"Are these reasons a secret?" said Julian Peveril.
"Not properly a secret," replied Bridgenorth; "for I fear not thy betraying what I might tell thee in private discourse; and besides, wert thou so base, the prey lies too distant for any hunters to whom thou couldst point out its traces. But the name of this worthy will sound harsh in thy ear, on account of one action of his life—being his accession to a great measure, which made the extreme isles of the earth to tremble. Have you never heard of Richard Whalley?"
"Of the regicide?" exclaimed Peveril, starting.
"Call his act what thou wilt," said Bridgenorth; "he was not less the rescuer of that devoted village, that, with other leading spirits of the age, he sat in the judgment-seat when Charles Stewart was arraigned at the bar, and subscribed the sentence that went forth upon him."
"I have ever heard," said Julian, in an altered voice, and colouring deeply, "that you, Master Bridgenorth, with other Presbyterians, were totally averse to that detestable crime, and were ready to have made joint-cause with the Cavaliers in preventing so horrible a parricide."
"If it were so," said Bridgenorth, "we have been richly rewarded by his successor."
"Rewarded!" exclaimed Julian; "does the distinction of good and evil, and our obligation to do the one and forbear the other, depend on the reward which may attach to our actions?"
"God forbid," answered Bridgenorth; "yet those who view the havoc which this house of Stewart have made in the Church and State—the tyranny which they exercise over men's persons and consciences—may well doubt whether it be lawful to use weapons in their defence. Yet you hear me not praise, or even vindicate the death of the King, though so far deserved, as he was false to his oath as a Prince and Magistrate. I only tell you what you desired to know, that Richard Whalley, one of the late King's judges, was he of whom I have just been speaking. I knew his lofty brow, though time had made it balder and higher; his grey eye retained all its lustre; and though the grizzled beard covered the lower part of his face, it prevented me not from recognising him. The scent was hot after him for his blood; but by the assistance of those friends whom Heaven had raised up for his preservation, he was concealed carefully, and emerged only to do the will of Providence in the matter of that battle. Perhaps his voice may be heard in the field once more, should England need one of her noblest hearts."
"Now, God forbid!" said Julian.
"Amen," returned Bridgenorth. "May God avert civil war, and pardon those whose madness would bring it on us!"
There was a long pause, during which Julian, who had scarce lifted his eyes towards Alice, stole a glance in that direction, and was struck by the deep cast of melancholy which had stolen over features, to which a cheerful, if not gay expression, was most natural. So soon as she caught his eye, she remarked, and, as Julian thought, with significance, that the shadows were lengthening, and evening coming on.
He heard; and although satisfied that she hinted at his departure, he could not, upon the instant, find resolution to break the spell which detained him. The language which Bridgenorth held was not only new and alarming, but so contrary to the maxims in which he was brought up, that, as a son of Sir Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak, he would, in another case, have thought himself called upon to dispute its conclusions, even at the sword's point. But Bridgenorth's opinions were delivered with so much calmness—seemed so much the result of conviction—that they excited in Julian rather a spirit of wonder, than of angry controversy. There was a character of sober decision, and sedate melancholy, in all that he said, which, even had he not been the father of Alice (and perhaps Julian was not himself aware how much he was influenced by that circumstance), would have rendered it difficult to take personal offence. His language and sentiments were of that quiet, yet decided kind, upon which it is difficult either to fix controversy, or quarrel, although it be impossible to acquiesce in the conclusions to which they lead.
While Julian remained, as if spell-bound to his chair, scarce more surprised at the company in which he found himself, than at the opinions to which he was listening, another circumstance reminded him that the proper time of his stay at Black Fort had been expended. Little Fairy, the Manx pony, which, well accustomed to the vicinity of Black Fort, used to feed near the house while her master made his visits there, began to find his present stay rather too long. She had been the gift of the Countess to Julian, whilst a youth, and came of a high-spirited mountain breed, remarkable alike for hardiness, for longevity, and for a degree of sagacity approaching to that of the dog. Fairy showed the latter quality, by the way in which she chose to express her impatience to be moving homewards. At least such seemed the purpose of the shrill neigh with which she startled the female inmates of the parlour, who, the moment afterwards, could not forbear smiling to see the nose of the pony advanced through the opened casement.
"Fairy reminds me," said Julian, looking to Alice, and rising, "that the term of my stay here is exhausted."
"Speak with me yet one moment," said Bridgenorth, withdrawing him into a Gothic recess of the old-fashioned apartment, and speaking so low that he could not be overheard by Alice and her governante, who, in the meantime, caressed, and fed with fragments of bread the intruder Fairy.
"You have not, after all," said Bridgenorth, "told me the cause of your coming hither." He stopped, as if to enjoy his embarrassment, and then added, "And indeed it were most unnecessary that you should do so. I have not so far forgotten the days of my youth, or those affections which bind poor frail humanity but too much to the things of this world. Will you find no words to ask of me the great boon which you seek, and which, peradventure, you would not have hesitated to have made your own, without my knowledge, and against my consent?—Nay, never vindicate thyself, but mark me farther. The patriarch bought his beloved by fourteen years' hard service to her father Laban, and they seemed to him but as a few days. But he that would wed my daughter must serve, in comparison, but a few days; though in matters of such mighty import, that they shall seem as the service of many years. Reply not to me now, but go, and peace be with you."
He retired so quickly, after speaking, that Peveril had literally not an instant to reply. He cast his eyes around the apartment, but Deborah and her charge had also disappeared. His gaze rested for a moment on the portrait of Christian, and his imagination suggested that his dark features were illuminated by a smile of haughty triumph. He stared, and looked more attentively—it was but the effect of the evening beam, which touched the picture at the instant. The effect was gone, and there remained but the fixed, grave, inflexible features of the republican soldier.
Julian left the apartment as one who walks in a dream; he mounted Fairy, and, agitated by a variety of thoughts, which he was unable to reduce to order, he returned to Castle Rushin before the night sat down.
Here he found all in movement. The Countess, with her son, had, upon some news received, or resolution formed, during his absence, removed, with a principal part of their family, to the yet stronger Castle of Holm-Peel, about eight miles' distance across the island; and which had been suffered to fall into a much more dilapidated condition than that of Castletown, so far as it could be considered as a place of residence. But as a fortress, Holm-Peel was stronger than Castletown; nay, unless assailed regularly, was almost impregnable; and was always held by a garrison belonging to the Lords of Man. Here Peveril arrived at nightfall. He was told in the fishing-village, that the night-bell of the Castle had been rung earlier than usual, and the watch set with circumstances of unusual and jealous repetition.
Resolving, therefore, not to disturb the garrison by entering at that late hour, he obtained an indifferent lodging in the town for the night, and determined to go to the Castle early on the succeeding morning. He was not sorry thus to gain a few hours of solitude, to think over the agitating events of the preceding day.
——What seem'd its head, The likeness of a kingly crown had on. —PARADISE LOST.
Sodor, or Holm-Peel, so is named the castle to which our Julian directed his course early on the following morning, is one of those extraordinary monuments of antiquity with which this singular and interesting island abounds. It occupies the whole of a high rocky peninsula, or rather an island, for it is surrounded by the sea at high-water, and scarcely accessible even when the tide is out, although a stone causeway, of great solidity, erected for the express purpose, connects the island with the mainland. The whole space is surrounded by double walls of great strength and thickness; and the access to the interior, at the time which we treat of, was only by two flights of steep and narrow steps, divided from each other by a strong tower and guard-house; under the former of which, there is an entrance-arch. The open space within the walls extends to two acres, and contains many objects worthy of antiquarian curiosity. There were besides the castle itself, two cathedral churches, dedicated, the earlier to St. Patrick, the latter to St. Germain; besides two smaller churches; all of which had become, even in that day, more or less ruinous. Their decayed walls, exhibiting the rude and massive architecture of the most remote period, were composed of a ragged grey-stone, which formed a singular contrast with the bright red freestone of which the window-cases, corner-stones, arches, and other ornamental parts of the building, were composed.
