temptation to make the weapons of carnal warfare the instruments of my revenge, so I scorn to effect it through the means of Mammon. Wishing, madam, that the Lord may grant you every blessing, and, in especial, that which is over all others, namely, the true knowledge of His way, I remain, your devoted servant to command, RALPH BRIDGENORTH.
"Written at Moultrassie Hall, this tenth day of July, 1660."
So soon as Lady Peveril had perused this long and singular homily, in which it seemed to her that her neighbour showed more spirit of religious fanaticism than she could have supposed him possessed of, she looked up and beheld Ellesmere,—with a countenance in which mortification, and an affected air of contempt, seemed to struggle together,—who, tired with watching the expression of her mistress's countenance, applied for confirmation of her suspicions in plain terms.
"I suppose, madam," said the waiting-woman, "the fanatic fool intends to marry the wench? They say he goes to shift the country. Truly it's time, indeed; for, besides that the whole neighbourhood would laugh him to scorn, I should not be surprised if Lance Outram, the keeper, gave him a buck's head to bear; for that is all in the way of his office."
"There is no great occasion for your spite at present, Ellesmere," replied her lady. "My letter says nothing of marriage; but it would appear that Master Bridgenorth, being to leave this country, has engaged Deborah to take care of his child; and I am sure I am heartily glad of it, for the infant's sake."
"And I am glad of it for my own," said Ellesmere; "and, indeed, for the sake of the whole house.—And your ladyship thinks she is not like to be married to him? Troth, I could never see how he should be such an idiot; but perhaps she is going to do worse; for she speaks here of coming to high preferment, and that scarce comes by honest servitude nowadays; then she writes me about sending her things, as if I were mistress of the wardrobe to her ladyship—ay, and recommends Master Julian to the care of my age and experience, forsooth, as if she needed to recommend the dear little jewel to me; and then, to speak of my age—But I will bundle away her rags to the Hall, with a witness!"
"Do it with all civility," said the lady, "and let Whitaker send her the wages for which she has served, and a broad-piece over and above; for though a light-headed young woman, she was kind to the children."
"I know who is kind to their servants, madam, and would spoil the best ever pinned a gown."
"I spoiled a good one, Ellesmere, when I spoiled thee," said the lady; "but tell Mistress Deborah to kiss the little Alice for me, and to offer my good wishes to Major Bridgenorth, for his temporal and future happiness."
She permitted no observation or reply, but dismissed her attendant, without entering into farther particulars.
When Ellesmere had withdrawn, Lady Peveril began to reflect, with much feeling of compassion, on the letter of Major Bridgenorth; a person in whom there were certainly many excellent qualities, but whom a series of domestic misfortunes, and the increasing gloom of a sincere, yet stern feeling of devotion, rendered lonely and unhappy; and she had more than one anxious thought for the happiness of the little Alice, brought up, as she was likely to be, under such a father. Still the removal of Bridgenorth was, on the whole, a desirable event; for while he remained at the Hall, it was but too likely that some accidental collision with Sir Geoffrey might give rise to a rencontre betwixt them, more fatal than the last had been.
In the meanwhile, she could not help expressing to Doctor Dummerar her surprise and sorrow, that all which she had done and attempted, to establish peace and unanimity betwixt the contending factions, had been perversely fated to turn out the very reverse of what she had aimed at.
"But for my unhappy invitation," she said, "Bridgenorth would not have been at the Castle on the morning which succeeded the feast, would not have seen the Countess, and would not have incurred the resentment and opposition of my husband. And but for the King's return, an event which was so anxiously expected as the termination of all our calamities, neither the noble lady nor ourselves had been engaged in this new path of difficulty and danger."
"Honoured madam," said Doctor Dummerar, "were the affairs of this world to be guided implicitly by human wisdom, or were they uniformly to fall out according to the conjectures of human foresight, events would no longer be under the domination of that time and chance, which happen unto all men, since we should, in the one case, work out our own purposes to a certainty, by our own skill, and in the other, regulate our conduct according to the views of unerring prescience. But man is, while in this vale of tears, like an uninstructed bowler, so to speak, who thinks to attain the jack, by delivering his bowl straight forward upon it, being ignorant that there is a concealed bias within the spheroid, which will make it, in all probability, swerve away, and lose the cast."
Having spoken this with a sententious air, the Doctor took his shovel-shaped hat, and went down to the Castle green, to conclude a match of bowls with Whitaker, which had probably suggested this notable illustration of the uncertain course of human events.
Two days afterwards, Sir Geoffrey arrived. He had waited at Vale Royal till he heard of the Countess's being safely embarked for Man, and then had posted homeward to his Castle and Dame Margaret. On his way, he learned from some of his attendants, the mode in which his lady had conducted the entertainment which she had given to the neighbourhood at his order; and notwithstanding the great deference he usually showed in cases where Lady Peveril was concerned, he heard of her liberality towards the Presbyterian party with great indignation.
"I could have admitted Bridgenorth," he said, "for he always bore him in neighbourly and kindly fashion till this last career—I could have endured him, so he would have drunk the King's health, like a true man—but to bring that snuffling scoundrel Solsgrace, with all his beggarly, long-eared congregation, to hold a conventicle in my father's house—to let them domineer it as they listed—why, I would not have permitted them such liberty, when they held their head the highest! They never, in the worst of times, found any way into Martindale Castle but what Noll's cannon made for them; and that they should come and cant there, when good King Charles is returned—By my hand, Dame Margaret shall hear of it!"
But, notwithstanding these ireful resolutions, resentment altogether subsided in the honest Knight's breast, when he saw the fair features of his lady lightened with affectionate joy at his return in safety. As he took her in his arms and kissed her, he forgave her ere he mentioned her offence.
"Thou hast played the knave with me, Meg," he said, shaking his head, and smiling at the same time, "and thou knowest in what manner; but I think thou art true church-woman, and didst only act from silly womanish fancy of keeping fair with these roguish Roundheads. But let me have no more of this. I had rather Martindale Castle were again rent by their bullets, than receive any of the knaves in the way of friendship—I always except Ralph Bridgenorth of the Hall, if he should come to his senses again."
Lady Peveril was here under the necessity of explaining what she had heard of Master Bridgenorth—the disappearance of the governante with his daughter, and placed Bridgenorth's letter in his hand. Sir Geoffrey shook his head at first, and then laughed extremely at the idea that there was some little love-intrigue between Bridgenorth and Mistress Deborah.
"It is the true end of a dissenter," he said, "to marry his own maid-servant, or some other person's. Deborah is a good likely wench, and on the merrier side of thirty, as I should think."
"Nay, nay," said the Lady Peveril, "you are as uncharitable as Ellesmere—I believe it but to be affection to his child."
"Pshaw! pshaw!" answered the Knight, "women are eternally thinking of children; but among men, dame, many one carresses the infant that he may kiss the child's maid; and where's the wonder or the harm either, if Bridgenorth should marry the wench? Her father is a substantial yeoman; his family has had the same farm since Bosworthfield—as good a pedigree as that of the great-grandson of a Chesterfield brewer, I trow. But let us hear what he says for himself—I shall spell it out if there is any roguery in the letter about love and liking, though it might escape your innocence, Dame Margaret."
The Knight of the Peak began to peruse the letter accordingly, but was much embarrassed by the peculiar language in which it was couched. "What he means by moving of candlesticks, and breaking down of carved work in the church, I cannot guess; unless he means to bring back the large silver candlesticks which my grandsire gave to be placed on the altar at Martindale Moultrassie; and which his crop-eared friends, like sacrilegious villains as they are, stole and melted down. And in like manner, the only breaking I know of, was when they pulled down the rails of the communion table (for which some of their fingers are hot enough by this time), and when the brass ornaments were torn down from Peveril monuments; and that was breaking and removing with a vengeance. However, dame, the upshot is, that poor Bridgenorth is going to leave the neighbourhood. I am truly sorry for it, though I never saw him oftener than once a day, and never spoke to him above two words. But I see how it is—that little shake by the shoulder sticks in his stomach; and yet, Meg, I did but lift him out of the saddle as I might have lifted thee into it, Margaret—I was careful not to hurt him; and I did not think him so tender in point of honour as to mind such a thing much; but I see plainly where his sore lies; and I warrant you I will manage that he stays at the Hall, and that you get back Julian's little companion. Faith, I am sorry myself at the thought of losing the baby, and of having to choose another ride when it is not hunting weather, than round by the Hall, with a word at the window."
"I should be very glad, Sir Geoffrey," said the Lady Peveril, "that you could come to a reconciliation with this worthy man, for such I must hold Master Bridgenorth to be."
