"I will swear to it," said Everett.
"And I," said Dangerfield. "While we were making search in the cellar, I heard something very like a pistol-shot; but I conceived it to be the drawing of a long-corked bottle of sack, to see whether there were any Popish relics in the inside on't."
"A pistol-shot!" exclaimed Topham; "here might have been a second Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey's matter.—Oh, thou real spawn of the red old dragon! for he too would have resisted the House's warrant, had we not taken him something at unawares.—Master Bridgenorth, you are a judicious magistrate, and a worthy servant of the state—I would we had many such sound Protestant justices. Shall I have this young fellow away with his parents—what think you?—or will you keep him for re-examination?"
"Master Bridgenorth," said Lady Peveril, in spite of her husband's efforts to interrupt her, "for God's sake, if ever you knew what it was to love one of the many children you have lost, or her who is now left to you, do not pursue your vengeance to the blood of my poor boy! I will forgive you all the rest—all the distress you have wrought—all the yet greater misery with which you threaten us; but do not be extreme with one who never can have offended you! Believe, that if your ears are shut against the cry of a despairing mother, those which are open to the complaint of all who sorrow, will hear my petition and your answer!"
The agony of mind and of voice with which Lady Peveril uttered these words, seemed to thrill through all present, though most of them were but too much inured to such scenes. Every one was silent, when, ceasing to speak, she fixed on Bridgenorth her eyes, glistening with tears, with the eager anxiety of one whose life or death seemed to depend upon the answer to be returned. Even Bridgenorth's inflexibility seemed to be shaken; and his voice was tremulous, as he answered, "Madam, I would to God I had the present means of relieving your great distress, otherwise than by recommending to you a reliance upon Providence; and that you take heed to your spirit, that it murmur not under this crook in your lot. For me, I am but as a rod in the hand of the strong man, which smites not of itself, but because it is wielded by the arm of him who holds the same."
"Even as I and my black rod are guided by the Commons of England," said Master Topham, who seemed marvellously pleased with the illustration.
Julian now thought it time to say something in his own behalf; and he endeavoured to temper it with as much composure as it was possible for him to assume. "Master Bridgenorth," he said, "I neither dispute your authority, nor this gentleman's warrant——"
"You do not?" said Topham. "Oh, ho, master youngster, I thought we should bring you to your senses presently!"
"Then, if you so will it, Master Topham," said Bridgenorth, "thus it shall be. You shall set out with early day, taking you, towards London, the persons of Sir Geoffrey and Lady Peveril; and that they may travel according to their quality, you will allow them their coach, sufficiently guarded."
"I will travel with them myself," said Topham; "for these rough Derbyshire roads are no easy riding; and my very eyes are weary with looking on these bleak hills. In the coach I can sleep as sound as if I were in the House, and Master Bodderbrains on his legs."
"It will become you so to take your ease, Master Topham," answered Bridgenorth. "For this youth, I will take him under my charge, and bring him up myself."
"I may not be answerable for that, worthy Master Bridgenorth," said Topham, "since he comes within the warrant of the House."
"Nay, but," said Bridgenorth, "he is only under custody for an assault, with the purpose of a rescue; and I counsel you against meddling with him, unless you have stronger guard. Sir Geoffrey is now old and broken, but this young fellow is in the flower of his youth, and hath at his beck all the debauched young Cavaliers of the neighbourhood—You will scarce cross the country without a rescue."
Topham eyed Julian wistfully, as a spider may be supposed to look upon a stray wasp which has got into his web, and which he longs to secure, though he fears the consequences of attempting him.
Julian himself replied, "I know not if this separation be well or ill meant on your part, Master Bridgenorth; but on mine, I am only desirous to share the fate of my parents; and therefore I will give my word of honour to attempt neither rescue nor escape, on condition you do not separate me from them."
"Do not say so, Julian," said his mother; "abide with Master Bridgenorth—my mind tells me he cannot mean so ill by us as his rough conduct would now lead us to infer."
"And I," said Sir Geoffrey, "know, that between the doors of my father's house and the gates of hell, there steps not such a villain on the ground! And if I wish my hands ever to be unbound again, it is because I hope for one downright blow at a grey head, that has hatched more treason than the whole Long Parliament."
"Away with thee," said the zealous officer; "is Parliament a word for so foul a mouth as thine?—Gentlemen," he added, turning to Everett and Dangerfield, "you will bear witness to this."
"To his having reviled the House of Commons—by G—d, that I will!" said Dangerfield; "I will take it on my damnation."
"And verily," said Everett, "as he spoke of Parliament generally, he hath contemned the House of Lords also."
"Why, ye poor insignificant wretches," said Sir Geoffrey, "whose very life is a lie—and whose bread is perjury—would you pervert my innocent words almost as soon as they have quitted my lips? I tell you the country is well weary of you; and should Englishmen come to their senses, the jail, the pillory, the whipping-post, and the gibbet, will be too good preferment for such base blood-suckers.—And now, Master Bridgenorth, you and they may do your worst; for I will not open my mouth to utter a single word while I am in the company of such knaves."
"Perhaps, Sir Geoffrey," answered Bridgenorth, "you would better have consulted your own safety in adopting that resolution a little sooner—the tongue is a little member, but it causes much strife.—You, Master Julian, will please to follow me, and without remonstrance or resistance; for you must be aware that I have the means of compelling."
Julian was, indeed, but too sensible, that he had no other course but that of submission to superior force; but ere he left the apartment, he kneeled down to receive his father's blessing, which the old man bestowed not without a tear in his eye, and in the emphatic words, "God bless thee, my boy; and keep thee good and true to Church and King, whatever wind shall bring foul weather!"