Besides these four ruinous churches, the space of ground enclosed by the massive exterior walls of Holm-Peel exhibited many other vestiges of the olden time. There was a square mound of earth, facing, with its angles to the points of the compass, one of those motes, as they were called, on which, in ancient times, the northern tribes elected or recognised their chiefs, and held their solemn popular assemblies, or comitia. There was also one of those singular towers, so common in Ireland as to have proved the favourite theme of her antiquaries; but of which the real use and meaning seems yet to be hidden in the mist of ages. This of Holm-Peel had been converted to the purpose of a watch-tower. There were, besides, Runic monuments, of which legends could not be deciphered; and later inscriptions to the memory of champions, of whom the names only were preserved from oblivion. But tradition and superstitious eld, still most busy where real history is silent, had filled up the long blank of accurate information with tales of Sea-kings and Pirates, Hebridean Chiefs and Norwegian Resolutes, who had formerly warred against, and in defence of, this famous castle. Superstition, too, had her tales of fairies, ghosts, and spectres—her legions of saints and demons, of fairies and of familiar spirits, which in no corner of the British empire are told and received with more absolute credulity than in the Isle of Man.
Amidst all these ruins of an older time arose the Castle itself,—now ruinous—but in Charles II.'s reign well garrisoned, and, in a military point of view, kept in complete order. It was a venerable and very ancient building, containing several apartments of sufficient size and height to be termed noble. But in the surrender of the island by Christian, the furniture had been, in a great measure, plundered or destroyed by the republican soldiers; so that, as we have before hinted, its present state was ill adapted for the residence of the noble proprietor. Yet it had been often the abode, not only of the Lords of Man, but of those state prisoners whom the Kings of Britain sometimes committed to their charge.
In this Castle of Holm-Peel the great king-maker, Richard, Earl of Warwick, was confined, during one period of his eventful life, to ruminate at leisure on his farther schemes of ambition. And here, too, Eleanor, the haughty wife of the good Duke of Gloucester, pined out in seclusion the last days of her banishment. The sentinels pretended that her discontented spectre was often visible at night, traversing the battlements of the external walls, or standing motionless beside a particular solitary turret of one of the watch-towers with which they are flanked; but dissolving into air at cock-crow, or when the bell tolled from the yet remaining tower of St. Germain's church.
Such was Holm-Peel, as records inform us, till towards the end of the seventeenth century.
It was in one of the lofty but almost unfurnished apartments of this ancient Castle that Julian Peveril found his friend the Earl of Derby, who had that moment sat down to a breakfast composed of various sorts of fish. "Welcome, most imperial Julian," he said; "welcome to our royal fortress; in which, as yet, we are not like to be starved with hunger, though well-nigh dead for cold."
Julian answered by inquiring the meaning of this sudden movement.
"Upon my word," replied the Earl, "you know nearly as much of it as I do. My mother has told me nothing about it; supposing I believe, that I shall at length be tempted to inquire; but she will find herself much mistaken. I shall give her credit for full wisdom in her proceedings, rather than put her to the trouble to render a reason, though no woman can render one better."
"Come, come; this is affectation, my good friend," said Julian. "You should inquire into these matters a little more curiously."
"To what purpose?" said the Earl. "To hear old stories about the Tinwald laws, and the contending rights of the lords and the clergy, and all the rest of that Celtic barbarism, which, like Burgesse's thorough-paced doctrine enters at one ear, paces through, and goes out at the other?"
"Come, my lord," said Julian, "you are not so indifferent as you would represent yourself—you are dying of curiosity to know what this hurry is about; only you think it the courtly humour to appear careless about your own affairs."
"Why, what should it be about," said the young Earl "unless some factious dispute between our Majesty's minister, Governor Nowel, and our vassals? or perhaps some dispute betwixt our Majesty and the ecclesiastical jurisdictions? for all which our Majesty cares as little as any king in Christendom."
"I rather suppose there is intelligence from England," said Julian. "I heard last night in Peel-town, that Greenhalgh is come over with unpleasant news."
"He brought me nothing that was pleasant, I wot well," said the Earl. "I expected something from St. Evremond or Hamilton—some new plays by Dryden or Lee, and some waggery or lampoons from the Rose Coffee-house; and the fellow has brought me nothing but a parcel of tracts about Protestants and Papists, and a folio play-book, one of the conceptions, as she calls them, of that old mad-woman the Duchess of Newcastle."
"Hush, my lord, for Heaven's sake," said Peveril; "here comes the Countess; and you know she takes fire at the least slight to her ancient friend."
"Let her read her ancient friend's works herself, then," said the Earl, "and think her as wise as she can; but I would not give one of Waller's songs, or Denham's satires, for a whole cart-load of her Grace's trash.—But here comes our mother with care on her brow."
The Countess of Derby entered the apartment accordingly, holding in her hand a number of papers. Her dress was a mourning habit, with a deep train of black velvet, which was borne by a little favourite attendant, a deaf and dumb girl, whom, in compassion to her misfortune, the Countess had educated about her person for some years. Upon this unfortunate being, with the touch of romance which marked many of her proceedings, Lady Derby had conferred the name of Fenella, after some ancient princess of the island. The Countess herself was not much changed since we last presented her to our readers. Age had rendered her step more slow, but not less majestic; and while it traced some wrinkles on her brow, had failed to quench the sedate fire of her dark eye. The young men rose to receive her with the formal reverence which they knew she loved, and were greeted by her with equal kindness.
"Cousin Peveril," she said (for so she always called Julian, in respect of his mother being a kinswoman of her husband), "you were ill abroad last night, when we much needed your counsel."
Julian answered with a blush which he could not prevent, "That he had followed his sport among the mountains too far—had returned late—and finding her ladyship was removed from Castletown, had instantly followed the family hither; but as the night-bell was rung, and the watch set, he had deemed it more respectful to lodge for the night in the town."
"It is well," said the Countess; "and, to do you justice, Julian, you are seldom a truant neglecter of appointed hours, though, like the rest of the youth of this age, you sometimes suffer your sports to consume too much of time that should be spent otherwise. But for your friend Philip, he is an avowed contemner of good order, and seems to find pleasure in wasting time, even when he does not enjoy it."
"I have been enjoying my time just now at least," said the Earl, rising from table, and picking his teeth carelessly. "These fresh mullets are delicious, and so is the Lachrymae Christi. I pray you to sit down to breakfast, Julian, and partake the goods my royal foresight has provided. Never was King of Man nearer being left to the mercy of the execrable brandy of his dominions. Old Griffiths would never, in the midst of our speedy retreat of last night, have had sense enough to secure a few flasks, had I not given him a hint on that important subject. But presence of mind amid danger and tumult, is a jewel I have always possessed."
"I wish, then, Philip, you would exert it to better purpose," said the Countess, half smiling, half displeased; for she doated upon her son with all a mother's fondness, even when she was most angry with him for being deficient in the peculiar and chivalrous disposition which had distinguished his father, and which was so analogous to her own romantic and high-minded character. "Lend me your signet," she added with a sigh; "for it were, I fear, vain to ask you to read over these despatches from England, and execute the warrants which I have thought necessary to prepare in consequence."
"My signet you shall command with all my heart, madam," said Earl Philip; "but spare me the revision of what you are much more capable to decide upon. I am, you know, a most complete Roi faineant, and never once interfered with my Maire de palais in her proceedings."
The Countess made signs to her little train-bearer, who immediately went to seek for wax and a light, with which she presently returned.
In the meanwhile the Countess continued, addressing Peveril. "Philip does himself less than justice. When you were absent, Julian (for if you had been here I would have given you the credit of prompting your friend), he had a spirited controversy with the Bishop, for an attempt to enforce spiritual censures against a poor wretch, by confining her in the vault under the chapel."[*]
[*] Beneath the only one of the four churches in Castle Rushin, which is or was kept a little in repair, is a prison or dungeon, for ecclesiastical offenders. "This," says Waldron, "is certainly one of the most dreadful places that imagination can form; the sea runs under it through the hollows of the rock with such a continual roar, that you would think it were every moment breaking in upon you, and over it are the vaults for burying the dead. The stairs descending to this place of terrors are not above thirty, but so steep and narrow, that they are very difficult to go down, a child of eight or nine years not being able to pass them but sideways."—WALDRON'S Description of the Isle of Man, in his Works, p. 105, folio.
"Do not think better of me than I deserve," said the Earl to Peveril; "my mother has omitted to tell you the culprit was pretty Peggy of Ramsey, and her crime what in Cupid's courts would have been called a peccadillo."
"Do not make yourself worse than you are," replied Peveril, who observed the Countess's cheek redden,—"you know you would have done as much for the oldest and poorest cripple in the island. Why, the vault is under the burial-ground of the chapel, and, for aught I know, under the ocean itself, such a roaring do the waves make in its vicinity. I think no one could remain there long, and retain his reason."