"But for his dissenting principles, as good a neighbour as ever lived," said Sir Geoffrey.
"But I scarce see," continued the lady, "any possibility of bringing about a conclusion so desirable."
"Tush, dame," answered the Knight, "thou knowest little of such matters. I know the foot he halts upon, and you shall see him go as sound as ever."
Lady Peveril had, from her sincere affection and sound sense, as good a right to claim the full confidence of her husband, as any woman in Derbyshire; and, upon this occasion, to confess the truth, she had more anxiety to know his purpose than her sense of their mutual and separate duties permitted her in general to entertain. She could not imagine what mode of reconciliation with his neighbour, Sir Geoffrey (no very acute judge of mankind or their peculiarities) could have devised, which might not be disclosed to her; and she felt some secret anxiety lest the means resorted to might be so ill chosen as to render the breach rather wider. But Sir Geoffrey would give no opening for farther inquiry. He had been long enough colonel of a regiment abroad, to value himself on the right of absolute command at home; and to all the hints which his lady's ingenuity could devise and throw out, he only answered, "Patience, Dame Margaret, patience. This is no case for thy handling. Thou shalt know enough on't by-and-by, dame.—Go, look to Julian. Will the boy never have done crying for lack of that little sprout of a Roundhead? But we will have little Alice back with us in two or three days, and all will be well again."
As the good Knight spoke these words, a post winded his horn in the court, and a large packet was brought in, addressed to the worshipful Sir Geoffrey Peveril, Justice of the Peace, and so forth; for he had been placed in authority as soon as the King's Restoration was put upon a settled basis. Upon opening the packet, which he did with no small feeling of importance, he found that it contained the warrant which he had solicited for replacing Doctor Dummerar in the parish, from which he had been forcibly ejected during the usurpation.
Few incidents could have given more delight to Sir Geoffrey. He could forgive a stout able-bodied sectary or nonconformist, who enforced his doctrines in the field by downright blows on the casques and cuirasses of himself and other Cavaliers. But he remembered with most vindictive accuracy, the triumphant entrance of Hugh Peters through the breach of his Castle; and for his sake, without nicely distinguishing betwixt sects or their teachers, he held all who mounted a pulpit without warrant from the Church of England—perhaps he might also in private except that of Rome—to be disturbers of the public tranquillity—seducers of the congregation from their lawful preachers—instigators of the late Civil War—and men well disposed to risk the fate of a new one.
Then, on the other hand, besides gratifying his dislike to Solsgrace, he saw much satisfaction in the task of replacing his old friend and associate in sport and in danger, the worthy Doctor Dummerar, in his legitimate rights and in the ease and comforts of his vicarage. He communicated the contents of the packet, with great triumph, to the lady, who now perceived the sense of the mysterious paragraph in Major Bridgenorth's letter, concerning the removal of the candlestick, and the extinction of light and doctrine in the land. She pointed this out to Sir Geoffrey, and endeavoured to persuade him that a door was now opened to reconciliation with his neighbour, by executing the commission which he had received in an easy and moderate manner, after due delay, and with all respect to the feelings both of Solsgrace and his congregation, which circumstances admitted of. This, the lady argued, would be doing no injury whatever to Doctor Dummerar;—nay, might be the means of reconciling many to his ministry, who might otherwise be disgusted with it for ever, by the premature expulsion of a favourite preacher.
There was much wisdom, as well as moderation, in this advice; and, at another time, Sir Geoffrey would have sense enough to have adopted it. But who can act composedly or prudently in the hour of triumph? The ejection of Mr. Solsgrace was so hastily executed, as to give it some appearance of persecution; though, more justly considered, it was the restoring of his predecessor to his legal rights. Solsgrace himself seemed to be desirous to make his sufferings as manifest as possible. He held out to the last; and on the Sabbath after he had received intimation of his ejection, attempted to make his way to the pulpit, as usual, supported by Master Bridgenorth's attorney, Win-the-Fight, and a few zealous followers.
Just as their party came into the churchyard on the one side, Doctor Dummerar, dressed in full pontificals, in a sort of triumphal procession accompanied by Peveril of the Peak, Sir Jasper Cranbourne, and other Cavaliers of distinction, entered at the other.
To prevent an actual struggle in the church, the parish officers were sent to prevent the farther approach of the Presbyterian minister; which was effected without farther damage than a broken head, inflicted by Roger Raine, the drunken innkeeper of the Peveril Arms, upon the Presbyterian attorney of Chesterfield.
Unsubdued in spirit, though compelled to retreat by superior force, the undaunted Mr. Solsgrace retired to the vicarage; where under some legal pretext which had been started by Mr. Win-the-Fight (in that day unaptly named), he attempted to maintain himself—bolted gates—barred windows—and, as report said (though falsely), made provision of fire-arms to resist the officers. A scene of clamour and scandal accordingly took place, which being reported to Sir Geoffrey, he came in person, with some of his attendants carrying arms—forced the outer-gate and inner-doors of the house; and proceeding to the study, found no other garrison save the Presbyterian parson, with the attorney, who gave up possession of the premises, after making protestation against the violence that had been used.
The rabble of the village being by this time all in motion, Sir Geoffrey, both in prudence and good-nature, saw the propriety of escorting his prisoners, for so they might be termed, safely through the tumult; and accordingly conveyed them in person, through much noise and clamour, as far as the avenue of Moultrassie Hall, which they chose for the place of their retreat.
But the absence of Sir Geoffrey gave the rein to some disorders, which, if present, he would assuredly have restrained. Some of the minister's books were torn and flung about as treasonable and seditious trash, by the zealous parish-officers or their assistants. A quantity of his ale was drunk up in healths to the King and Peveril of the Peak. And, finally, the boys, who bore the ex-parson no good-will for his tyrannical interference with their games at skittles, foot-ball, and so forth, and, moreover, remembered the unmerciful length of his sermons, dressed up an effigy with his Geneva gown and band, and his steeple-crowned hat, which they paraded through the village, and burned on the spot whilom occupied by a stately Maypole, which Solsgrace had formerly hewed down with his own reverend hands.
Sir Geoffrey was vexed at all this and sent to Mr. Solsgrace, offering satisfaction for the goods which he had lost; but the Calvinistical divine replied, "From a thread to a shoe-latchet, I will not take anything that is thine. Let the shame of the work of thy hands abide with thee."
Considerable scandal, indeed, arose against Sir Geoffrey Peveril as having proceeded with indecent severity and haste upon this occasion; and rumour took care to make the usual additions to the reality. It was currently reported, that the desperate Cavalier, Peveril of the Peak, had fallen on a Presbyterian congregation, while engaged in the peaceable exercise of religion, with a band of armed men—had slain some, desperately wounded many more, and finally pursued the preacher to his vicarage which he burned to the ground. Some alleged the clergyman had perished in the flames; and the most mitigated report bore, that he had only been able to escape by disposing his gown, cap, and band, near a window, in such a manner as to deceive them with the idea of his person being still surrounded by flames, while he himself fled by the back part of the house. And although few people believed in the extent of the atrocities thus imputed to our honest Cavalier, yet still enough of obloquy attached to him to infer very serious consequences, as the reader will learn at a future period of our history.
Bessus.—'Tis a challenge, sir, is it not? Gentleman.—'Tis an inviting to the field. —King and No King.
For a day or two after this forcible expulsion from the vicarage, Mr. Solsgrace continued his residence at Moultrassie Hall, where the natural melancholy attendant on his situation added to the gloom of the owner of the mansion. In the morning, the ejected divine made excursions to different families in the neighbourhood, to whom his ministry had been acceptable in the days of his prosperity, and from whose grateful recollections of that period he now found sympathy and consolation. He did not require to be condoled with, because he was deprived of an easy and competent maintenance, and thrust out upon the common of life, after he had reason to suppose he would be no longer liable to such mutations of fortune. The piety of Mr. Solsgrace was sincere; and if he had many of the uncharitable prejudices against other sects, which polemical controversy had generated, and the Civil War brought to a head, he had also that deep sense of duty, by which enthusiasm is so often dignified, and held his very life little, if called upon to lay it down in attestation of the doctrines in which he believed. But he was soon to prepare for leaving the district which Heaven, he conceived, had assigned to him as his corner of the vineyard; he was to abandon his flock to the wolf—was to forsake those with whom he had held sweet counsel in religious communion—was to leave the recently converted to relapse into false doctrines, and forsake the wavering, whom his continued cares might have directed into the right path,—these were of themselves deep causes of sorrow, and were aggravated, doubtless, by those natural feelings with which all men, especially those whose duties or habits have confined them to a limited circle, regard the separation from wonted scenes, and their accustomed haunts of solitary musing, or social intercourse.