His mother was only able to pass her hand over his head, and to implore him, in a low tone of voice, not to be rash or violent in any attempt to render them assistance. "We are innocent," she said, "my son—we are innocent—and we are in God's hands. Be the thought our best comfort and protection."
Bridgenorth now signed to Julian to follow him, which he did, accompanied, or rather conducted, by the two guards who had first disarmed him. When they had passed from the apartment, and were at the door of the outward hall, Bridgenorth asked Julian whether he should consider him as under parole; in which case, he said, he would dispense with all other security but his own promise.
Peveril, who could not help hoping somewhat from the favourable and unresentful manner in which he was treated by one whose life he had so recently attempted, replied, without hesitation, that he would give his parole for twenty-four hours, neither to attempt to escape by force nor by flight.
"It is wisely said," replied Bridgenorth; "for though you might cause bloodshed, be assured that your utmost efforts could do no service to your parents.—Horses there—horses to the courtyard!"
The trampling of horses was soon heard; and in obedience to Bridgenorth's signal, and in compliance with his promise, Julian mounted one which was presented to him, and prepared to leave the house of his fathers, in which his parents were now prisoners, and to go, he knew not whither, under the custody of one known to be the ancient enemy of his family. He was rather surprised at observing, that Bridgenorth and he were about to travel without any other attendants.
When they were mounted, and as they rode slowly towards the outer gate of the courtyard, Bridgenorth said to him, "it is not every one who would thus unreservedly commit his safety by travelling at night, and unaided, with the hot-brained youth who so lately attempted his life."
"Master Bridgenorth," said Julian, "I might tell you truly, that I knew you not at the time when I directed my weapon against you; but I must also add, that the cause in which I used it, might have rendered me, even had I known you, a slight respecter of your person. At present, I do know you; and have neither malice against your person, nor the liberty of a parent to fight for. Besides, you have my word; and when was a Peveril known to break it?"
"Ay," replied his companion, "a Peveril—a Peveril of the Peak!—a name which has long sounded like a war-trumpet in the land; but which has now perhaps sounded its last loud note. Look back, young man, on the darksome turrets of your father's house, which uplift themselves above the sons of their people. Think upon your father, a captive—yourself in some sort a fugitive—your light quenched—your glory abased—your estate wrecked and impoverished. Think that Providence has subjected the destinies of the race of Peveril to one, whom, in their aristocratic pride, they held as a plebeian upstart. Think of this; and when you again boast of your ancestry, remember, that he who raiseth the lowly can also abase the high in heart."
Julian did indeed gaze for an instant, with a swelling heart, upon the dimly seen turrets of his paternal mansion, on which poured the moonlight, mixed with long shadows of the towers and trees. But while he sadly acknowledged the truth of Bridgenorth's observation, he felt indignant at his ill-timed triumph. "If fortune had followed worth," he said, "the Castle of Martindale, and the name of Peveril, had afforded no room for their enemy's vainglorious boast. But those who have stood high on Fortune's wheel, must abide by the consequence of its revolutions. This much I will at least say for my father's house, that it has not stood unhonoured; nor will it fall—if it is to fall—unlamented. Forbear, then, if you are indeed the Christian you call yourself, to exult in the misfortunes of others, or to confide in your own prosperity. If the light of our house be now quenched, God can rekindle it in His own good time."
Peveril broke off in extreme surprise; for as he spake the last words, the bright red beams of the family beacon began again to glimmer from its wonted watch-tower, checkering the pale moonbeam with a ruddier glow. Bridgenorth also gazed on this unexpected illumination with surprise, and not, as it seemed, without disquietude. "Young man," he resumed, "it can scarcely be but that Heaven intends to work great things by your hand, so singularly has that augury followed on your words."
So saying, he put his horse once more in motion; and looking back, from time to time, as if to assure himself that the beacon of the Castle was actually rekindled, he led the way through the well-known paths and alleys, to his own house of Moultrassie, followed by Peveril, who although sensible that the light might be altogether accidental, could not but receive as a good omen an event so intimately connected with the traditions and usages of his family.
They alighted at the hall-door, which was hastily opened by a female; and while the deep tone of Bridgenorth called on the groom to take their horses, the well-known voice of his daughter Alice was heard to exclaim in thanksgiving to God, who had restored her father in safety.
We meet, as men see phantoms in a dream, Which glide, and sigh, and sign, and move their lips, But make no sound; or, if they utter voice, 'Tis but a low and undistinguish'd moaning, Which has nor word nor sense of utter'd sound. —THE CHIEFTAIN.
We said, at the conclusion of the last chapter, that a female form appeared at the door of Moultrassie Hall; and that the well-known accents of Alice Bridgenorth were heard to hail the return of her father, from what she naturally dreaded as a perilous visit to the Castle of Martindale.
Julian, who followed his conductor with a throbbing heart into the lighted hall, was therefore prepared to see her whom he best loved, with her arms thrown around her father. The instant she had quitted his paternal embrace, she was aware of the unexpected guest who had returned in his company. A deep blush, rapidly succeeded by a deadly paleness, and again by a slighter suffusion, showed plainly to her lover that his sudden appearance was anything but indifferent to her. He bowed profoundly—a courtesy which she returned with equal formality, but did not venture to approach more nearly, feeling at once the delicacy of his own situation and of hers.
Major Bridgenorth turned his cold, fixed, grey, melancholy glance, first on the one of them and then on the other. "Some," he said gravely, "would, in my case, have avoided this meeting; but I have confidence in you both, although you are young, and beset with the snares incidental to your age. There are those within who should not know that ye have been acquainted. Wherefore, be wise, and be as strangers to each other."