"It is an infernal hole," answered the Earl, "and I will have it built up one day—that is full certain.—But hold—hold—for God's sake, madam—what are you going to do?—Look at the seal before you put it to the warrant—you will see it is a choice antique cameo Cupid, riding on a flying fish—I had it for twenty zechins, from Signor Furabosco at Rome—a most curious matter for an antiquary, but which will add little faith to a Manx warrant.
"My signet—my signet—Oh! you mean that with the three monstrous legs, which I supposed was devised as the most preposterous device, to represent our most absurd Majesty of Man.—The signet—I have not seen it since I gave it to Gibbon, my monkey, to play with.—He did whine for it most piteously—I hope he has not gemmed the green breast of ocean with my symbol of sovereignty!"
"Now, by Heaven," said the Countess, trembling, and colouring deeply with anger, "it was your father's signet! the last pledge which he sent, with his love to me, and his blessing to thee, the night before they murdered him at Bolton!"
"Mother, dearest mother," said the Earl, startled out of his apathy, and taking her hand, which he kissed tenderly, "I did but jest—the signet is safe—Peveril knows that it is so.—Go fetch it, Julian, for Heaven's sake—here are my keys—it is in the left-hand drawer of my travelling cabinet—Nay, mother, forgive me—it was but a mauvaise plaisanterie; only an ill-imagined jest, ungracious, and in bad taste, I allow—but only one of Philip's follies. Look at me, dearest mother, and forgive me."
The Countess turned her eyes towards him, from which the tears were fast falling.
"Philip," she said, "you try me too unkindly, and too severely. If times are changed, as I have heard you allege—if the dignity of rank, and the high feelings of honour and duty, are now drowned in giddy jests and trifling pursuits, let me at least, who live secluded from all others, die without perceiving the change which has happened, and, above all, without perceiving it in mine own son. Let me not learn the general prevalence of this levity, which laughs at every sense of dignity or duty, through your personal disrespect—Let me not think that when I die——"
"Speak nothing of it, mother," said the Earl, interrupting her affectionately. "It is true, I cannot promise to be all my father and his fathers were; for we wear silk vests for their steel coats, and feathered beavers for their crested helmets. But believe me, though to be an absolute Palmerin of England is not in my nature, no son ever loved a mother more dearly, or would do more to oblige her. And that you may own this, I will forthwith not only seal the warrants, to the great endangerment of my precious fingers, but also read the same from end to end, as well as the despatches thereunto appertaining."
A mother is easily appeased, even when most offended; and it was with an expanding heart that the Countess saw her son's very handsome features, while reading these papers, settle into an expression of deep seriousness, such as they seldom wore. It seemed to her as if the family likeness to his gallant but unfortunate father increased, when the expression of their countenances became similar in gravity. The Earl had no sooner perused the despatches, which he did with great attention, than he rose and said, "Julian, come with me."
The Countess looked surprised. "I was wont to share your father's counsels, my son," she said; "but do not think that I wish to intrude myself upon yours. I am too well pleased to see you assume the power and the duty of thinking for yourself, which is what I have so long urged you to do. Nevertheless, my experience, who have been so long administrator of your authority in Man, might not, I think, be superfluous to the matter in hand."
"Hold me excused, dearest mother," said the Earl gravely. "The interference was none of my seeking; had you taken your own course, without consulting me, it had been well; but since I have entered on the affair—and it appears sufficiently important—I must transact it to the best of my own ability."
"Go, then, my son," said the Countess, "and may Heaven enlighten thee with its counsel, since thou wilt have none of mine.—I trust that you, Master Peveril, will remind him of what is fit for his own honour; and that only a coward abandons his rights, and only a fool trusts his enemies."
The Earl answered not, but, taking Peveril by the arm, led him up a winding stair to his own apartment, and from thence into a projecting turret, where, amidst the roar of waves and sea-mews' clang, he held with him the following conversation:—
"Peveril, it is well I looked into these warrants. My mother queens it at such a rate as may cost me not only my crown, which I care little for, but perhaps my head, which, though others may think little of, I would feel it an inconvenience to be deprived of."
"What on earth is the matter?" said Peveril, with considerable anxiety.
"It seems," said the Earl of Derby, "that old England who takes a frolicsome brain-fever once every two or three years, for the benefit of her doctors, and the purification of the torpid lethargy brought on by peace and prosperity, is now gone stark staring mad on the subject of a real or supposed Popish plot. I read one programme on the subject, by a fellow called Oates, and thought it the most absurd foolery I ever perused. But that cunning fellow Shaftesbury, and some others amongst the great ones, having taken it up, and are driving on at such a rate as makes harness crack, and horses smoke for it. The King, who has sworn never to kiss the pillow his father went to sleep on, temporises, and gives way to the current; the Duke of York, suspected and hated on account of his religion, is about to be driven to the continent; several principal Catholic nobles are in the Tower already; and the nation, like a bull at Tutbury-running, is persecuted with so many inflammatory rumours and pestilent pamphlets, that she has cocked her tail, flung up her heels, taken the bit betwixt her teeth and is as furiously unmanageable as in the year 1642."
"All this you must have known already," said Peveril; "I wonder you told me not of news so important."
"It would have taken long to tell," said the Earl; "moreover, I desired to have you solus; thirdly, I was about to speak when my mother entered; and, to conclude, it was no business of mine. But these despatches of my politic mother's private correspondent put a new face on the whole matter; for it seems some of the informers—a trade which, having become a thriving one, is now pursued by many—have dared to glance at the Countess herself as an agent in this same plot—ay, and have found those that are willing enough to believe their report."
"On mine honour," said Peveril, "you both take it with great coolness. I think the Countess the more composed of the two; for, except her movement hither, she exhibited no mark of alarm, and, moreover, seemed no way more anxious to communicate the matter to your lordship than decency rendered necessary."
"My good mother," said the Earl, "loves power, though it has cost her dear. I wish I could truly say that my neglect of business is entirely assumed in order to leave it in her hands, but that better motive combines with natural indolence. But she seems to have feared I should not think exactly like her in this emergency, and she was right in supposing so."
"How comes the emergency upon you?" said Julian; "and what form does the danger assume?"
"Marry, thus it is," said the Earl: "I need not bid you remember the affair of Colonel Christian. That man, besides his widow, who is possessed of large property—Dame Christian of Kirk Truagh, whom you have often heard of, and perhaps seen—left a brother called Edward Christian, whom you never saw at all. Now this brother—but I dare say you know all about it."
"Not I, on my honour," said Peveril; "you know the Countess seldom or never alludes to the subject."
"Why," replied the Earl, "I believe in her heart she is something ashamed of that gallant act of royalty and supreme jurisdiction, the consequences of which maimed my estate so cruelly.—Well, cousin, this same Edward Christian was one of the dempsters at the time, and, naturally enough, was unwilling to concur in the sentence which adjudged his aine to be shot like a dog. My mother, who was then in high force, and not to be controlled by any one, would have served the dempster with the same sauce with which she dressed his brother, had he not been wise enough to fly from the island. Since that time, the thing has slept on all hands; and though we knew that Dempster Christian made occasionally secret visits to his friends in the island, along with two or three other Puritans of the same stamp, and particularly a prick-eared rogue, called Bridgenorth, brother-in-law to the deceased, yet my mother, thank Heaven, has hitherto had the sense to connive at them, though, for some reason or other, she holds this Bridgenorth in especial disfavour."
"And why," said Peveril, forcing himself to speak, in order to conceal the very unpleasant surprise which he felt, "why does the Countess now depart from so prudent a line of conduct?"
"You must know the case is now different. The rogues are not satisfied with toleration—they would have supremacy. They have found friends in the present heat of the popular mind. My mother's name, and especially that of her confessor, Aldrick the Jesuit, have been mentioned in this beautiful maze of a plot, which if any such at all exists, she knows as little of as you or I. However, she is a Catholic, and that is enough; and I have little doubt, that if the fellows could seize on our scrap of a kingdom here, and cut all our throats, they would have the thanks of the present House of Commons, as willingly as old Christian had those of the Rump, for a similar service."
"From whence did you receive all this information?" said Peveril, again speaking, though by the same effort which a man makes who talks in his sleep.