There was, indeed, a plan of placing Mr. Solsgrace at the head of a nonconforming congregation in his present parish, which his followers would have readily consented to endow with a sufficient revenue. But although the act for universal conformity was not yet passed, such a measure was understood to be impending, and there existed a general opinion among the Presbyterians, that in no hands was it likely to be more strictly enforced, than in those of Peveril of the Peak. Solsgrace himself considered not only his personal danger as being considerable,—for, assuming perhaps more consequence than was actually attached to him or his productions, he conceived the honest Knight to be his mortal and determined enemy,—but he also conceived that he should serve the cause of his Church by absenting himself from Derbyshire.
"Less known pastors," he said, "though perhaps more worthy of the name, may be permitted to assemble the scattered flocks in caverns or in secret wilds, and to them shall the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim be better than the vintage of Abiezer. But I, that have so often carried the banner forth against the mighty—I, whose tongue hath testified, morning and evening, like the watchman upon the tower, against Popery, Prelacy, and the tyrant of the Peak—for me to abide here, were but to bring the sword of bloody vengeance amongst you, that the shepherd might be smitten, and the sheep scattered. The shedders of blood have already assailed me, even within that ground which they themselves call consecrated; and yourselves have seen the scalp of the righteous broken, as he defended my cause. Therefore, I will put on my sandals, and gird my loins, and depart to a far country, and there do as my duty shall call upon me, whether it be to act or to suffer—to bear testimony at the stake or in the pulpit."
Such were the sentiments which Mr. Solsgrace expressed to his desponding friends, and which he expatiated upon at more length with Major Bridgenorth; not failing, with friendly zeal, to rebuke the haste which the latter had shown to thrust out the hand of fellowship to the Amalekite woman, whereby he reminded him, "He had been rendered her slave and bondsman for a season, like Samson, betrayed by Delilah, and might have remained longer in the house of Dagon, had not Heaven pointed to him a way out of the snare. Also, it sprung originally from the Major's going up to feast in the high place of Baal, that he who was the champion of the truth was stricken down, and put to shame by the enemy, even in the presence of the host."
These objurgations seeming to give some offence to Major Bridgenorth, who liked, no better than any other man, to hear of his own mishaps, and at the same time to have them imputed to his own misconduct, the worthy divine proceeded to take shame to himself for his own sinful compliance in that matter; for to the vengeance justly due for that unhappy dinner at Martindale Castle (which was, he said, a crying of peace when there was no peace, and a dwelling in the tents of sin), he imputed his ejection from his living, with the destruction of some of his most pithy and highly prized volumes of divinity, with the loss of his cap, gown, and band, and a double hogshead of choice Derby ale.
The mind of Major Bridgenorth was strongly tinged with devotional feeling, which his late misfortunes had rendered more deep and solemn; and it is therefore no wonder, that, when he heard these arguments urged again and again, by a pastor whom he so much respected, and who was now a confessor in the cause of their joint faith, he began to look back with disapproval on his own conduct, and to suspect that he had permitted himself to be seduced by gratitude towards Lady Peveril, and by her special arguments in favour of a mutual and tolerating liberality of sentiments, into an action which had a tendency to compromise his religious and political principles.
One morning, as Major Bridgenorth had wearied himself with several details respecting the arrangement of his affairs, he was reposing in the leathern easy-chair, beside the latticed window, a posture which, by natural association, recalled to him the memory of former times, and the feelings with which he was wont to expect the recurring visit of Sir Geoffrey, who brought him news of his child's welfare,—"Surely," he said, thinking, as it were, aloud, "there was no sin in the kindness with which I then regarded that man."
Solsgrace, who was in the apartment, and guessed what passed through his friend's mind, acquainted as he was with every point of his history, replied—"When God caused Elijah to be fed by ravens, while hiding at the brook Cherith, we hear not of his fondling the unclean birds, whom, contrary to their ravening nature, a miracle compelled to minister to him."
"It may be so," answered Bridgenorth, "yet the flap of their wings must have been gracious in the ear of the famished prophet, like the tread of his horse in mine. The ravens, doubtless, resumed their nature when the season was passed, and even so it has fared with him.—Hark!" he exclaimed, starting, "I hear his horse's hoof tramp even now."
It was seldom that the echoes of that silent house and courtyard were awakened by the trampling of horses, but such was now the case.
Both Bridgenorth and Solsgrace were surprised at the sound, and even disposed to anticipate some farther oppression on the part of the government, when the Major's old servant introduced, with little ceremony (for his manners were nearly as plain as his master's), a tall gentleman on the farther side of middle life, whose vest and cloak, long hair, slouched hat and drooping feather, announced him as a Cavalier. He bowed formally, but courteously, to both gentlemen, and said, that he was "Sir Jasper Cranbourne, charged with an especial message to Master Ralph Bridgenorth of Moultrassie Hall, by his honourable friend Sir Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak, and that he requested to know whether Master Bridgenorth would be pleased to receive his acquittal of commission here or elsewhere."
"Anything which Sir Geoffrey Peveril can have to say to me," said Major Bridgenorth, "may be told instantly, and before my friend, from whom I have no secrets."
"The presence of any other friend were, instead of being objectionable, the thing in the world most to be desired," said Sir Jasper, after a moment's hesitation, and looking at Mr. Solsgrace; "but this gentleman seems to be a sort of clergyman."
"I am not conscious of any secrets," answered Bridgenorth, "nor do I desire to have any, in which a clergyman is unfitting confidant."
"At your pleasure," replied Sir Jasper. "The confidence, for aught I know, may be well enough chosen, for your divines (always under your favour) have proved no enemies to such matters as I am to treat with you upon."
"Proceed, sir," answered Mr. Bridgenorth gravely; "and I pray you to be seated, unless it is rather your pleasure to stand."
"I must, in the first place, deliver myself of my small commission," answered Sir Jasper, drawing himself up; "and it will be after I have seen the reception thereof, that I shall know whether I am, or am not, to sit down at Moultrassie Hall.—Sir Geoffrey Peveril, Master Bridgenorth, hath carefully considered with himself the unhappy circumstances which at present separate you as neighbours. And he remembers many passages in former times—I speak his very words—which incline him to do all that can possibly consist with his honour, to wipe out unkindness between you; and for this desirable object, he is willing to condescend in a degree, which, as you could not have expected, it will no doubt give you great pleasure to learn."
"Allow me to say, Sir Jasper," said Bridgenorth, "that this is unnecessary. I have made no complaints of Sir Geoffrey—I have required no submission from him—I am about to leave this country; and what affairs we may have together, can be as well settled by others as by ourselves."
"In a word," said the divine, "the worthy Major Bridgenorth hath had enough of trafficking with the ungodly, and will no longer, on any terms, consort with them."
"Gentleman both," said Sir Jasper, with imperturbable politeness, bowing, "you greatly mistake the tenor of my commission, which you will do as well to hear out, before making any reply to it.—I think, Master Bridgenorth, you cannot but remember your letter to the Lady Peveril, of which I have here a rough copy, in which you complain of the hard measure which you have received at Sir Geoffrey's hand, and, in particular, when he pulled you from your horse at or near Hartley-nick. Now, Sir Geoffrey thinks so well of you, as to believe, that, were it not for the wide difference betwixt his descent and rank and your own, you would have sought to bring this matter to a gentleman-like arbitrament, as the only mode whereby your stain may be honourably wiped away. Wherefore, in this slight note, he gives you, in his generosity, the offer of what you, in your modesty (for to nothing else does he impute your acquiescence), have declined to demand of him. And withal, I bring you the measure of his weapon; and when you have accepted the cartel which I now offer you, I shall be ready to settle the time, place, and other circumstances of your meeting."
"And I," said Solsgrace, with a solemn voice, "should the Author of Evil tempt my friend to accept of so bloodthirsty a proposal, would be the first to pronounce against him sentence of the greater excommunication."
"It is not you whom I address, reverend sir," replied the envoy; "your interest, not unnaturally, may determine you to be more anxious about your patron's life than about his honour. I must know, from himself, to which he is disposed to give the preference."