Julian and Alice exchanged glances as her father turned from them, and lifting a lamp which stood in the entrance-hall, led the way to the interior apartment. There was little of consolation in this exchange of looks; for the sadness of Alice's glance was mingled with fear, and that of Julian clouded by an anxious sense of doubt. The look also was but momentary; for Alice, springing to her father, took the light out of his hand, and stepping before him, acted as the usher of both into the large oaken parlour, which has been already mentioned as the apartment in which Bridgenorth had spent the hours of dejection which followed the death of his consort and family. It was now lighted up as for the reception of company; and five or six persons sat in it, in the plain, black, stiff dress, which was affected by the formal Puritans of the time, in evidence of their contempt of the manners of the luxurious Court of Charles the Second; amongst whom, excess of extravagance in apparel, like excess of every other kind, was highly fashionable.
Julian at first glanced his eyes but slightly along the range of grave and severe faces which composed this society—men sincere, perhaps, in their pretensions to a superior purity of conduct and morals, but in whom that high praise was somewhat chastened by an affected austerity in dress and manners, allied to those Pharisees of old, who made broad their phylacteries, and would be seen of man to fast, and to discharge with rigid punctuality the observances of the law. Their dress was almost uniformly a black cloak and doublet, cut straight and close, and undecorated with lace or embroidery of any kind, black Flemish breeches and hose, square-toed shoes, with large roses made of serge ribbon. Two or three had large loose boots of calf-leather, and almost every one was begirt with a long rapier, which was suspended by leathern thongs, to a plain belt of buff, or of black leather. One or two of the elder guests, whose hair had been thinned by time, had their heads covered with a skull-cap of black silk or velvet, which, being drawn down betwixt the ears and the skull, and permitting no hair to escape, occasioned the former to project in the ungraceful manner which may be remarked in old pictures, and which procured for the Puritans the term of "prickeared Roundheads," so unceremoniously applied to them by their contemporaries.
These worthies were ranged against the wall, each in his ancient high-backed, long-legged chair; neither looking towards, nor apparently discoursing with each other; but plunged in their own reflections, or awaiting, like an assembly of Quakers, the quickening power of divine inspiration.
Major Bridgenorth glided along this formal society with noiseless step, and a composed severity of manner, resembling their own. He paused before each in succession, and apparently communicated, as he passed, the transactions of the evening, and the circumstances under which the heir of Martindale Castle was now a guest at Moultrassie Hall. Each seemed to stir at his brief detail, like a range of statues in an enchanted hall, starting into something like life, as a talisman is applied to them successively. Most of them, as they heard the narrative of their host, cast upon Julian a look of curiosity, blended with haughty scorn and the consciousness of spiritual superiority; though, in one or two instances, the milder influences of compassion were sufficiently visible.—Peveril would have undergone this gantlet of eyes with more impatience, had not his own been for the time engaged in following the motions of Alice, who glided through the apartment; and only speaking very briefly, and in whispers, to one or two of the company who addressed her, took her place beside a treble-hooded old lady, the only female of the party, and addressed herself to her in such earnest conversation, as might dispense with her raising her head, or looking at any others in the company.
Her father put a question, to which she was obliged to return an answer—"Where was Mistress Debbitch?"
"She has gone out," Alice replied, "early after sunset, to visit some old acquaintances in the neighbourhood, and she was not yet returned."
Major Bridgenorth made a gesture indicative of displeasure; and, not content with that, expressed his determined resolution that Dame Deborah should no longer remain a member of his family. "I will have those," he said aloud, and without regarding the presence of his guests, "and those only, around me, who know to keep within the sober and modest bounds of a Christian family. Who pretends to more freedom, must go out from among us, as not being of us."
A deep and emphatic humming noise, which was at that time the mode in which the Puritans signified their applause, as well of the doctrines expressed by a favourite divine in the pulpit, as of those delivered in private society, ratified the approbation of the assessors, and seemed to secure the dismission of the unfortunate governante, who stood thus detected of having strayed out of bounds. Even Peveril, although he had reaped considerable advantages, in his early acquaintance with Alice, from the mercenary and gossiping disposition of her governess, could not hear of her dismissal without approbation, so much was he desirous, that, in the hour of difficulty which might soon approach, Alice might have the benefit of countenance and advice from one of her own sex of better manners, and less suspicious probity, than Mistress Debbitch.
Almost immediately after this communication had taken place, a servant in mourning showed his thin, pinched, and wrinkled visage in the apartment, announcing, with a voice more like a passing bell than the herald of a banquet, that refreshments were provided in an adjoining apartment. Gravely leading the way, with his daughter on one side, and the puritanical female whom we have distinguished on the other, Bridgenorth himself ushered his company, who followed, with little attention to order or ceremony, into the eating-room, where a substantial supper was provided.
In this manner, Peveril, although entitled according to ordinary ceremonial, to some degree of precedence—a matter at that time considered of much importance, although now little regarded—was left among the last of those who quitted the parlour; and might indeed have brought up the rear of all, had not one of the company, who was himself late in the retreat, bowed and resigned to Julian the rank in the company which had been usurped by others.
This act of politeness naturally induced Julian to examine the features of the person who had offered him this civility; and he started to observe, under the pinched velvet cap, and above the short band-strings, the countenance of Ganlesse, as he called himself—his companion on the preceding evening. He looked again and again, especially when all were placed at the supper board, and when, consequently, he had frequent opportunities of observing this person fixedly without any breach of good manners. At first he wavered in his belief, and was much inclined to doubt the reality of his recollection; for the difference of dress was such as to effect a considerable change of appearance; and the countenance itself, far from exhibiting anything marked or memorable, was one of those ordinary visages which we see almost without remarking them, and which leave our memory so soon as the object is withdrawn from our eyes. But the impression upon his mind returned, and became stronger, until it induced him to watch with peculiar attention the manners of the individual who had thus attracted his notice.