"Aldrick has seen the Duke of York in secret, and his Royal Highness, who wept while he confessed his want of power to protect his friends—and it is no trifle will wring tears from him—told him to send us information that we should look to our safety, for that Dempster Christian and Bridgenorth were in the island, with secret and severe orders; that they had formed a considerable party there, and were likely to be owned and protected in anything they might undertake against us. The people of Ramsey and Castletown are unluckily discontented about some new regulation of the imposts; and to tell you the truth, though I thought yesterday's sudden remove a whim of my mother's, I am almost satisfied they would have blockaded us in Rushin Castle, where we could not have held out for lack of provisions. Here we are better supplied, and, as we are on our guard, it is likely the intended rising will not take place."
"And what is to be done in this emergency?" said Peveril.
"That is the very question, my gentle coz," answered the Earl. "My mother sees but one way of going to work, and that is by royal authority. Here are the warrants she had prepared, to search for, take, and apprehend the bodies of Edward Christian and Robert—no, Ralph Bridgenorth, and bring them to instant trial. No doubt, she would soon have had them in the Castle court, with a dozen of the old matchlocks levelled against them—that is her way of solving all sudden difficulties."
"But in which, I trust, you do not acquiesce, my lord," answered Peveril, whose thoughts instantly reverted to Alice, if they could ever be said to be absent from her.
"Truly I acquiesce in no such matter," said the Earl. "William Christian's death cost me a fair half of my inheritance. I have no fancy to fall under the displeasure of my royal brother, King Charles, for a new escapade of the same kind. But how to pacify my mother, I know not. I wish the insurrection would take place, and then, as we are better provided than they can be, we might knock the knaves on the head; and yet, since they began the fray, we should keep the law on our side."
"Were it not better," said Peveril, "if by any means these men could be induced to quit the island?"
"Surely," replied the Earl; "but that will be no easy matter—they are stubborn on principle, and empty threats will not move them. This stormblast in London is wind in their sails, and they will run their length, you may depend on it. I have sent orders, however, to clap up the Manxmen upon whose assistance they depended, and if I can find the two worthies themselves, here are sloops enough in the harbour—I will take the freedom to send them on a pretty distant voyage, and I hope matters will be settled before they return to give an account of it."
At this moment a soldier belonging to the garrison approached the two young men, with many bows and tokens of respect. "How now, friend?" said the Earl to him. "Leave off thy courtesies, and tell thy business."
The man, who was a native islander, answered in Manx, that he had a letter for his honour, Master Julian Peveril. Julian snatched the billet hastily, and asked whence it came.
"It was delivered to him by a young woman," the soldier replied, "who had given him a piece of money to deliver it into Master Peveril's own hand."
"Thou art a lucky fellow, Julian," said the Earl. "With that grave brow of thine, and thy character for sobriety and early wisdom, you set the girls a-wooing, without waiting till they are asked; whilst I, their drudge and vassal, waste both language and leisure, without getting a kind word or look, far less a billet-doux."
This the young Earl said with a smile of conscious triumph, as in fact he valued himself not a little upon the interest which he supposed himself to possess with the fair sex.
Meanwhile the letter impressed on Peveril a different train of thoughts from what his companion apprehended. It was in Alice's hand, and contained these few words:—
"I fear what I am going to do is wrong; but I must see you. Meet me at noon at Goddard Crovan's Stone, with as much secrecy as you may."
The letter was signed only with the initials A. B.; but Julian had no difficulty in recognising the handwriting, which he had often seen, and which was remarkably beautiful. He stood suspended, for he saw the difficulty and impropriety of withdrawing himself from the Countess and his friend at this moment of impending danger; and yet, to neglect this invitation was not to be thought of. He paused in the utmost perplexity.
"Shall I read your riddle?" said the Earl. "Go where love calls you—I will make an excuse to my mother—only, most grave anchorite, be hereafter more indulgent to the failings of others than you have been hitherto, and blaspheme not the power of the little deity."
"Nay, but, Cousin Derby—" said Peveril, and stopped short, for he really knew not what to say. Secured himself by a virtuous passion from the contagious influence of the time, he had seen with regret his noble kinsman mingle more in its irregularities than he approved of, and had sometimes played the part of a monitor. Circumstances seemed at present to give the Earl a right of retaliation. He kept his eye fixed on his friend, as if he waited till he should complete his sentence, and at length exclaimed, "What! cousin, quite a-la-mort! Oh, most judicious Julian! Oh, most precise Peveril! have you bestowed so much wisdom on me that you have none left for yourself? Come, be frank—tell me name and place—or say but the colour of the eyes of the most emphatic she—or do but let me have the pleasure to hear thee say, 'I love!'—confess one touch of human frailty—conjugate the verb amo, and I will be a gentle schoolmaster, and you shall have, as father Richards used to say, when we were under his ferule, 'licentia exeundi.'"
"Enjoy your pleasant humour at my expense, my lord," said Peveril; "I fairly will confess thus much, that I would fain, if it consisted with my honour and your safety, have two hours at my own disposal; the more especially as the manner in which I shall employ them may much concern the safety of the island."
"Very likely, I dare say," answered the Earl, still laughing. "No doubt you are summoned out by some Lady Politic Wouldbe of the isle, to talk over some of the breast-laws: but never mind—go, and go speedily, that you may return as quickly as possible. I expect no immediate explosion of this grand conspiracy. When the rogues see us on our guard, they will be cautious how they break out. Only, once more make haste."
Peveril thought this last advice was not to be neglected; and, glad to extricate himself from the raillery of his cousin, walked down towards the gate of the Castle, meaning to cross over to the village, and there take horse at the Earl's stables, for the place of rendezvous.
Acasto.—Can she not speak? Oswald.—If speech be only in accented sounds, Framed by the tongue and lips, the maiden's dumb; But if by quick and apprehensive look, By motion, sign, and glance, to give each meaning, Express as clothed in language, be term'd speech, She hath that wondrous faculty; for her eyes, Like the bright stars of heaven, can hold discourse, Though it be mute and soundless. —OLD PLAY.
At the head of the first flight of steps which descended towards the difficult and well-defended entrance of the Castle of Holm-Peel, Peveril was met and stopped by the Countess's train-bearer. This little creature—for she was of the least and slightest size of womankind—was exquisitely well formed in all her limbs, which the dress she usually wore (a green silk tunic, of a peculiar form) set off to the best advantage. Her face was darker than the usual hue of Europeans; and the profusion of long and silken hair, which, when she undid the braids in which she commonly wore it, fell down almost to her ankles, was also rather a foreign attribute. Her countenance resembled a most beautiful miniature; and there was a quickness, decision, and fire, in Fenella's look, and especially in her eyes, which was probably rendered yet more alert and acute, because, through the imperfection of her other organs, it was only by sight that she could obtain information of what passed around her.
The pretty mute was mistress of many little accomplishments, which the Countess had caused to be taught to her in compassion for her forlorn situation, and which she learned with the most surprising quickness. Thus, for example, she was exquisite in the use of the needle, and so ready and ingenious a draughtswoman, that, like the ancient Mexicans, she sometimes made a hasty sketch with her pencil the means of conveying her ideas, either by direct or emblematical representation. Above all, in the art of ornamental writing, much studied at that period, Fenella was so great a proficient, as to rival the fame of Messrs. Snow, Shelley, and other masters of the pen, whose copybooks, preserved in the libraries of the curious, still show the artists smiling on the frontispiece in all the honours of flowing gowns and full-bottomed wigs, to the eternal glory of caligraphy.
The little maiden had, besides these accomplishments, much ready wit and acuteness of intellect. With Lady Derby, and with the two young gentlemen, she was a great favourite, and used much freedom in conversing with them, by means of a system of signs which had been gradually established amongst them, and which served all ordinary purposes of communication.
But, though happy in the indulgence and favour of her mistress, from whom indeed she was seldom separate, Fenella was by no means a favourite with the rest of the household. In fact, it seemed that her temper, exasperated perhaps by a sense of her misfortune, was by no means equal to her abilities. She was very haughty in her demeanour, even towards the upper domestics, who in that establishment were of a much higher rank and better birth than in the families of the nobility in general. These often complained, not only of her pride and reserve, but of her high and irascible temper and vindictive disposition. Her passionate propensity had been indeed idly encouraged by the young men, and particularly by the Earl, who sometimes amused himself with teasing her, that he might enjoy the various singular motions and murmurs by which she expressed her resentment. Towards him, these were of course only petulant and whimsical indications of pettish anger. But when she was angry with others of inferior degree—before whom she did not control herself—the expression of her passion, unable to display itself in language, had something even frightful, so singular were the tones, contortions, and gestures, to which she had recourse. The lower domestics, to whom she was liberal almost beyond her apparent means, observed her with much deference and respect, but much more from fear than from any real attachment; for the caprices of her temper displayed themselves even in her gifts; and those who most frequently shared her bounty, seemed by no means assured of the benevolence of the motives which dictated her liberality.