So saying, and with a graceful bow, he again tendered the challenge to Major Bridgenorth. There was obviously a struggle in that gentleman's bosom, between the suggestions of human honour and those of religious principle; but the latter prevailed. He calmly waived receiving the paper which Sir Jasper offered to him, and spoke to the following purpose:—"It may not be known to you, Sir Jasper, that since the general pouring out of Christian light upon this kingdom, many solid men have been led to doubt whether the shedding human blood by the hand of a fellow-creature be in any respect justifiable. And although this rule appears to me to be scarcely applicable to our state in this stage of trial, seeing that such non-resistance, if general, would surrender our civil and religious rights into the hands of whatsoever daring tyrants might usurp the same; yet I am, and have been, inclined to limit the use of carnal arms to the case of necessary self-defence, whether such regards our own person, or the protection of our country against invasion; or of our rights of property, and the freedom of our laws and of our conscience, against usurping power. And as I have never shown myself unwilling to draw my sword in any of the latter causes, so you shall excuse my suffering it now to remain in the scabbard, when, having sustained a grievous injury, the man who inflicted it summons me to combat, either upon an idle punctilio, or, as is more likely, in mere bravado."
"I have heard you with patience," said Sir Jasper; "and now, Master Bridgenorth, take it not amiss, if I beseech you to bethink yourself better on this matter. I vow to Heaven, sir, that your honour lies a-bleeding; and that in condescending to afford you this fair meeting, and thereby giving you some chance to stop its wounds, Sir Geoffrey has been moved by a tender sense of your condition, and an earnest wish to redeem your dishonour. And it will be but the crossing of your blade with his honoured sword for the space of some few minutes, and you will either live or die a noble and honoured gentleman. Besides, that the Knight's exquisite skill of fence may enable him, as his good-nature will incline him, to disarm you with some flesh wound, little to the damage of your person, and greatly to the benefit of your reputation."
"The tender mercies of the wicked," said Master Solsgrace emphatically, by way of commenting on this speech, which Sir Jasper had uttered very pathetically, "are cruel."
"I pray to have no farther interruption from your reverence," said Sir Jasper; "especially as I think this affair very little concerns you; and I entreat that you permit me to discharge myself regularly of my commission from my worthy friend."
So saying, he took his sheathed rapier from his belt, and passing the point through the silk thread which secured the letter, he once more, and literally at sword point, gracefully tendered it to Major Bridgenorth who again waved it aside, though colouring deeply at the same time, as if he was putting a marked constraint upon himself—drew back, and made Sir Jasper Cranbourne a deep bow.
"Since it is to be thus," said Sir Jasper, "I must myself do violence to the seal of Sir Geoffrey's letter, and read it to you, that I may fully acquit myself of the charge entrusted to me, and make you, Master Bridgenorth, equally aware of the generous intentions of Sir Geoffrey on your behalf."
"If," said Major Bridgenorth, "the contents of the letter be to no other purpose than you have intimated, methinks farther ceremony is unnecessary on this occasion, as I have already taken my course."
"Nevertheless," said Sir Jasper, breaking open the letter, "it is fitting that I read to you the letter of my worshipful friend." And he read accordingly as follows:—
"For the worthy hands of Ralph Bridgenorth, Esquire, of Moultrassie Hall—These:
"By the honoured conveyance of the Worshipful Sir Jasper Cranbourne, Knight, of Long-Mallington.
"Master Bridgenorth,—We have been given to understand by your letter to our loving wife, Dame Margaret Peveril, that you hold hard construction of certain passages betwixt you and I, of a late date, as if your honour should have been, in some sort, prejudiced by what then took place. And although you have not thought it fit to have direct recourse to me, to request such satisfaction as is due from one gentleman of condition to another, yet I am fully minded that this proceeds only from modesty, arising out of the distinction of our degree, and from no lack of that courage which you have heretofore displayed, I would I could say in a good cause. Wherefore I am purposed to give you, by my friend, Sir Jasper Cranbourne, a meeting, for the sake of doing that which doubtless you entirely long for. Sir Jasper will deliver you the length of my weapon, and appoint circumstances and an hour for our meeting; which, whether early or late—on foot or horseback—with rapier or backsword—I refer to yourself, with all the other privileges of a challenged person; only desiring, that if you decline to match my weapon, you will send me forthwith the length and breadth of your own. And nothing doubting that the issue of this meeting must needs be to end, in one way or other, all unkindness betwixt two near neighbours,—I remain, your humble servant to command, "Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak."
"Given from my poor house of Martindale Castle, this same of , sixteen hundred and sixty."
"Bear back my respects to Sir Geoffrey Peveril," said Major Bridgenorth. "According to his light, his meaning may be fair towards me; but tell him that our quarrel had its rise in his own wilful aggression towards me; and that though I wish to be in charity with all mankind, I am not so wedded to his friendship as to break the laws of God, and run the risk of suffering or committing murder, in order to regain it. And for you, sir, methinks your advanced years and past misfortunes might teach you the folly of coming on such idle errands."
"I shall do your message, Master Ralph Bridgenorth," said Sir Jasper; "and shall then endeavour to forget your name, as a sound unfit to be pronounced, or even remembered, by a man of honour. In the meanwhile, in return for your uncivil advice, be pleased to accept of mine; namely, that as your religion prevents your giving a gentleman satisfaction, it ought to make you very cautious of offering him provocation."
So saying, and with a look of haughty scorn, first at the Major, and then at the divine, the envoy of Sir Geoffrey put his hat on his head, replaced his rapier in its belt, and left the apartment. In a few minutes afterwards, the tread of his horse died away at a considerable distance.
Bridgenorth had held his hand upon his brow ever since his departure, and a tear of anger and shame was on his face as he raised it when the sound was heard no more. "He carries this answer to Martindale Castle," he said. "Men will hereafter think of me as a whipped, beaten, dishonourable fellow, whom every one may baffle and insult at their pleasure. It is well I am leaving the house of my father."
Master Solsgrace approached his friend with much sympathy, and grasped him by the hand. "Noble brother," he said, with unwonted kindness of manner, "though a man of peace, I can judge what this sacrifice hath cost to thy manly spirit. But God will not have from us an imperfect obedience. We must not, like Ananias and Sapphira, reserve behind some darling lust, some favourite sin, while we pretend to make sacrifice of our worldly affections. What avails it to say that we have but secreted a little matter, if the slightest remnant of the accursed thing remain hidden in our tent? Would it be a defence in thy prayers to say, I have not murdered this man for the lucre of gain, like a robber—nor for the acquisition of power, like a tyrant,—nor for the gratification of revenge, like a darkened savage; but because the imperious voice of worldly honour said, 'Go forth—kill or be killed—is it not I that have sent thee?' Bethink thee, my worthy friend, how thou couldst frame such a vindication in thy prayers; and if thou art forced to tremble at the blasphemy of such an excuse, remember in thy prayers the thanks due to Heaven, which enabled thee to resist the strong temptation."
"Reverend and dear friend," answered Bridgenorth, "I feel that you speak the truth. Bitterer, indeed, and harder, to the old Adam, is the text which ordains him to suffer shame, than that which bids him to do valiantly for the truth. But happy am I that my path through the wilderness of this world will, for some space at least, be along with one, whose zeal and friendship are so active to support me when I am fainting in the way."
While the inhabitants of Moultrassie Hall thus communicated together upon the purport of Sir Jasper Cranbourne's visit, that worthy knight greatly excited the surprise of Sir Geoffrey Peveril, by reporting the manner in which his embassy had been received.
"I took him for a man of other metal," said Sir Geoffrey;—"nay, I would have sworn it, had any one asked my testimony. But there is no making a silken purse out of a sow's ear. I have done a folly for him that I will never do for another: and that is, to think a Presbyterian would fight without his preacher's permission. Give them a two hours' sermon, and let them howl a psalm to a tune that is worse than the cries of a flogged hound, and the villains will lay on like threshers; but for a calm, cool, gentleman-like turn upon the sod, hand to hand, in a neighbourly way, they have not honour enough to undertake it. But enough of our crop-eared cur of a neighbour.—Sir Jasper, you will tarry with us to dine, and see how Dame Margaret's kitchen smokes; and after dinner I will show you a long-winged falcon fly. She is not mine, but the Countess's, who brought her from London on her fist almost the whole way, for all the haste she was in, and left her with me to keep the perch for a season."
This match was soon arranged, and Dame Margaret overheard the good Knight's resentment mutter itself off, with those feelings with which we listen to the last growling of the thunderstorm; which, as the black cloud sinks beneath the hill, at once assures us that there has been danger, and that the peril is over. She could not, indeed, but marvel in her own mind at the singular path of reconciliation with his neighbour which her husband had, with so much confidence, and in the actual sincerity of his goodwill to Mr. Bridgenorth, attempted to open; and she blessed God internally that it had not terminated in bloodshed. But these reflections she locked carefully within her own bosom, well knowing that they referred to subjects in which the Knight of the Peak would neither permit his sagacity to be called in question, nor his will to be controlled.
The progress of the history hath hitherto been slow; but after this period so little matter worth of mark occurred at Martindale, that we must hurry over hastily the transactions of several years.