During the time of a very prolonged grace before meat, which was delivered by one of the company—who, from his Geneva band and serge doublet, presided, as Julian supposed, over some dissenting congregation—he noticed that this man kept the same demure and severe cast of countenance usually affected by the Puritans, and which rather caricatured the reverence unquestionably due upon such occasions. His eyes were turned upward, and his huge penthouse hat, with a high crown and broad brim, held in both hands before him, rose and fell with the cadences of the speaker's voice; thus marking time, as it were, to the periods of the benediction. Yet when the slight bustle took place which attends the adjusting of chairs, &c., as men sit down to table, Julian's eye encountered that of the stranger; and as their looks met, there glanced from those of the latter an expression of satirical humour and scorn, which seemed to intimate internal ridicule of the gravity of his present demeanour.
Julian again sought to fix his eye, in order to ascertain that he had not mistaken the tendency of this transient expression, but the stranger did not allow him another opportunity. He might have been discovered by the tone of his voice; but the individual in question spoke little, and in whispers, which was indeed the fashion of the whole company, whose demeanour at table resembled that of mourners at a funeral feast.
The entertainment itself was coarse, though plentiful; and must, according to Julian's opinion, be distasteful to one so exquisitely skilled in good cheer, and so capable of enjoying, critically and scientifically, the genial preparations of his companion Smith, as Ganlesse had shown himself on the preceding evening. Accordingly, upon close observation, he remarked that the food which he took upon his plate remained there unconsumed; and that his actual supper consisted only of a crust of bread, with a glass of wine.
The repast was hurried over with the haste of those who think it shame, if not sin, to make mere animal enjoyments the means of consuming time, or of receiving pleasure; and when men wiped their mouths and moustaches, Julian remarked that the object of his curiosity used a handkerchief of the finest cambric—an article rather inconsistent with the exterior plainness, not to say coarseness, of his appearance. He used also several of the more minute refinements, then only observed at tables of the higher rank; and Julian thought he could discern, at every turn, something of courtly manners and gestures, under the precise and rustic simplicity of the character which he had assumed.[*]
[*] A Scottish gentleman in hiding, as it was emphatically termed, for some concern in a Jacobite insurrection or plot, was discovered among a number of ordinary persons, by the use of his toothpick.
But if this were indeed that same Ganlesse with whom Julian had met on the preceding evening, and who had boasted the facility with which he could assume any character which he pleased to represent for the time, what could be the purpose of this present disguise? He was, if his own words could be credited, a person of some importance, who dared to defy the danger of those officers and informers, before whom all ranks at that time trembled; nor was he likely, as Julian conceived, without some strong purpose, to subject himself to such a masquerade as the present, which could not be otherwise than irksome to one whose conversation proclaimed him of light life and free opinions. Was his appearance here for good or for evil? Did it respect his father's house, or his own person, or the family of Bridgenorth? Was the real character of Ganlesse known to the master of the house, inflexible as he was in all which concerned morals as well as religion? If not, might not the machinations of a brain so subtile affect the peace and happiness of Alice Bridgenorth?
These were questions which no reflection could enable Peveril to answer. His eyes glanced from Alice to the stranger; and new fears, and undefined suspicions, in which the safety of that beloved and lovely girl was implicated, mingled with the deep anxiety which already occupied his mind, on account of his father and his father's house.
He was in this tumult of mind, when after a thanksgiving as long as the grace, the company arose from table, and were instantly summoned to the exercise of family worship. A train of domestics, grave, sad, and melancholy as their superiors, glided in to assist at this act of devotion, and ranged themselves at the lower end of the apartment. Most of these men were armed with long tucks, as the straight stabbing swords, much used by Cromwell's soldiery, were then called. Several had large pistols also; and the corselets or cuirasses of some were heard to clank, as they seated themselves to partake in this act of devotion. The ministry of him whom Julian had supposed a preacher was not used on this occasion. Major Bridgenorth himself read and expounded a chapter of Scripture, with much strength and manliness of expression, although so as not to escape the charge of fanaticism. The nineteenth chapter of Jeremiah was the portion of Scripture which he selected; in which, under the type of breaking a potter's vessel, the prophet presages the desolation of the Jews. The lecturer was not naturally eloquent; but a strong, deep, and sincere conviction of the truth of what he said supplied him with language of energy and fire, as he drew parallel between the abominations of the worship of Baal, and the corruptions of the Church of Rome—so favourite a topic with the Puritans of that period; and denounced against the Catholics, and those who favoured them, that hissing and desolation which the prophet directed against the city of Jerusalem. His hearers made a yet closer application than the lecturer himself suggested; and many a dark proud eye intimated, by a glance on Julian, that on his father's house were already, in some part, realised those dreadful maledictions.
The lecture finished, Bridgenorth summoned them to unite with him in prayer; and on a slight change of arrangements amongst the company, which took place as they were about to kneel down, Julian found his place next to the single-minded and beautiful object of his affection, as she knelt, in her loveliness, to adore her Creator. A short time was permitted for mental devotion; during which Peveril could hear her half-breathed petition for the promised blessings of peace on earth, and good-will towards the children of men.
The prayer which ensued was in a different tone. It was poured forth by the same person who had officiated as chaplain at the table; and was in the tone of a Boanerges, or Son of Thunder—a denouncer of crimes—an invoker of judgments—almost a prophet of evil and of destruction. The testimonies and the sins of the day were not forgotten—the mysterious murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey was insisted upon—and thanks and praise were offered, that the very night on which they were assembled, had not seen another offering of a Protestant magistrate, to the bloodthirsty fury of revengeful Catholics.