All these peculiarities led to a conclusion consonant with Manx superstition. Devout believers in all the legends of fairies so dear to the Celtic tribes, the Manx people held it for certainty that the elves were in the habit of carrying off mortal children before baptism, and leaving in the cradle of the new born babe one of their own brood, which was almost always imperfect in some one or other of the organs proper to humanity. Such a being they conceived Fenella to be; and the smallness of her size, her dark complexion, her long locks of silken hair, the singularity of her manners and tones, as well as the caprices of her temper, were to their thinking all attributes of the irritable, fickle, and dangerous race from which they supposed her to be sprung. And it seemed, that although no jest appeared to offend her more than when Lord Derby called her in sport the Elfin Queen, or otherwise alluded to her supposed connection with "the pigmy folk," yet still her perpetually affecting to wear the colour of green, proper to the fairies, as well as some other peculiarities, seemed voluntarily assumed by her, in order to countenance the superstition, perhaps because it gave her more authority among the lower orders.
Many were the tales circulated respecting the Countess's Elf, as Fenella was currently called in the island; and the malcontents of the stricter persuasion were convinced, that no one but a Papist and a malignant would have kept near her person a creature of such doubtful origin. They conceived that Fenella's deafness and dumbness were only towards those of this world, and that she had been heard talking, and singing, and laughing most elvishly, with the invisibles of her own race. They alleged, also, that she had a Double, a sort of apparition resembling her, which slept in the Countess's ante-room, or bore her train, or wrought in her cabinet, while the real Fenella joined the song of the mermaids on the moonlight sands, or the dance of the fairies in the haunted valley of Glenmoy, or on the heights of Snawfell and Barool. The sentinels, too, would have sworn they had seen the little maiden trip past them in their solitary night walks, without their having it in their power to challenge her, any more than if they had been as mute as herself. To all this mass of absurdities the better informed paid no more attention than to the usual idle exaggerations of the vulgar, which so frequently connect that which is unusual with what is supernatural.
Such, in form and habits, was the little female, who, holding in her hand a small old-fashioned ebony rod, which might have passed for a divining wand, confronted Julian on the top of the flight of steps which led down the rock from the Castle court. We ought to observe, that as Julian's manner to the unfortunate girl had been always gentle, and free from those teasing jests in which his gay friend indulged, with less regard to the peculiarity of her situation and feelings; so Fenella, on her part, had usually shown much greater deference to him than to any of the household, her mistress, the Countess, always excepted.
On the present occasion, planting herself in the very midst of the narrow descent, so as to make it impossible for Peveril to pass by her, she proceeded to put him to the question by a series of gestures, which we will endeavour to describe. She commenced by extending her hand slightly, accompanied with the sharp inquisitive look which served her as a note of interrogation. This was meant as an inquiry whether he was going to a distance. Julian, in reply, extended his arm more than half, to intimate that the distance was considerable. Fenella looked grave, shook her head, and pointed to the Countess's window, which was visible from the spot where they stood. Peveril smiled, and nodded, to intimate there was no danger in quitting her mistress for a short space. The little maiden next touched an eagle's feather which she wore in her hair, a sign which she usually employed to designate the Earl, and then looked inquisitively at Julian once more, as if to say, "Goes he with you?" Peveril shook his head, and, somewhat wearied by these interrogatories, smiled, and made an effort to pass. Fenella frowned, struck the end of her ebony rod perpendicularly on the ground, and again shook her head, as if opposing his departure. But finding that Julian persevered in his purpose, she suddenly assumed another and milder mood, held him by the skirt of his cloak with one hand, and raised the other in an imploring attitude, whilst every feature of her lively countenance was composed into the like expression of supplication; and the fire of the large dark eyes, which seemed in general so keen and piercing as almost to over-animate the little sphere to which they belonged, seemed quenched, for the moment, in the large drops which hung on her long eyelashes, but without falling.
Julian Peveril was far from being void of sympathy towards the poor girl, whose motives in opposing his departure appeared to be her affectionate apprehension for her mistress's safety. He endeavoured to reassure by smiles, and, at the same time, by such signs as he could devise, to intimate that there was no danger, and that he would return presently; and having succeeded in extricating his cloak from her grasp, and in passing her on the stair, he began to descend the steps as speedily as he could, in order to avoid farther importunity.
But with activity much greater than his, the dumb maiden hastened to intercept him, and succeeded by throwing herself, at the imminent risk of life and limb, a second time into the pass which he was descending, so as to interrupt his purpose. In order to achieve this, she was obliged to let herself drop a considerable height from the wall of a small flanking battery, where two patereroes were placed to scour the pass, in case any enemy could have mounted so high. Julian had scarce time to shudder at her purpose, as he beheld her about to spring from the parapet, ere, like a thing of gossamer, she stood light and uninjured on the rocky platform below. He endeavoured, by the gravity of his look and gesture, to make her understand how much he blamed her rashness; but the reproof, though obviously quite intelligible, was entirely thrown away. A hasty wave of her hand intimated how she contemned the danger and the remonstrance; while, at the same time, she instantly resumed, with more eagerness than before, the earnest and impressive gestures by which she endeavoured to detain him in the fortress.
Julian was somewhat staggered by her pertinacity. "Is it possible," he thought, "that any danger can approach the Countess, of which this poor maiden has, by the extreme acuteness of her observation, obtained knowledge which has escaped others?"
He signed to Fenella hastily to give him the tablets and the pencil which she usually carried with her, and wrote on them the question, "Is there danger near to your mistress, that you thus stop me?"
"There is danger around the Countess," was the answer instantly written down; "but there is much more in your own purpose."
"How?—what?—what know you of my purpose?" said Julian, forgetting, in his surprise, that the party he addressed had neither ear to comprehend, nor voice to reply to uttered language. She had regained her book in the meantime, and sketched, with a rapid pencil, on one of the leaves, a scene which she showed to Julian. To his infinite surprise he recognised Goddard Crovan's Stone, a remarkable monument, of which she had given the outline with sufficient accuracy; together with a male and female figure, which, though only indicated by a few slight touches of the pencil, bore yet, he thought, some resemblance to himself and Alice Bridgenorth.
When he had gazed on the sketch for an instant with surprise, Fenella took the book from his hand, laid her finger upon the drawing, and slowly and sternly shook her head, with a frown which seemed to prohibit the meeting which was there represented. Julian, however, though disconcerted, was in no shape disposed to submit to the authority of his monitress. By whatever means she, who so seldom stirred from the Countess's apartment, had become acquainted with a secret which he thought entirely his own, he esteemed it the more necessary to keep the appointed rendezvous, that he might learn from Alice, if possible, how the secret had transpired. He had also formed the intention of seeking out Bridgenorth; entertaining an idea that a person so reasonable and calm as he had shown himself in their late conference, might be persuaded, when he understood that the Countess was aware of his intrigues, to put an end to her danger and his own, by withdrawing from the island. And could he succeed in this point, he should at once, he thought, render a material benefit to the father of his beloved Alice—remove the Earl from his state of anxiety—save the Countess from a second time putting her feudal jurisdiction in opposition to that of the Crown of England—and secure quiet possession of the island to her and her family.
With this scheme of mediation on his mind, Peveril determined to rid himself of the opposition of Fenella to his departure, with less ceremony than he had hitherto observed towards her; and suddenly lifting up the damsel in his arms before she was aware of his purpose, he turned about, set her down on the steps above him, and began to descend the pass himself as speedily as possible. It was then that the dumb maiden gave full course to the vehemence of her disposition; and clapping her hands repeatedly, expressed her displeasure in sound, or rather a shriek, so extremely dissonant, that it resembled more the cry of a wild creature, than anything which could have been uttered by female organs. Peveril was so astounded at the scream as it rung through the living rocks, that he could not help stopping and looking back in alarm, to satisfy himself that she had not sustained some injury. He saw her, however, perfectly safe, though her face seemed inflamed and distorted with passion. She stamped at him with her foot, shook her clenched hand, and turning her back upon him, without further adieu, ran up the rude steps as lightly as a kid could have tripped up that rugged ascent, and paused for a moment at the summit of the first flight.