Cleopatra.—Give me to drink mandragora, That I may sleep away this gap of time. —Antony and Cleopatra.
There passed, as we hinted at the conclusion of the last chapter, four or five years after the period we have dilated upon; the events of which scarcely require to be discussed, so far as our present purpose is concerned, in as many lines. The Knight and his Lady continued to reside at their Castle—she, with prudence and with patience, endeavouring to repair the damages which the Civil Wars had inflicted upon their fortune; and murmuring a little when her plans of economy were interrupted by the liberal hospitality, which was her husband's principal expense, and to which he was attached, not only from his own English heartiness of disposition, but from ideas of maintaining the dignity of his ancestry—no less remarkable, according to the tradition of their buttery, kitchen, and cellar, for the fat beeves which they roasted, and the mighty ale which they brewed, than for their extensive estates, and the number of their retainers.
The world, however, upon the whole, went happily and easily with the worthy couple. Sir Geoffrey's debt to his neighbour Bridgenorth continued, it is true, unabated; but he was the only creditor upon the Martindale estate—all others being paid off. It would have been most desirable that this encumbrance also should be cleared, and it was the great object of Dame Margaret's economy to effect the discharge; for although interest was regularly settled with Master Win-the-Fight, the Chesterfield attorney, yet the principal sum, which was a large one, might be called for at an inconvenient time. The man, too, was gloomy, important, and mysterious, and always seemed as if he was thinking upon his broken head in the churchyard of Martindale-cum-Moultrassie.
Dame Margaret sometimes transacted the necessary business with him in person; and when he came to the Castle on these occasions, she thought she saw a malicious and disobliging expression in his manner and countenance. Yet his actual conduct was not only fair, but liberal; for indulgence was given, in the way of delay of payment, whenever circumstances rendered it necessary to the debtor to require it. It seemed to Lady Peveril that the agent, in such cases, was acting under the strict orders of his absent employer, concerning whose welfare she could not help feeling a certain anxiety.
Shortly after the failure of the singular negotiation for attaining peace by combat, which Peveril had attempted to open with Major Bridgenorth, that gentleman left his seat of Moultrassie Hall in the care of his old housekeeper, and departed, no one knew whither, having in company with him his daughter Alice and Mrs. Deborah Debbitch, now formally installed in all the duties of a governante; to these was added the Reverend Master Solsgrace. For some time public rumour persisted in asserting, that Major Bridgenorth had only retreated to a distant part of the country for a season, to achieve his supposed purpose of marrying Mrs. Deborah, and of letting the news be cold, and the laugh of the neighbourhood be ended, ere he brought her down as mistress of Moultrassie Hall. This rumour died away; and it was then affirmed, that he had removed to foreign parts, to ensure the continuance of health in so delicate a constitution as that of little Alice. But when the Major's dread of Popery was remembered, together with the still deeper antipathies of worthy Master Nehemiah Solsgrace, it was resolved unanimously, that nothing less than what they might deem a fair chance of converting the Pope would have induced the parties to trust themselves within Catholic dominions. The most prevailing opinion was, that they had gone to New England, the refuge then of many whom too intimate concern with the affairs of the late times, or the desire of enjoying uncontrolled freedom of conscience, had induced to emigrate from Britain.
Lady Peveril could not help entertaining a vague idea, that Bridgenorth was not so distant. The extreme order in which everything was maintained at Moultrassie Hall, seemed—no disparagement to the care of Dame Dickens the housekeeper, and the other persons engaged—to argue, that the master's eye was not so very far off, but that its occasional inspection might be apprehended. It is true, that neither the domestics nor the attorney answered any questions respecting the residence of Master Bridgenorth; but there was an air of mystery about them when interrogated, that seemed to argue more than met the ear.
About five years after Master Bridgenorth had left the country, a singular incident took place. Sir Geoffrey was absent at the Chesterfield races, and Lady Peveril, who was in the habit of walking around every part of the neighbourhood unattended, or only accompanied by Ellesmere, or her little boy, had gone down one evening upon a charitable errand to a solitary hut, whose inhabitant lay sick of a fever, which was supposed to be infectious. Lady Peveril never allowed apprehensions of this kind to stop "devoted charitable deeds;" but she did not choose to expose either her son or her attendant to the risk which she herself, in some confidence that she knew precautions for escaping the danger, did not hesitate to incur.
Lady Peveril had set out at a late hour in the evening, and the way proved longer than she expected—several circumstances also occurred to detain her at the hut of her patient. It was a broad autumn moonlight, when she prepared to return homeward through the broken glades and upland which divided her from the Castle. This she considered as a matter of very little importance, in so quiet and sequestered a country, where the road lay chiefly through her own domains, especially as she had a lad about fifteen years old, the son of her patient, to escort her on the way. The distance was better than two miles, but might be considerably abridged by passing through an avenue belonging to the estate of Moultrassie Hall, which she had avoided as she came, not from the ridiculous rumours which pronounced it to be haunted, but because her husband was much displeased when any attempt was made to render the walks of the Castle and Hall common to the inhabitants of both. The good lady, in consideration, perhaps, of extensive latitude allowed to her in the more important concerns of the family, made a point of never interfering with her husband's whims or prejudices; and it is a compromise which we would heartily recommend to all managing matrons of our acquaintance; for it is surprising how much real power will be cheerfully resigned to the fair sex, for the pleasure of being allowed to ride one's hobby in peace and quiet.
Upon the present occasion, however, although the Dobby's Walk[*] was within the inhabited domains of the Hall, the Lady Peveril determined to avail herself of it, for the purpose of shortening her road home, and she directed her steps accordingly. But when the peasant-boy, her companion, who had hitherto followed her, whistling cheerily, with a hedge-bill in his hand, and his hat on one side, perceived that she turned to the stile which entered to the Dobby's Walk, he showed symptoms of great fear, and at length coming to the lady's side, petitioned her, in a whimpering tone,—"Don't ye now—don't ye now, my lady, don't ye go yonder."
[*] Dobby, an old English name for goblin.
Lady Peveril, observing that his teeth chattered in his head, and that his whole person exhibited great signs of terror, began to recollect the report, that the first Squire of Moultrassie, the brewer of Chesterfield, who had brought the estate, and then died of melancholy for lack of something to do (and, as was said, not without suspicions of suicide), was supposed to walk in this sequestered avenue, accompanied by a large headless mastiff, which, when he was alive, was a particular favourite of the ex-brewer. To have expected any protection from her escort, in the condition to which superstitious fear had reduced him, would have been truly a hopeless trust; and Lady Peveril, who was not apprehensive of any danger, thought there would be great cruelty in dragging the cowardly boy into a scene which he regarded with so much apprehension. She gave him, therefore, a silver piece, and permitted him to return. The latter boon seemed even more acceptable than the first; for ere she could return the purse into her pocket, she heard the wooden clogs of her bold convoy in full retreat, by the way from whence they came.
Smiling within herself at the fear she esteemed so ludicrous, Lady Peveril ascended the stile, and was soon hidden from the broad light of the moonbeams, by the numerous and entangled boughs of the huge elms, which, meeting from either side, totally overarched the old avenue. The scene was calculated to excite solemn thoughts; and the distant glimmer of a light from one of the numerous casements in the front of Moultrassie Hall, which lay at some distance, was calculated to make them even melancholy. She thought of the fate of that family—of the deceased Mrs. Bridgenorth, with whom she had often walked in this very avenue, and who, though a woman of no high parts or accomplishments, had always testified the deepest respect, and the most earnest gratitude, for such notice as she had shown to her. She thought of her blighted hopes—her premature death—the despair of her self-banished husband—the uncertain fate of their orphan child, for whom she felt, even at this distance of time, some touch of a mother's affection.
Upon such sad subjects her thoughts were turned, when, just as she attained the middle of the avenue, the imperfect and checkered light which found its way through the silvan archway, showed her something which resembled the figure of a man. Lady Peveril paused a moment, but instantly advanced;—her bosom, perhaps, gave one startled throb, as a debt to the superstitious belief of the times, but she instantly repelled the thought of supernatural appearances. From those that were merely mortal, she had nothing to fear. A marauder on the game was the worst character whom she was likely to encounter; and he would be sure to hide himself from her observation. She advanced, accordingly, steadily; and, as she did so, had the satisfaction to observe that the figure, as she expected, gave place to her, and glided away amongst the trees on the left-hand side of the avenue. As she passed the spot on which the form had been so lately visible, and bethought herself that this wanderer of the night might, nay must, be in her vicinity, her resolution could not prevent her mending her pace, and that with so little precaution, that, stumbling over the limb of a tree, which, twisted off by a late tempest, still lay in the avenue, she fell, and, as she fell, screamed aloud. A strong hand in a moment afterwards added to her fears by assisting her to rise, and a voice, to whose accents she was not a stranger, though they had been long unheard, said, "Is it not you, Lady Peveril?"