Never had Julian found it more difficult, during an act of devotion, to maintain his mind in a frame befitting the posture and the occasion; and when he heard the speaker return thanks for the downfall and devastation of his family, he was strongly tempted to have started upon his feet, and charged him with offering a tribute, stained with falsehood and calumny, at the throne of truth itself. He resisted, however, an impulse which it would have been insanity to have yielded to, and his patience was not without its reward; for when his fair neighbour arose from her knees, the lengthened and prolonged prayer being at last concluded, he observed that her eyes were streaming with tears; and one glance with which she looked at him in that moment, showed more of affectionate interest for him in his fallen fortunes and precarious condition, than he had been able to obtain from her when his worldly estate seemed so much the more exalted of the two.
Cheered and fortified with the conviction that one bosom in the company, and that in which he most eagerly longed to secure an interest, sympathised with his distress, he felt strong to endure whatever was to follow, and shrunk not from the stern still smile with which, one by one, the meeting regarded him, as, gliding to their several places of repose, they indulged themselves at parting with a look of triumph on one whom they considered as their captive enemy.
Alice also passed by her lover, her eyes fixed on the ground, and answered his low obeisance without raising them. The room was now empty, but for Bridgenorth and his guest, or prisoner; for it is difficult to say in which capacity Peveril ought to regard himself. He took an old brazen lamp from the table, and, leading the way, said at the same time, "I must be the uncourtly chamberlain, who am to usher you to a place of repose, more rude, perhaps, than you have been accustomed to occupy."
Julian followed him, in silence, up an old-fashioned winding staircase, within a turret. At the landing-place on the top was a small apartment, where an ordinary pallet bed, two chairs, and a small stone table, were the only furniture. "Your bed," continued Bridgenorth, as if desirous to prolong their interview, "is not of the softest; but innocence sleeps as sound upon straw as on down."
"Sorrow, Major Bridgenorth, finds little rest on either," replied Julian. "Tell me, for you seem to await some question from me, what is to be the fate of my parents, and why you separate me from them?"
Bridgenorth, for answer, indicated with his finger the mark which his countenance still showed from the explosion of Julian's pistol.
"That," replied Julian, "is not the real cause of your proceedings against me. It cannot be, that you, who have been a soldier, and are a man, can be surprised or displeased by my interference in the defence of my father. Above all, you cannot, and I must needs say you do not, believe that I would have raised my hand against you personally, had there been a moment's time for recognition."
"I may grant all this," said Bridgenorth; "but what the better are you for my good opinion, or for the ease with which I can forgive you the injury which you aimed at me? You are in my custody as a magistrate, accused of abetting the foul, bloody, and heathenish plot, for the establishment of Popery, the murder of the King, and the general massacre of all true Protestants."
"And on what grounds, either of fact or suspicion, dare any one accuse me of such a crime?" said Julian. "I have hardly heard of the plot, save by the mouth of common rumour, which, while it speaks of nothing else, takes care to say nothing distinctly even on that subject."
"It may be enough for me to tell you," replied Bridgenorth, "and perhaps it is a word too much—that you are a discovered intriguer—a spied spy—who carries tokens and messages betwixt the Popish Countess of Derby and the Catholic party in London. You have not conducted your matters with such discretion, but that this is well known, and can be sufficiently proved. To this charge, which you are well aware you cannot deny, these men, Everett and Dangerfield, are not unwilling to add, from the recollection of your face, other passages, which will certainly cost you your life when you come before a Protestant jury."
"They lie like villains," said Peveril, "who hold me accessory to any plot either against the King, the nation, or the state of religion; and for the Countess, her loyalty has been too long, and too highly proved, to permit her being implicated in such injurious suspicions."
"What she has already done," said Bridgenorth, his face darkening as he spoke, "against the faithful champions of pure religion, hath sufficiently shown of what she is capable. She hath betaken herself to her rock, and sits, as she thinks, in security, like the eagle reposing after his bloody banquet. But the arrow of the fowler may yet reach her—the shaft is whetted—the bow is bended—and it will be soon seen whether Amalek or Israel shall prevail. But for thee, Julian Peveril—why should I conceal it from thee?—my heart yearns for thee as a woman's for her first-born. To thee I will give, at the expense of my own reputation—perhaps at the risk of personal suspicion—for who, in these days of doubt, shall be exempted from it—to thee, I say, I will give means of escape, which else were impossible to thee. The staircase of this turret descends to the gardens—the postern-gate is unlatched—on the right hand lie the stables, where you will find your own horse—take it, and make for Liverpool—I will give you credit with a friend under the name of Simon Simonson, one persecuted by the prelates; and he will expedite your passage from the kingdom."
"Major Bridgenorth," said Julian, "I will not deceive you. Were I to accept your offer of freedom, it would be to attend to a higher call than that of mere self-preservation. My father is in danger—my mother in sorrow—the voices of religion and nature call me to their side. I am their only child—their only hope—I will aid them, or perish with them!"
"Thou art mad," said Bridgenorth—"aid them thou canst not—perish with them thou mayst, and even accelerate their ruin; for, in addition to the charges with which thy unhappy father is loaded, it would be no slight aggravation, that while he meditated arming and calling together the Catholics and High Churchmen of Cheshire and Derbyshire, his son should prove to be the confidential agent of the Countess of Derby, who aided her in making good her stronghold against the Protestant commissioners, and was despatched by her to open secret communication with the Popish interest in London."
"You have twice stated me as such an agent," said Peveril, resolved that his silence should not be construed into an admission of the charge, though he felt it was in some degree well founded—"What reason have you for such an allegation?"