Julian could feel nothing but wonder and compassion for the impotent passion of a being so unfortunately circumstanced, cut off, as it were, from the rest of mankind, and incapable of receiving in childhood that moral discipline which teaches us mastery of our wayward passions, ere yet they have attained their meridian strength and violence. He waved his hand to her, in token of amicable farewell; but she only replied by once more menacing him with her little hand clenched; and then ascending the rocky staircase with almost preternatural speed, was soon out of sight.
Julian, on his part, gave no farther consideration to her conduct or its motives, but hastening to the village on the mainland, where the stables of the Castle were situated, he again took his palfrey from the stall, and was soon mounted and on his way to the appointed place of rendezvous, much marvelling, as he ambled forward with speed far greater than was promised by the diminutive size of the animal he was mounted on, what could have happened to produce so great a change in Alice's conduct towards him, that in place of enjoining his absence as usual, or recommending his departure from the island, she should now voluntarily invite him to a meeting. Under impression of the various doubts which succeeded each other in his imagination, he sometimes pressed Fairy's sides with his legs; sometimes laid his holly rod lightly on her neck; sometimes incited her by his voice, for the mettled animal needed neither whip nor spur, and achieved the distance betwixt the Castle of Holm-Peel and the stone at Goddard Crovan, at the rate of twelve miles within the hour.
The monumental stone, designed to commemorate some feat of an ancient King of Man, which had been long forgotten, was erected on the side of a narrow lonely valley, or rather glen, secluded from observation by the steepness of its banks, upon a projection of which stood the tall, shapeless, solitary rock, frowning, like a shrouded giant, over the brawling of the small rivulet which watered the ravine.
This a love-meeting? See the maiden mourns, And the sad suitor bends his looks on earth. There's more hath pass'd between them than belongs To Love's sweet sorrows. —OLD PLAY.
As he approached the monument of Goddard Crovan, Julian cast many an anxious glance to see whether any object visible beside the huge grey stone should apprise him, whether he was anticipated, at the appointed place of rendezvous, by her who had named it. Nor was it long before the flutter of a mantle, which the breeze slightly waved, and the motion necessary to replace it upon the wearer's shoulders, made him aware that Alice had already reached their place of meeting. One instant set the palfrey at liberty, with slackened girths and loosened reins, to pick its own way through the dell at will; another placed Julian Peveril by the side of Alice Bridgenorth.
That Alice should extend her hand to her lover, as with the ardour of a young greyhound he bounded over the obstacles of the rugged path, was as natural as that Julian, seizing on the hand so kindly stretched out, should devour it with kisses, and, for a moment or two, without reprehension; while the other hand, which should have aided in the liberation of its fellow, served to hide the blushes of the fair owner. But Alice, young as she was, and attached to Julian by such long habits of kindly intimacy, still knew well how to subdue the tendency of her own treacherous affections.
"This is not right," she said, extricating her hand from Julian's grasp, "this is not right, Julian. If I have been too rash in admitting such a meeting as the present, it is not you that should make me sensible of my folly."
Julian Peveril's mind had been early illuminated with that touch of romantic fire which deprives passion of selfishness, and confers on it the high and refined tone of generous and disinterested devotion. He let go the hand of Alice with as much respect as he could have paid to that of a princess; and when she seated herself upon a rocky fragment, over which nature had stretched a cushion of moss and lichen, interspersed with wild flowers, backed with a bush of copsewood, he took his place beside her, indeed, but at such distance as to intimate the duty of an attendant, who was there only to hear and to obey. Alice Bridgenorth became more assured as she observed the power which she possessed over her lover; and the self-command which Peveril exhibited, which other damsels in her situation might have judged inconsistent with intensity of passion, she appreciated more justly, as a proof of his respectful and disinterested sincerity. She recovered, in addressing him, the tone of confidence which rather belonged to the scenes of their early acquaintance, than to those which had passed betwixt them since Peveril had disclosed his affection, and thereby had brought restraint upon their intercourse.
"Julian," she said, "your visit of yesterday—your most ill-timed visit, has distressed me much. It has misled my father—it has endangered you. At all risks, I resolved that you should know this, and blame me not if I have taken a bold and imprudent step in desiring this solitary interview, since you are aware how little poor Deborah is to be trusted."
"Can you fear misconstruction from me, Alice?" replied Peveril warmly; "from me, whom you have thus highly favoured—thus deeply obliged?"
"Cease your protestations, Julian," answered the maiden; "they do but make me the more sensible that I have acted over boldly. But I did for the best.—I could not see you whom I have known so long—you, who say you regard me with partiality——"
"Say that I regard you with partiality!" interrupted Peveril in his turn. "Ah, Alice, with a cold and doubtful phrase you have used to express the most devoted, the most sincere affection!"
"Well, then," said Alice sadly, "we will not quarrel about words; but do not again interrupt me.—I could not, I say, see you, who, I believe, regard me with sincere though vain and fruitless attachment, rush blindfold into a snare, deceived and seduced by those very feelings towards me."
"I understand you not, Alice," said Peveril; "nor can I see any danger to which I am at present exposed. The sentiments which your father has expressed towards me, are of a nature irreconcilable with hostile purposes. If he is not offended with the bold wishes I may have formed,—and his whole behaviour shows the contrary,—I know not a man on earth from whom I have less cause to apprehend any danger or ill-will."
"My father," said Alice, "means well by his country, and well by you; yet I sometimes fear he may rather injure than serve his good cause; and still more do I dread, that in attempting to engage you as an auxiliary, he may forget those ties which ought to bind you, and I am sure which will bind you, to a different line of conduct from his own."
"You lead me into still deeper darkness, Alice," answered Peveril. "That your father's especial line of politics differs widely from mine, I know well; but how many instances have occurred, even during the bloody scenes of civil warfare, of good and worthy men laying the prejudice of party affections aside, and regarding each other with respect, and even with friendly attachment, without being false to principle on either side?"
"It may be so," said Alice; "but such is not the league which my father desires to form with you, and that to which he hopes your misplaced partiality towards his daughter may afford a motive for your forming with him."
"And what is it," said Peveril, "which I would refuse, with such a prospect before me?"
"Treachery and dishonour!" replied Alice; "whatever would render you unworthy of the poor boon at which you aim—ay, were it more worthless than I confess it to be."
"Would your father," said Peveril, as he unwillingly received the impression which Alice designed to convey,—"would he, whose views of duty are so strict and severe—would he wish to involve me in aught, to which such harsh epithets as treachery and dishonour can be applied with the lightest shadow of truth?"
"Do not mistake me, Julian," replied the maiden; "my father is incapable of requesting aught of you that is not to his thinking just and honourable; nay, he conceives that he only claims from you a debt, which is due as a creature to the Creator, and as a man to your fellow-men."
"So guarded, where can be the danger of our intercourse?" replied Julian. "If he be resolved to require, and I determined to accede to, nothing save what flows from conviction, what have I to fear, Alice? And how is my intercourse with your father dangerous? Believe not so; his speech has already made impression on me in some particulars, and he listened with candour and patience to the objections which I made occasionally. You do Master Bridgenorth less than justice in confounding him with the unreasonable bigots in policy and religion, who can listen to no argument but what favours their own prepossessions."
"Julian," replied Alice; "it is you who misjudge my father's powers, and his purpose with respect to you, and who overrate your own powers of resistance. I am but a girl, but I have been taught by circumstances to think for myself, and to consider the character of those around me. My father's views in ecclesiastical and civil policy are as dear to him as the life which he cherishes only to advance them. They have been, with little alteration, his companions through life. They brought him at one period into prosperity, and when they suited not the times, he suffered for having held them. They have become not only a part, but the very dearest part, of his existence. If he shows them not to you at first, in the flexible strength which they have acquired over his mind, do not believe that they are the less powerful. He who desires to make converts, must begin by degrees. But that he should sacrifice to an inexperienced young man, whose ruling motive he will term a childish passion, any part of those treasured principles which he has maintained through good repute and bad repute—Oh, do not dream of such an impossibility! If you meet at all, you must be the wax, he the seal—you must receive, he must bestow, an absolute impression."