"It is I," said she, commanding her astonishment and fear; "and if my ear deceive me not, I speak to Master Bridgenorth."
"I was that man," said he, "while oppression left me a name."
He spoke nothing more, but continued to walk beside her for a minute or two in silence. She felt her situation embarrassing; and to divest it of that feeling, as well as out of real interest in the question, she asked him, "How her god-daughter Alice now was?"
"Of god-daughter, madam," answered Major Bridgenorth, "I know nothing; that being one of the names which have been introduced, to the corruption and pollution of God's ordinances. The infant who owed to your ladyship (so called) her escape from disease and death, is a healthy and thriving girl, as I am given to understand by those in whose charge she is lodged, for I have not lately seen her. And it is even the recollection of these passages, which in a manner impelled me, alarmed also by your fall, to offer myself to you at this time and mode, which in other respects is no way consistent with my present safety."
"With your safety, Master Bridgenorth?" said the Lady Peveril; "surely, I could never have thought that it was in danger!"
"You have some news, then, yet to learn, madam," said Major Bridgenorth; "but you will hear in the course of tomorrow, reasons why I dare not appear openly in the neighbourhood of my own property, and wherefore there is small judgment in committing the knowledge of my present residence to any one connected with Martindale Castle."
"Master Bridgenorth," said the lady, "you were in former times prudent and cautious—I hope you have been misled by no hasty impression—by no rash scheme—I hope——"
"Pardon my interrupting you, madam," said Bridgenorth. "I have indeed been changed—ay, my very heart within me hath been changed. In the times to which your ladyship (so called) thinks proper to refer, I was a man of this world—bestowing on it all my thoughts—all my actions, save formal observances—little deeming what was the duty of a Christian man, and how far his self-denial ought to extend—even unto his giving all as if he gave nothing. Hence I thought chiefly on carnal things—on the adding of field to field, and wealth to wealth—of balancing between party and party—securing a friend here, without losing a friend there—But Heaven smote me for my apostasy, the rather that I abused the name of religion, as a self-seeker, and a most blinded and carnal will-worshipper—But I thank Him who hath at length brought me out of Egypt."
In our day—although we have many instances of enthusiasm among us—we might still suspect one who avowed it thus suddenly and broadly of hypocrisy, or of insanity; but according to the fashion of the times, such opinions as those which Bridgenorth expressed were openly pleaded, as the ruling motives of men's actions. The sagacious Vane—the brave and skilful Harrison—were men who acted avowedly under the influence of such. Lady Peveril, therefore, was more grieved than surprised at the language she heard Major Bridgenorth use, and reasonably concluded that the society and circumstances in which he might lately have been engaged, had blown into a flame the spark of eccentricity which always smouldered in his bosom. This was the more probable, considering that he was melancholy by constitution and descent—that he had been unfortunate in several particulars—and that no passion is more easily nursed by indulgence, than the species of enthusiasm of which he now showed tokens. She therefore answered him by calmly hoping, "That the expression of his sentiments had not involved him in suspicion or in danger."
"In suspicion, madam?" answered the Major;—"for I cannot forbear giving to you, such is the strength of habit, one of those idle titles by which we poor potsherds are wont, in our pride, to denominate each other—I walk not only in suspicion, but in that degree of danger, that, were your husband to meet me at this instant—me, a native Englishman, treading on my own lands—I have no doubt he would do his best to offer me to the Moloch of Roman superstition, who now rages abroad for victims among God's people."
"You surprise me by your language, Major Bridgenorth," said the lady, who now felt rather anxious to be relieved from his company, and with that purpose walked on somewhat hastily. He mended his pace, however, and kept close by her side.
"Know you not," said he, "that Satan hath come down upon earth with great wrath, because his time is short? The next heir to the crown is an avowed Papist; and who dare assert, save sycophants and time-servers, that he who wears it is not equally ready to stoop to Rome, were he not kept in awe by a few noble spirits in the Commons' House? You believe not this—yet in my solitary and midnight walks, when I thought on your kindness to the dead and to the living, it was my prayer that I might have the means granted to warn you—and lo! Heaven hath heard me."
"What I was while in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, it signifies not to recall," answered he. "I was then like to Gallio, who cared for none of these things. I doted on creature comforts—I clung to worldly honour and repute—my thoughts were earthward—or those I turned to Heaven were cold, formal, pharisaical meditations—I brought nothing to the altar save straw and stubble. Heaven saw need to chastise me in love—I was stript of all I clung to on earth—my worldly honour was torn from me—I went forth an exile from the home of my fathers, a deprived and desolate man—a baffled, and beaten, and dishonoured man. But who shall find out the ways of Providence? Such were the means by which I was chosen forth as a champion for the truth—holding my life as nothing, if thereby that may be advanced. But this was not what I wished to speak of. Thou hast saved the earthly life of my child—let me save the eternal welfare of yours."
Lady Peveril was silent. They were now approaching the point where the avenue terminated in a communication with a public road, or rather pathway, running through an unenclosed common field; this the lady had to prosecute for a little way, until a turn of the path gave her admittance into the Park of Martindale. She now felt sincerely anxious to be in the open moonshine, and avoided reply to Bridgenorth that she might make the more haste. But as they reached the junction of the avenue and the public road, he laid his hand on her arm, and commanded rather than requested her to stop. She obeyed. He pointed to a huge oak, of the largest size, which grew on the summit of a knoll in the open ground which terminated the avenue, and was exactly so placed as to serve for a termination to the vista. The moonshine without the avenue was so strong, that, amidst the flood of light which it poured on the venerable tree, they could easily discover, from the shattered state of the boughs on one side, that it had suffered damage from lightning. "Remember you," he said, "when we last looked together on that tree? I had ridden from London, and brought with me a protection from the committee for your husband; and as I passed the spot—here on this spot where we now stand, you stood with my lost Alice—two—the last two of my beloved infants gambolled before you. I leaped from my horse—to her I was a husband—to those a father—to you a welcome and revered protector—What am I now to any one?" He pressed his hand on his brow, and groaned in agony of spirit.
It was not in the Lady Peveril's nature to hear sorrow without an attempt at consolation. "Master Bridgenorth," she said, "I blame no man's creed, while I believe and follow my own; and I rejoice that in yours you have sought consolation for temporal afflictions. But does not every Christian creed teach us alike, that affliction should soften our heart?"
"Ay, woman," said Bridgenorth sternly, "as the lightning which shattered yonder oak hath softened its trunk. No; the seared wood is the fitter for the use of the workmen—the hardened and the dried-up heart is that which can best bear the task imposed by these dismal times. God and man will no longer endure the unbridled profligacy of the dissolute—the scoffing of the profane—the contempt of the divine laws—the infraction of human rights. The times demand righters and avengers, and there will be no want of them."
"I deny not the existence of much evil," said Lady Peveril, compelling herself to answer, and beginning at the same time to walk forward; "and from hearsay, though not, I thank Heaven, from observation, I am convinced of the wild debauchery of the times. But let us trust it may be corrected without such violent remedies as you hint at. Surely the ruin of a second civil war—though I trust your thoughts go not that dreadful length—were at best a desperate alternative."
"Sharp, but sure," replied Bridgenorth. "The blood of the Paschal lamb chased away the destroying angel—the sacrifices offered on the threshing-floor of Araunah, stayed the pestilence. Fire and sword are severe remedies, but they pure and purify."
"Alas! Major Bridgenorth," said the lady, "wise and moderate in your youth, can you have adopted in your advanced life the thoughts and language of those whom you yourself beheld drive themselves and the nation to the brink of ruin?"
"I know not what I then was—you know not what I now am," he replied, and suddenly broke off; for they even then came forth into the open light, and it seemed as if, feeling himself under the lady's eye, he was disposed to soften his tone and his language.
At the first distinct view which she had of his person, she was aware that he was armed with a short sword, a poniard, and pistols at his belt—precautions very unusual for a man who formerly had seldom, and only on days of ceremony, carried a walking rapier, though such was the habitual and constant practice of gentlemen of his station in life. There seemed also something of more stern determination than usual in his air, which indeed had always been rather sullen than affable; and ere she could repress the sentiment, she could not help saying, "Master Bridgenorth, you are indeed changed."
"You see but the outward man," he replied; "the change within is yet deeper. But it was not of myself that I desired to talk—I have already said, that as you have preserved my child from the darkness of the grave, I would willingly preserve yours from that more utter darkness, which, I fear, hath involved the path and walks of his father."