"Will it suffice for a proof of my intimate acquaintance with your mystery," replied Bridgenorth, "if I should repeat to you the last words which the Countess used to you when you left the Castle of that Amalekitish woman? Thus she spoke: 'I am now a forlorn widow,' she said, 'whom sorrow has made selfish.'"
Peveril started, for these were the very words the Countess had used; but he instantly recovered himself, and replied, "Be your information of what nature it will, I deny, and I defy it, so far as it attaches aught like guilt to me. There lives not a man more innocent of a disloyal thought, or of a traitorous purpose. What I say for myself, I will, to the best of my knowledge, say and maintain on account of the noble Countess, to whom I am indebted for nurture."
"Perish, then, in thy obstinacy!" said Bridgenorth; and turning hastily from him, he left the room, and Julian heard him hasten down the narrow staircase, as if distrusting his own resolution.
With a heavy heart, yet with that confidence in an overruling Providence which never forsakes a good and brave man, Peveril betook himself to his lowly place of repose.
The course of human life is changeful still, As is the fickle wind and wandering rill; Or, like the light dance which the wild-breeze weaves Amidst the fated race of fallen leaves; Which now its breath bears down, now tosses high, Beats to the earth, or wafts to middle sky. Such, and so varied, the precarious play Of fate with man, frail tenant of a day! —ANONYMOUS.
Whilst, overcome with fatigue, and worn out by anxiety, Julian Peveril slumbered as a prisoner in the house of his hereditary enemy, Fortune was preparing his release by one of those sudden frolics with which she loves to confound the calculations and expectancies of humanity; and as she fixes on strange agents for such purposes, she condescended to employ on the present occasion, no less a personage than Mistress Deborah Debbitch.
Instigated, doubtless, by the pristine reminiscences of former times, no sooner had that most prudent and considerate dame found herself in the vicinity of the scenes of her earlier days, than she bethought herself of a visit to the ancient house-keeper of Martindale Castle, Dame Ellesmere by name, who, long retired from active service, resided at the keeper's lodge, in the west thicket, with her nephew, Lance Outram, subsisting upon the savings of her better days, and on a small pension allowed by Sir Geoffrey to her age and faithful services.
Now Dame Ellesmere and Mistress Deborah had not by any means been formerly on so friendly a footing, as this haste to visit her might be supposed to intimate. But years had taught Deborah to forget and forgive; or perhaps she had no special objection, under cover of a visit to Dame Ellesmere, to take the chance of seeing what changes time had made on her old admirer the keeper. Both inhabitants were in the cottage when, after having seen her master set forth on his expedition to the Castle, Mistress Debbitch, dressed in her very best gown, footed it through gutter, and over stile, and by pathway green, to knock at their door, and to lift the hatch at the hospitable invitation which bade her come in.
Dame Ellesmere's eyes were so often dim, that, even with the aid of spectacles, she failed to recognise, in the portly and mature personage who entered their cottage, the tight well-made lass, who, presuming on her good looks and flippant tongue, had so often provoked her by insubordination; and her former lover, the redoubted Lance, not being conscious that ale had given rotundity to his own figure, which was formerly so slight and active, and that brandy had transferred to his nose the colour which had once occupied his cheeks, was unable to discover that Deborah's French cap, composed of sarsenet and Brussels lace, shaded the features which had so often procured him a rebuke from Dr. Dummerar, for suffering his eyes, during the time of prayers, to wander to the maid-servants' bench.
In brief, the blushing visitor was compelled to make herself known; and when known, was received by aunt and nephew with the most sincere cordiality.
The home-brewed was produced; and, in lieu of more vulgar food, a few slices of venison presently hissed in the frying pan, giving strong room for inference that Lance Outram, in his capacity of keeper, neglected not his own cottage when he supplied the larder at the Castle. A modest sip of the excellent Derbyshire ale, and a taste of the highly-seasoned hash, soon placed Deborah entirely at home with her old acquaintance.
Having put all necessary questions, and received all suitable answers, respecting the state of the neighbourhood, and such of her own friends as continued to reside there, the conversation began rather to flag, until Deborah found the art of again re-newing its interest, by communicating to her friends the dismal intelligence that they must soon look for deadly bad news from the Castle; for that her present master, Major Bridgenorth, had been summoned, by some great people from London, to assist in taking her old master, Sir Geoffrey; and that all Master Bridgenorth's servants, and several other persons whom she named, friends and adherents of the same interest, had assembled a force to surprise the Castle; and that as Sir Geoffrey was now so old, and gouty withal, it could not be expected he should make the defence he was wont; and then he was known to be so stout-hearted, that it was not to be supposed that he would yield up without stroke of sword; and then if he was killed, as he was like to be, amongst them that liked never a bone of his body, and now had him at their mercy, why, in that case, she, Dame Deborah, would look upon Lady Peveril as little better than a dead woman; and undoubtedly there would be a general mourning through all that country, where they had such great kin; and silks were likely to rise on it, as Master Lutestring, the mercer of Chesterfield, was like to feel in his purse bottom. But for her part, let matters wag how they would, an if Master Julian Peveril was to come to his own, she could give as near a guess as e'er another who was likely to be Lady at Martindale.
The text of this lecture, or, in other words, the fact that Bridgenorth was gone with a party to attack Sir Geoffrey Peveril in his own Castle of Martindale, sounded so stunningly strange in the ears of those old retainers of his family, that they had no power either to attend to Mistress Deborah's inferences, or to interrupt the velocity of speech with which she poured them forth. And when at length she made a breathless pause, all that poor Dame Ellesmere could reply, was the emphatic question, "Bridgenorth brave Peveril of the Peak!—Is the woman mad?"