"That," said Peveril, "were unreasonable. I will frankly avow to you, Alice, that I am not a sworn bigot to the opinions entertained by my father, much as I respect his person. I could wish that our Cavaliers, or whatsoever they are pleased to call themselves, would have some more charity towards those who differ from them in Church and State. But to hope that I would surrender the principles in which I have lived, were to suppose me capable of deserting my benefactress, and breaking the hearts of my parents."
"Even so I judged of you," answered Alice; "and therefore I asked this interview, to conjure that you will break off all intercourse with our family—return to your parents—or, what will be much safer, visit the continent once more, and abide till God send better days to England, for these are black with many a storm."
"And can you bid me go, Alice?" said the young man, taking her unresisting hand; "can you bid me go, and yet own an interest in my fate?—Can you bid me, for fear of dangers, which, as a man, as a gentleman, and a loyal one, I am bound to show my face to, meanly abandon my parents, my friends, my country—suffer the existence of evils which I might aid to prevent—forego the prospect of doing such little good as might be in my power—fall from an active and honourable station, into the condition of a fugitive and time-server—Can you bid me do all this, Alice? Can you bid me do all this, and, in the same breath, bid farewell for ever to you and happiness?—It is impossible—I cannot surrender at once my love and my honour."
"There is no remedy," said Alice, but she could not suppress a sigh while she said so—"there is no remedy—none whatever. What we might have been to each other, placed in more favourable circumstances, it avails not to think of now; and, circumstanced as we are, with open war about to break out betwixt our parents and friends, we can be but well-wishers—cold and distant well-wishers, who must part on this spot, and at this hour, never meet again."
"No, by Heaven!" said Peveril, animated at the same time by his own feelings, and by the sight of the emotions which his companion in vain endeavoured to suppress,—"No, by Heaven!" he exclaimed, "we part not—Alice, we part not. If I am to leave my native land, you shall be my companion in my exile. What have you to lose?—Whom have you to abandon?—Your father?—The good old cause, as it is termed, is dearer to him than a thousand daughters; and setting him aside, what tie is there between you and this barren isle—between my Alice and any spot of the British dominions, where her Julian does not sit by her?"
"O Julian," answered the maiden, "why make my duty more painful by visionary projects, which you ought not to name, or I to listen to? Your parents—my father—it cannot be!"
"Fear not for my parents, Alice," replied Julian, and pressing close to his companion's side, he ventured to throw his arm around her; "they love me, and they will soon learn to love, in Alice, the only being on earth who could have rendered their son happy. And for your own father, when State and Church intrigues allow him to bestow a thought upon you, will he not think that your happiness, your security, is better cared for when you are my wife, than were you to continue under the mercenary charge of yonder foolish woman? What could his pride desire better for you, than the establishment which will one day be mine? Come then, Alice, and since you condemn me to banishment—since you deny me a share in those stirring achievements which are about to agitate England—come! do you—for you only can—do you reconcile me to exile and inaction, and give happiness to one, who, for your sake, is willing to resign honour."
"It cannot—it cannot be," said Alice, faltering as she uttered her negative. "And yet," she said, "how many in my place—left alone and unprotected, as I am—But I must not—I must not—for your sake, Julian, I must not."
"Say not for my sake you must not, Alice," said Peveril eagerly; "this is adding insult to cruelty. If you will do aught for my sake, you will say yes; or you will suffer this dear head to drop on my shoulder—the slightest sign—the moving of an eyelid, shall signify consent. All shall be prepared within an hour; within another the priest shall unite us; and within a third, we leave the isle behind us, and seek our fortunes on the continent." But while he spoke, in joyful anticipation of the consent which he implored, Alice found means to collect together her resolution, which, staggered by the eagerness of her lover, the impulse of her own affections, and the singularity of her situation,—seeming, in her case, to justify what would have been most blamable in another,—had more than half abandoned her.
The result of a moment's deliberation was fatal to Julian's proposal. She extricated herself from the arm which had pressed her to his side—arose, and repelling his attempts to approach or detain her, said, with a simplicity not unmingled with dignity, "Julian, I always knew I risked much in inviting you to this meeting; but I did not guess that I could have been so cruel to both to you and to myself, as to suffer you to discover what you have to-day seen too plainly—that I love you better than you love me. But since you do know it, I will show you that Alice's love is disinterested—She will not bring an ignoble name into your ancient house. If hereafter, in your line, there should arise some who may think the claims of the hierarchy too exorbitant, the powers of the crown too extensive, men shall not say these ideas were derived from Alice Bridgenorth, their whig granddame."
"Can you speak thus, Alice?" said her lover. "Can you use such expressions? and are you not sensible that they show plainly it is your own pride, not regard for me, that makes you resist the happiness of both?"
"Not so, Julian; not so," answered Alice, with tears in her eyes; "it is the command of duty to us both—of duty, which we cannot transgress, without risking our happiness here and hereafter. Think what I, the cause of all, should feel, when your father frowns, your mother weeps, your noble friends stand aloof, and you, even you yourself, shall have made the painful discovery, that you have incurred the contempt and resentment of all to satisfy a boyish passion; and that the poor beauty, once sufficient to mislead you, is gradually declining under the influence of grief and vexation. This I will not risk. I see distinctly it is best we should here break off and part; and I thank God, who gives me light enough to perceive, and strength enough to withstand, your folly as well as my own. Farewell, then, Julian; but first take the solemn advice which I called you hither to impart to you:—Shun my father—you cannot walk in his paths, and be true to gratitude and to honour. What he doth from pure and honourable motives, you cannot aid him in, except upon the suggestion of a silly and interested passion, at variance with all the engagements you have formed at coming into life."
"Once more, Alice," answered Julian, "I understand you not. If a course of action is good, it needs no vindication from the actor's motives—if bad, it can derive none."
"You cannot blind me with your sophistry, Julian," replied Alice Bridgenorth, "any more than you can overpower me with your passion. Had the patriarch destined his son to death upon any less ground than faith and humble obedience to a divine commandment, he had meditated a murder and not a sacrifice. In our late bloody and lamentable wars, how many drew swords on either side, from the purest and most honourable motives? How many from the culpable suggestions of ambition, self-seeking, and love of plunder? Yet while they marched in the same ranks, and spurred their horses at the same trumpet-sound, the memory of the former is dear to us as patriots or loyalists—that of those who acted on mean or unworthy promptings, is either execrated or forgotten. Once more, I warn you, avoid my father—leave this island, which will be soon agitated by strange incidents—while you stay, be on your guard—distrust everything—be jealous of every one, even of those to whom it may seem almost impossible, from circumstances, to attach a shadow of suspicion—trust not the very stones of the most secret apartment in Holm-Peel, for that which hath wings shall carry the matter."
Here Alice broke off suddenly, and with a faint shriek; for, stepping from behind the stunted copse which had concealed him, her father stood unexpectedly before them.
The reader cannot have forgotten that this was the second time in which the stolen interviews of the lovers had been interrupted by the unexpected apparition of Major Bridgenorth. On this second occasion his countenance exhibited anger mixed with solemnity, like that of the spirit to a ghost-seer, whom he upbraids with having neglected a charge imposed at their first meeting. Even his anger, however, produced no more violent emotion than a cold sternness of manner in his speech and action. "I thank you, Alice," he said to his daughter, "for the pains you have taken to traverse my designs towards this young man, and towards yourself. I thank you for the hints you have thrown out before my appearance, the suddenness of which alone has prevented you from carrying your confidence to a pitch which would have placed my life and that of others at the discretion of a boy, who, when the cause of God and his country is laid before him, has not leisure to think of them, so much is he occupied with such a baby-face as thine." Alice, pale as death, continued motionless, with her eyes fixed on the ground, without attempting the slightest reply to the ironical reproaches of her father.
"And you," continued Major Bridgenorth, turning from his daughter to her lover,—"you sir, have well repaid the liberal confidence which I placed in you with so little reserve. You I have to thank also for some lessons, which may teach me to rest satisfied with the churl's blood which nature has poured into my veins, and with the rude nurture which my father allotted to me."
"I understand you not, sir," replied Julian Peveril, who, feeling the necessity of saying something, could not, at the moment, find anything more fitting to say.