"I must not hear this of Sir Geoffrey," said the Lady Peveril; "I must bid you farewell for the present; and when we again meet at a more suitable time, I will at least listen to your advice concerning Julian, although I should not perhaps incline to it."
"That more suitable time may never come," replied Bridgenorth. "Time wanes, eternity draws nigh. Hearken! it is said to be your purpose to send the young Julian to be bred up in yonder bloody island, under the hand of your kinswoman, that cruel murderess, by whom was done to death a man more worthy of vital existence than any that she can boast among her vaunted ancestry. These are current tidings—Are they true?"
"I do not blame you, Master Bridgenorth, for thinking harshly of my cousin of Derby," said Lady Peveril; "nor do I altogether vindicate the rash action of which she hath been guilty. Nevertheless, in her habitation, it is my husband's opinion and my own, that Julian may be trained in the studies and accomplishments becoming his rank, along with the young Earl of Derby."
"Under the curse of God, and the blessing of the Pope of Rome," said Bridgenorth. "You, lady, so quick-sighted in matters of earthly prudence, are you blind to the gigantic pace at which Rome is moving to regain this country, once the richest gem in her usurped tiara? The old are seduced by gold—the youth by pleasure—the weak by flattery—cowards by fear—and the courageous by ambition. A thousand baits for each taste, and each bait concealing the same deadly hook."
"I am well aware, Master Bridgenorth," said Lady Peveril, "that my kinswoman is a Catholic;[*] but her son is educated in the Church of England's principles, agreeably to the command of her deceased husband."
[*] I have elsewhere noticed that this is a deviation from the truth Charlotte, Countess of Derby, was a Huguenot.
"Is it likely," answered Bridgenorth, "that she, who fears not shedding the blood of the righteous, whether on the field or scaffold, will regard the sanction of her promise when her religion bids her break it? Or, if she does, what shall your son be the better, if he remain in the mire of his father? What are your Episcopal tenets but mere Popery? save that ye have chosen a temporal tyrant for your Pope, and substitute a mangled mass in English for that which your predecessors pronounced in Latin.—But why speak I of these things to one who hath ears, indeed, and eyes, yet cannot see, listen to, or understand what is alone worthy to be heard, seen, and known? Pity that what hath been wrought so fair and exquisite in form and disposition, should be yet blind, deaf, and ignorant, like the things which perish!"
"We shall not agree on these subjects, Master Bridgenorth," said the lady, anxious still to escape from this strange conference, though scarce knowing what to apprehend; "once more, I must bid you farewell."
"Stay yet an instant," he said, again laying his hand on her arm; "I would stop you if I saw you rushing on the brink of an actual precipice—let me prevent you from a danger still greater. How shall I work upon your unbelieving mind? Shall I tell you that the debt of bloodshed yet remains a debt to be paid by the bloody house of Derby? And wilt thou send thy son to be among those from whom it shall be exacted?"
"You wish to alarm me in vain, Master Bridgenorth," answered the lady; "what penalty can be exacted from the Countess, for an action, which I have already called a rash one, has been long since levied."
"You deceive yourself," retorted he sternly. "Think you a paltry sum of money, given to be wasted on the debaucheries of Charles, can atone for the death of such a man as Christian—a man precious alike to heaven and to earth? Not on such terms is the blood of the righteous to be poured forth! Every hour's delay is numbered down as adding interest to the grievous debt, which will one day be required from that blood-thirsty woman."
At this moment the distant tread of horses was heard on the road on which they held this singular dialogue. Bridgenorth listened a moment, and then said, "Forget that you have seen me—name not my name to your nearest or dearest—lock my counsel in your breast—profit by it, and it shall be well with you."
So saying, he turned from her, and plunging through a gap in the fence, regained the cover of his own wood, along which the path still led.
The noise of horses advancing at full trot now came nearer; and Lady Peveril was aware of several riders, whose forms rose indistinctly on the summit of the rising ground behind her. She became also visible to them; and one or two of the foremost made towards her at increased speed, challenging her as they advanced with the cry of "Stand! Who goes there?" The foremost who came up, however, exclaimed, "Mercy on us, if it be not my lady!" and Lady Peveril, at the same moment, recognised one of her own servants. Her husband rode up immediately afterwards, with, "How now, Dame Margaret? What makes you abroad so far from home and at an hour so late?"
Lady Peveril mentioned her visit at the cottage, but did not think it necessary to say aught of having seen Major Bridgenorth; afraid, it may be, that her husband might be displeased with that incident.
"Charity is a fine thing and a fair," answered Sir Geoffrey; "but I must tell you, you do ill, dame, to wander about the country like a quacksalver, at the call of every old woman who has a colic-fit; and at this time of night especially, and when the land is so unsettled besides."
"I am sorry to hear that it so," said the lady. "I had heard no such news."
"News?" repeated Sir Geoffrey, "why, here has a new plot broken out among the Roundheads, worse than Venner's by a butt's length;[*] and who should be so deep in it as our old neighbour Bridgenorth? There is search for him everywhere; and I promise you if he is found, he is like to pay old scores."
[*] The celebrated insurrection of the Anabaptists and Fifth Monarchy men in London, in the year 1661.
"Then I am sure, I trust he will not be found," said Lady Peveril.
"Do you so?" replied Sir Geoffrey. "Now I, on my part hope that he will; and it shall not be my fault if he be not; for which effect I will presently ride down to Moultrassie, and make strict search, according to my duty; there shall neither rebel nor traitor earth so near Martindale Castle, that I will assure them. And you, my lady, be pleased for once to dispense with a pillion, and get up, as you have done before, behind Saunders, who shall convey you safe home."
The Lady obeyed in silence; indeed she did not dare to trust her voice in an attempt to reply, so much was she disconcerted with the intelligence she had just heard.
She rode behind the groom to the Castle, where she awaited in great anxiety the return of her husband. He came back at length; but to her great relief, without any prisoner. He then explained more fully than his haste had before permitted, that an express had come down to Chesterfield, with news from Court of a proposed insurrection amongst the old Commonwealth men, especially those who had served in the army; and that Bridgenorth, said to be lurking in Derbyshire, was one of the principal conspirators.
After some time, this report of a conspiracy seemed to die away like many others of that period. The warrants were recalled, but nothing more was seen or heard of Major Bridgenorth; although it is probable he might safely enough have shown himself as openly as many did who lay under the same circumstances of suspicion.
About this time also, Lady Peveril, with many tears, took a temporary leave of her son Julian, who was sent, as had long been intended, for the purpose of sharing the education of the young Earl of Derby. Although the boding words of Bridgenorth sometimes occurred to Lady Peveril's mind, she did not suffer them to weigh with her in opposition to the advantages which the patronage of the Countess of Derby secured to her son.
The plan seemed to be in every respect successful; and when, from time to time, Julian visited the house of his father, Lady Peveril had the satisfaction to see him, on every occasion, improved in person and in manner, as well as ardent in the pursuit of more solid acquirements. In process of time he became a gallant and accomplished youth, and travelled for some time upon the continent with the young Earl. This was the more especially necessary for the enlarging of their acquaintance with the world; because the Countess had never appeared in London, or at the Court of King Charles, since her flight to the Isle of Man in 1660; but had resided in solitary and aristocratic state, alternately on her estates in England and in that island.
This had given to the education of both the young men, otherwise as excellent as the best teachers could render it, something of a narrow and restricted character; but though the disposition of the young Earl was lighter and more volatile than that of Julian, both the one and the other had profited, in a considerable degree, by the opportunities afforded them. It was Lady Derby's strict injunction to her son, now returning from the continent, that he should not appear at the Court of Charles. But having been for some time of age, he did not think it absolutely necessary to obey her in this particular; and had remained for some time in London, partaking the pleasures of the gay Court there, with all the ardour of a young man bred up in comparative seclusion.
In order to reconcile the Countess to this transgression of her authority (for he continued to entertain for her the profound respect in which he had been educated), Lord Derby agreed to make a long sojourn with her in her favourite island, which he abandoned almost entirely to her management.
Julian Peveril had spent at Martindale Castle a good deal of the time which his friend had bestowed in London; and at the period to which, passing over many years, our story has arrived, as it were, per saltum, they were both living as the Countess's guests, in the Castle of Rushin, in the venerable kingdom of Man.
Mona—long hid from those who roam the main. —COLLINS.