"Come, come, dame," said Deborah, "woman me no more than I woman you. I have not been called Mistress at the head of the table for so many years, to be woman'd here by you. And for the news, it is as true as that you are sitting there in a white hood, who will wear a black one ere long."
"Lance Outram," said the old woman, "make out, if thou be'st a man, and listen about if aught stirs up at the Castle."
"If there should," said Outram, "I am even too long here;" and he caught up his crossbow, and one or two arrows, and rushed out of the cottage.
"Well-a-day!" said Mistress Deborah, "see if my news have not frightened away Lance Outram too, whom they used to say nothing could start. But do not take on so, dame; for I dare say if the Castle and the lands pass to my new master, Major Bridgenorth, as it is like they will—for I have heard that he has powerful debts over the estate—you shall have my good word with him, and I promise you he is no bad man; something precise about preaching and praying, and about the dress which one should wear, which, I must own, beseems not a gentleman, as, to be sure, every woman knows best what becomes her. But for you, dame, that wear a prayer-book at your girdle, with your housewife-case, and never change the fashion of your white hood, I dare say he will not grudge you the little matter you need, and are not able to win."
"Out, sordid jade!" exclaimed Dame Ellesmere, her very flesh quivering betwixt apprehension and anger, "and hold your peace this instant, or I will find those that shall flay the very hide from thee with dog-whips. Hast thou ate thy noble master's bread, not only to betray his trust, and fly from his service, but wouldst thou come here, like an ill-omened bird as thou art, to triumph over his downfall?"
"Nay, dame," said Deborah, over whom the violence of the old woman had obtained a certain predominance; "it is not I that say it—only the warrant of the Parliament folks."
"I thought we had done with their warrants ever since the blessed twenty-ninth of May," said the old housekeeper of Martindale Castle; "but this I tell thee, sweetheart, that I have seen such warrants crammed, at the sword's point, down the throats of them that brought them; and so shall this be, if there is one true man left to drink of the Dove."
As she spoke, Lance Outram re-entered the cottage. "Naunt," he said in dismay, "I doubt it is true what she says. The beacon tower is as black as my belt. No Pole-star of Peveril. What does that betoken?"
"Death, ruin, and captivity," exclaimed old Ellesmere. "Make for the Castle, thou knave. Thrust in thy great body. Strike for the house that bred thee and fed thee; and if thou art buried under the ruins, thou diest a man's death."
"Nay, naunt, I shall not be slack," answered Outram. "But here come folks that I warrant can tell us more on't."
One or two of the female servants, who had fled from the Castle during the alarm, now rushed in with various reports of the case; but all agreeing that a body of armed men were in possession of the Castle, and that Major Bridgenorth had taken young Master Julian prisoner, and conveyed him down to Moultrassie Hall, with his feet tied under the belly of the nag—a shameful sight to be seen—and he so well born and so handsome.
Lance scratched his head; and though feeling the duty incumbent upon him as a faithful servant, which was indeed specially dinned into him by the cries and exclamations of his aunt, he seemed not a little dubious how to conduct himself. "I would to God, naunt," he said at last, "that old Whitaker were alive now, with his long stories about Marston Moor and Edge Hill, that made us all yawn our jaws off their hinges, in spite of broiled rashers and double beer! When a man is missed, he is moaned, as they say; and I would rather than a broad piece he had been here to have sorted this matter, for it is clean out of my way as a woodsman, that have no skill of war. But dang it, if old Sir Geoffrey go to the wall without a knock for it!—Here you, Nell"—(speaking to one of the fugitive maidens from the Castle)—"but, no—you have not the heart of a cat, and are afraid of your own shadow by moonlight—But, Cis, you are a stout-hearted wench, and know a buck from a bullfinch. Hark thee, Cis, as you would wish to be married, get up to the Castle again, and get thee in—thou best knowest where—for thou hast oft gotten out of postern to a dance or junketing, to my knowledge—Get thee back to the Castle, as ye hope to be married—See my lady—they cannot hinder thee of that—my lady has a head worth twenty of ours—If I am to gather force, light up the beacon for a signal; and spare not a tar barrel on't. Thou mayst do it safe enough. I warrant the Roundheads busy with drink and plunder.—And, hark thee, say to my lady I am gone down to the miners' houses at Bonadventure. The rogues were mutinying for their wages but yesterday; they will be all ready for good or bad. Let her send orders down to me; or do you come yourself, your legs are long enough."
"Whether they are or not, Master Lance (and you know nothing of the matter), they shall do your errand to-night, for love of the old knight and his lady."
So Cisly Sellok, a kind of Derbyshire Camilla, who had won the smock at the foot-race at Ashbourne, sprung forward towards the Castle with a speed which few could have equalled.
"There goes a mettled wench," said Lance; "and now, naunt, give me the old broadsword—it is above the bed-head—and my wood-knife; and I shall do well enough."
"And what is to become of me?" bleated the unfortunate Mistress Deborah Debbitch.
"You must remain here with my aunt, Mistress Deb; and, for old acquaintance' sake, she will take care no harm befalls you; but take heed how you attempt to break bounds."
So saying, and pondering in his own mind the task which he had undertaken, the hardy forester strode down the moonlight glade, scarcely hearing the blessings and cautions which Dame Ellesmere kept showering after him. His thoughts were not altogether warlike. "What a tight ankle the jade hath!—she trips it like a doe in summer over dew. Well, but here are the huts—Let us to this gear.—Are ye all asleep, you dammers, sinkers, and drift-drivers? turn out, ye subterranean badgers. Here is your master, Sir Geoffrey, dead, for aught ye know or care. Do not you see the beacon is unlit, and you sit there like so many asses?"