"Yes, sir, I thank you," said Major Bridgenorth, in the same cold sarcastic tone, "for having shown me that breach of hospitality, infringement of good faith, and such like peccadilloes, are not utterly foreign to the mind and conduct of the heir of a knightly house of twenty descents. It is a great lesson to me, sir: for hitherto I had thought with the vulgar, that gentle manners went with gentle blood. But perhaps courtesy is too chivalrous a quality to be wasted in intercourse with a round-headed fanatic like myself."
"Major Bridgenorth," said Julian, "whatever has happened in this interview which may have displeased you, has been the result of feelings suddenly and strongly animated by the crisis of the moment—nothing was premeditated."
"Not even your meeting, I suppose?" replied Bridgenorth, in the same cold tone. "You, sir, wandered hither from Holm-Peel—my daughter strolled forth from the Black Fort; and chance, doubtless, assigned you a meeting by the stone of Goddard Crovan?—Young man, disgrace yourself by no more apologies—they are worse than useless.—And you, maiden, who, in your fear of losing your lover, could verge on betraying what might have cost a father his life—begone to your home. I will talk with you at more leisure, and teach you practically those duties which you seem to have forgotten."
"On my honour, sir," said Julian, "your daughter is guiltless of all that can offend you; she resisted every offer which the headstrong violence of my passion urged me to press upon her."
"And, in brief," said Bridgenorth, "I am not to believe that you met in this remote place of rendezvous by Alice's special appointment?"
Peveril knew not what to reply, and Bridgenorth again signed with his hand to his daughter to withdraw.
"I obey you, father," said Alice, who had by this time recovered from the extremity of her surprise,—"I obey you; but Heaven is my witness that you do me more than injustice in suspecting me capable of betraying your secrets, even had it been necessary to save my own life or that of Julian. That you are walking in a dangerous path I well know; but you do it with your eyes open, and are actuated by motives of which you can estimate the worth and value. My sole wish was, that this young man should not enter blindfold on the same perils; and I had a right to warn him, since the feelings by which he is hoodwinked had a direct reference to me."
"'Tis well, minion," said Bridgenorth, "you have spoken your say. Retire, and let me complete the conference which you have so considerately commenced."
"I go, sir," said Alice.—"Julian, to you my last words are, and I would speak them with my last breath—Farewell, and caution!"
She turned from them, disappeared among the underwood, and was seen no more.
"A true specimen of womankind," said her father, looking after her, "who would give the cause of nations up, rather than endanger a hair of her lover's head.—You, Master Peveril, doubtless, hold her opinion, that the best love is a safe love!"
"Were danger alone in my way," said Peveril, much surprised at the softened tone in which Bridgenorth made this observation, "there are few things which I would not face to—to—deserve your good opinion."
"Or rather to win my daughter's hand," said Bridgenorth. "Well, young man, one thing has pleased me in your conduct, though of much I have my reasons to complain—one thing has pleased me. You have surmounted that bounding wall of aristocratical pride, in which your father, and, I suppose, his fathers, remained imprisoned, as in the precincts of a feudal fortress—you have leaped over this barrier, and shown yourself not unwilling to ally yourself with a family whom your father spurns as low-born and ignoble."
However favourable this speech sounded towards success in his suit, it so broadly stated the consequences of that success so far as his parents were concerned, that Julian felt it in the last degree difficult to reply. At length, perceiving that Major Bridgenorth seemed resolved quietly to await his answer, he mustered up courage to say, "The feelings which I entertain towards your daughter, Master Bridgenorth, are of a nature to supersede many other considerations, to which in any other case, I should feel it my duty to give the most reverential attention. I will not disguise from you, that my father's prejudices against such a match would be very strong; but I devoutly believe they would disappear when he came to know the merit of Alice Bridgenorth, and to be sensible that she only could make his son happy."
"In the meanwhile, you are desirous to complete the union which you propose without the knowledge of your parents, and take the chance of their being hereafter reconciled to it? So I understand, from the proposal which you made but lately to my daughter."
The turns of human nature, and of human passion, are so irregular and uncertain, that although Julian had but a few minutes before urged to Alice a private marriage, and an elopement to the continent, as a measure upon which the whole happiness of his life depended, the proposal seemed not to him half so delightful when stated by the calm, cold, dictatorial accents of her father. It sounded no longer like the dictates of ardent passion, throwing all other considerations aside, but as a distinct surrender of the dignity of his house to one who seemed to consider their relative situation as the triumph of Bridgenorth over Peveril. He was mute for a moment, in the vain attempt to shape his answer so as at once to intimate acquiescence in what Bridgenorth stated, and a vindication of his own regard for his parents, and for the honour of his house.
This delay gave rise to suspicion, and Bridgenorth's eye gleamed, and his lip quivered while he gave vent to it. "Hark ye, young man—deal openly with me in this matter, if you would not have me think you the execrable villain who would have seduced an unhappy girl, under promises which he never designed to fulfil. Let me but suspect this, and you shall see, on the spot, how far your pride and your pedigree will preserve you against the just vengeance of a father."
"You do me wrong," said Peveril—"you do me infinite wrong, Major Bridgenorth, I am incapable of the infamy which you allude to. The proposal I made to your daughter was as sincere as ever was offered by man to woman. I only hesitated, because you think it necessary to examine me so very closely; and to possess yourself of all my purposes and sentiments, in their fullest extent, without explaining to me the tendency of your own."
"Your proposal, then, shapes itself thus," said Bridgenorth:—"You are willing to lead my only child into exile from her native country, to give her a claim to kindness and protection from your family, which you know will be disregarded, on condition I consent to bestow her hand on you, with a fortune sufficient to have matched your ancestors, when they had most reason to boast of their wealth. This, young man, seems no equal bargain. And yet," he continued, after a momentary pause, "so little do I value the goods of this world, that it might not be utterly beyond thy power to reconcile me to the match which you have proposed to me, however unequal it may appear."
"Show me but the means which can propitiate your favour, Major Bridgenorth," said Peveril,—"for I will not doubt that they will be consistent with my honour and duty—and you shall soon see how eagerly I will obey your directions, or submit to your conditions."
"They are summed in few words," answered Bridgenorth. "Be an honest man, and the friend of your country."
"No one has ever doubted," replied Peveril, "that I am both."
"Pardon me," replied the Major; "no one has, as yet, seen you show yourself either. Interrupt me not—I question not your will to be both; but you have hitherto neither had the light nor the opportunity necessary for the display of your principles, or the service of your country. You have lived when an apathy of mind, succeeding to the agitations of the Civil War, had made men indifferent to state affairs, and more willing to cultivate their own ease, than to stand in the gap when the Lord was pleading with Israel. But we are Englishmen; and with us such unnatural lethargy cannot continue long. Already, many of those who most desired the return of Charles Stewart, regard him as a King whom Heaven, importuned by our entreaties, gave to us in His anger. His unlimited licence—and example so readily followed by the young and the gay around him—has disgusted the minds of all sober and thinking men. I had not now held conference with you in this intimate fashion, were I not aware that you, Master Julian, were free from such stain of the times. Heaven, that rendered the King's course of license fruitful, had denied issue to his bed of wedlock; and in the gloomy and stern character of his bigoted successor, we already see what sort of monarch shall succeed to the crown of England. This is a critical period, at which it necessarily becomes the duty of all men to step forward, each in his degree, and aid in rescuing the country which gave us birth." Peveril remembered the warning which he had received from Alice, and bent his eyes on the ground, without returning any reply. "How is it, young man," continued Bridgenorth, after a pause—"so young as thou art, and bound by no ties of kindred profligacy with the enemies of your country, you can be already hardened to the claims she may form on you at this crisis?"
"It were easy to answer you generally, Major Bridgenorth," replied Peveril—"It were easy to say that my country cannot make a claim on me which I will not promptly answer at the risk of lands and life. But in dealing thus generally, we should but deceive each other. What is the nature of this call? By whom is it to be sounded? And what are to be the results? for I think you have already seen enough of the evils of civil war, to be wary of again awakening its terrors in a peaceful and happy country."
"They that are drenched with poisonous narcotics," said the Major, "must be awakened by their physicians, though it were with the sound of the trumpet. Better that men should die bravely, with their arms in their hands, like free-born Englishmen, than that they should slide into the bloodless but dishonoured grave which slavery opens for its vassals—But it is not of war that I was about to speak," he added, assuming a milder tone. "The evils of which England now complains, are such as can be remedied by the wholesome administration of her own laws, even in the state in which they are still suffered to exist. Have these laws not a right to the support of every individual who lives under them? Have they not a right to yours?"