The Isle of Man, in the middle of the seventeenth century, was very different, as a place of residence, from what it is now. Men had not then discovered its merit as a place of occasional refuge from the storms of life, and the society to be there met with was of a very uniform tenor. There were no smart fellows, whom fortune had tumbled from the seat of their barouches—no plucked pigeons or winged rooks—no disappointed speculators—no ruined miners—in short, no one worth talking to. The society of the island was limited to the natives themselves, and a few merchants, who lived by contraband trade. The amusements were rare and monotonous, and the mercurial young Earl was soon heartily tired of his dominions. The islanders, also, become too wise for happiness, had lost relish for the harmless and somewhat childish sports in which their simple ancestors had indulged themselves. May was no longer ushered in by the imaginary contest between the Queen of returning winter and advancing spring; the listeners no longer sympathised with the lively music of the followers of the one, or the discordant sounds with which the other asserted a more noisy claim to attention. Christmas, too, closed, and the steeples no longer jangled forth a dissonant peal. The wren, to seek for which used to be the sport dedicated to the holytide, was left unpursued and unslain. Party spirit had come among these simple people, and destroyed their good humour, while it left them their ignorance. Even the races, a sport generally interesting to people of all ranks, were no longer performed, because they were no longer interesting. The gentlemen were divided by feuds hitherto unknown, and each seemed to hold it scorn to be pleased with the same diversions that amused those of the opposite faction. The hearts of both parties revolted from the recollection of former days, when all was peace among them, when the Earl of Derby, now slaughtered, used to bestow the prize, and Christian, since so vindictively executed, started horses to add to the amusement.
Julian was seated in the deep recess which led to a latticed window of the old Castle; and, with his arms crossed, and an air of profound contemplation, was surveying the long perspective of ocean, which rolled its successive waves up to the foot of the rock on which the ancient pile is founded. The Earl was suffering under the infliction of ennui—now looking into a volume of Homer—now whistling—now swinging on his chair—now traversing the room—till, at length, his attention became swallowed up in admiration of the tranquillity of his companion.
"King of Men!" he said, repeating the favourite epithet by which Homer describes Agamemnon,—"I trust, for the old Greek's sake, he had a merrier office than being King of Man—Most philosophical Julian, will nothing rouse thee—not even a bad pun on my own royal dignity?"
"I wish you would be a little more the King in Man," said Julian, starting from his reverie, "and then you would find more amusement in your dominions."
"What! dethrone that royal Semiramis my mother," said the young lord, "who has as much pleasure in playing Queen as if she were a real Sovereign?—I wonder you can give me such counsel."
"Your mother, as you well know, my dear Derby, would be delighted, did you take any interest in the affairs of the island."
"Ay, truly, she would permit me to be King; but she would choose to remain Viceroy over me. Why, she would only gain a subject the more, by my converting my spare time, which is so very valuable to me, to the cares of royalty. No, no, Julian, she thinks it power, to direct all the affairs of these poor Manxmen; and, thinking it power, she finds it pleasure. I shall not interfere, unless she hold a high court of justice again. I cannot afford to pay another fine to my brother, King Charles—But I forget—this is a sore point with you."
"With the Countess, at least," replied Julian; "and I wonder you will speak of it."
"Why, I bear no malice against the poor man's memory any more than yourself, though I have not the same reasons for holding it in veneration," replied the Earl of Derby; "and yet I have some respect for it too. I remember their bringing him out to die—It was the first holiday I ever had in my life, and I heartily wish it had been on some other account."
"I would rather hear you speak of anything else, my lord," said Julian.
"Why, there it goes," answered the Earl; "whenever I talk of anything that puts you on your mettle, and warms your blood, that runs as cold as a merman's—to use a simile of this happy island—hey pass! you press me to change the subject.—Well, what shall we talk of?—O Julian, if you had not gone down to earth yourself among the castles and caverns of Derbyshire, we should have had enough of delicious topics—the play-houses, Julian—Both the King's house and the Duke's—Louis's establishment is a jest to them;—and the Ring in the Park, which beats the Corso at Naples—and the beauties, who beat the whole world!"
"I am very willing to hear you speak on the subject, my lord," answered Julian; "the less I have seen of London world myself, the more I am likely to be amused by your account of it."
"Ay, my friend—but where to begin?—with the wit of Buckingham, and Sedley, and Etherege, or with the grace of Harry Jermyn—the courtesy of the Duke of Monmouth, or with the loveliness of La Belle Hamilton—of the Duchess of Richmond—of Lady ——, the person of Roxalana, the smart humour of Mrs. Nelly——"
"Or what say you to the bewitching sorceries of Lady Cynthia?" demanded his companion.
"Faith, I would have kept these to myself," said the Earl, "to follow your prudent example. But since you ask me, I fairly own I cannot tell what to say of them; only I think of them twenty times as often as all the beauties I have spoken of. And yet she is neither the twentieth part so beautiful as the plainest of these Court beauties, nor so witty as the dullest I have named, nor so modish—that is the great matter—as the most obscure. I cannot tell what makes me dote on her, except that she is a capricious as her whole sex put together."
"That I should think a small recommendation," answered his companion.
"Small, do you term it," replied the Earl, "and write yourself a brother of the angle? Why, which like you best? to pull a dead strain on a miserable gudgeon, which you draw ashore by main force, as the fellows here tow in their fishing-boats—or a lively salmon, that makes your rod crack, and your line whistle—plays you ten thousand mischievous pranks—wearies your heart out with hopes and fears—and is only laid panting on the bank, after you have shown the most unmatchable display of skill, patience, and dexterity?—But I see you have a mind to go on angling after your own old fashion. Off laced coat, and on brown jerkin;—lively colours scare fish in the sober waters of the Isle of Man;—faith, in London you will catch few, unless the bait glistens a little. But you are going?—Well, good luck to you. I will take to the barge;—the sea and wind are less inconstant than the tide you have embarked on."
"You have learned to say all these smart things in London, my lord," answered Julian; "but we shall have you a penitent for them, if Lady Cynthia be of my mind. Adieu, and pleasure till we meet."
The young men parted accordingly; and while the Earl betook him to his pleasure voyage, Julian, as his friend had prophesied, assumed the dress of one who means to amuse himself with angling. The hat and feather were exchanged for a cap of grey cloth; the deeply-laced cloak and doublet for a simple jacket of the same colour, with hose conforming; and finally, with rod in hand, and pannier at his back, mounted upon a handsome Manx pony, young Peveril rode briskly over the country which divided him from one of those beautiful streams that descend to the sea from the Kirk-Merlagh mountains.
Having reached the spot where he meant to commence his day's sport, Julian let his little steed graze, which, accustomed to the situation, followed him like a dog; and now and then, when tired of picking herbage in the valley through which the stream winded, came near her master's side, and, as if she had been a curious amateur of the sport, gazed on the trouts as Julian brought them struggling to the shore. But Fairy's master showed, on that day, little of the patience of a real angler, and took no heed to old Isaac Walton's recommendation, to fish the streams inch by inch. He chose, indeed, with an angler's eye, the most promising casts, which the stream broke sparkling over a stone, affording the wonted shelter to a trout; or where, gliding away from a rippling current to a still eddy it streamed under the projecting bank, or dashed from the pool of some low cascade. By this judicious selection of spots whereon to employ his art, the sportsman's basket was soon sufficiently heavy, to show that his occupation was not a mere pretext; and so soon as this was the case, he walked briskly up the glen, only making a cast from time to time, in case of his being observed from any of the neighbouring heights.
It was a little green and rocky valley through which the brook strayed, very lonely, although the slight track of an unformed road showed that it was occasionally traversed, and that it was not altogether void of inhabitants. As Peveril advanced still farther, the right bank reached to some distance from the stream, leaving a piece of meadow ground, the lower part of which, being close to the brook, was entirely covered with rich herbage, being possibly occasionally irrigated by its overflow. The higher part of the level ground afforded a stance for an old house, of singular structure, with a terraced garden, and a cultivated field or two beside it. In former times, a Danish or Norwegian fastness had stood here, called the Black Fort, from the colour of a huge healthy hill, which, rising behind the building, appeared to be the boundary of the valley, and to afford the source of the brook. But the original structure had been long demolished, as, indeed, it probably only consisted of dry stones, and its materials had been applied to the construction of the present mansion—the work of some churchman during the sixteenth century, as was evident from the huge stone-work of its windows, which scarce left room for light to pass through, as well as from two or three heavy buttresses, which projected from the front of the house, and exhibited on their surface little niches for images. These had been carefully destroyed, and pots of flowers were placed in the niches in their stead, besides their being ornamented by creeping plants of various kinds, fancifully twined around them. The garden was also in good order; and though the spot was extremely solitary, there was about it altogether an air of comfort, accommodation, and even elegance, by no means generally characteristic of the habitations of the island at the time.