"Why," answered one of the miners, who now began to come out of their huts—
"An he be dead, He will eat no more bread."
"And you are like to eat none neither," said Lance; "for the works will be presently stopped, and all of you turned off."
"Well, and what of it, Master Lance? As good play for nought as work for nought. Here is four weeks we have scarce seen the colour of Sir Geoffrey's coin; and you ask us to care whether he be dead or in life? For you, that goes about, trotting upon your horse, and doing for work what all men do for pleasure, it may be well enough; but it is another matter to be leaving God's light, and burrowing all day and night in darkness, like a toad in a hole—that's not to be done for nought, I trow; and if Sir Geoffrey is dead, his soul will suffer for't; and if he's alive, we'll have him in the Barmoot Court."
"Hark ye, gaffer," said Lance, "and take notice, my mates, all of you," for a considerable number of these rude and subterranean people had now assembled to hear the discussion—"Has Sir Geoffrey, think you, ever put a penny in his pouch out of this same Bonadventure mine?"
"I cannot say as I think he has," answered old Ditchley, the party who maintained the controversy.
"Answer on your conscience, though it be but a leaden one. Do not you know that he hath lost a good penny?"
"Why, I believe he may," said Gaffer Ditchley. "What then!—lose to-day, win to-morrow—the miner must eat in the meantime."
"True; but what will you eat when Master Bridgenorth gets the land, that will not hear of a mine being wrought on his own ground? Will he work on at dead loss, think ye?" demanded trusty Lance.
"Bridgenorth?—he of Moultrassie Hall, that stopped the great Felicity Work, on which his father laid out, some say, ten thousand pounds, and never got in a penny? Why, what has he to do with Sir Geoffrey's property down here at Bonadventure? It was never his, I trow."
"Nay, what do I know?" answered Lance, who saw the impression he had made. "Law and debt will give him half Derbyshire, I think, unless you stand by old Sir Geoffrey."
"But if Sir Geoffrey be dead," said Ditchley cautiously, "what good will our standing by do to him?"
"I did not say he was dead, but only as bad as dead; in the hands of the Roundheads—a prisoner up yonder, at his own Castle," said Lance; "and will have his head cut off, like the good Earl of Derby's at Bolton-le-Moors."
"Nay, then, comrades," said Gaffer Ditchley, "an it be as Master Lance says, I think we should bear a hand for stout old Sir Geoffrey, against a low-born mean-spirited fellow like Bridgenorth, who shut up a shaft had cost thousands, without getting a penny profit on't. So hurra for Sir Geoffrey, and down with the Rump! But hold ye a blink—hold"—(and the waving of his hand stopped the commencing cheer)—"Hark ye, Master Lance, it must be all over, for the beacon is as black as night; and you know yourself that marks the Lord's death."
"It will kindle again in an instant," said Lance; internally adding, "I pray to God it may!—It will kindle in an instant—lack of fuel, and the confusion of the family."
"Ay, like enow, like enow," said Ditchley; "but I winna budge till I see it blazing."
"Why then, there a-goes!" said Lance. "Thank thee, Cis—thank thee, my good wench.—Believe your own eyes, my lads, if you will not believe me; and now hurra for Peveril of the Peak—the King and his friends—and down with Rumps and Roundheads!"
The sudden rekindling of the beacon had all the effect which Lance could have desired upon the minds of his rude and ignorant hearers, who, in their superstitious humour, had strongly associated the Polar-star of Peveril with the fortunes of the family. Once moved, according to the national character of their countrymen, they soon became enthusiastic; and Lance found himself at the head of thirty stout fellows and upwards, armed with their pick-axes, and ready to execute whatever task he should impose on them.
Trusting to enter the Castle by the postern, which had served to accommodate himself and other domestics upon an emergency, his only anxiety was to keep his march silent; and he earnestly recommended to his followers to reserve their shouts for the moment of the attack. They had not advanced far on their road to the Castle, when Cisly Sellok met them so breathless with haste, that the poor girl was obliged to throw herself into Master Lance's arms.
"Stand up, my mettled wench," said he, giving her a sly kiss at the same time, "and let us know what is going on up at the Castle."
"My lady bids you, as you would serve God and your master, not to come up to the Castle, which can but make bloodshed; for she says Sir Geoffrey is lawfully in hand, and that he must bide the issue; and that he is innocent of what he is charged with, and is going up to speak for himself before King and Council, and she goes up with him. And besides, they have found out the postern, the Roundhead rogues; for two of them saw me when I went out of door, and chased me; but I showed them a fair pair of heels."
"As ever dashed dew from the cowslip," said Lance. "But what the foul fiend is to be done? for if they have secured the postern, I know not how the dickens we can get in."
"All is fastened with bolt and staple, and guarded with gun and pistol, at the Castle," quoth Cisly; "and so sharp are they, that they nigh caught me coming with my lady's message, as I told you. But my lady says, if you could deliver her son, Master Julian, from Bridgenorth, that she would hold it good service."
"What!" said Lance, "is young master at the Castle? I taught him to shoot his first shaft. But how to get in!"
"He was at the Castle in the midst of the ruffle, but old Bridgenorth has carried him down prisoner to the hall," answered Cisly. "There was never faith nor courtesy in an old Puritan who never had pipe and tabor in his house since it was built."
"Or who stopped a promising mine," said Ditchley, "to save a few thousand pounds, when he might have made himself as rich as Lord of Chatsworth, and fed a hundred good fellows all the whilst."
"Why, then," said Lance, "since you are all of a mind, we will go draw the cover for the old badger; and I promise you that the Hall is not like one of your real houses of quality where the walls are as thick as whinstone-dikes, but foolish brick-work, that your pick-axes will work through as if it were cheese. Huzza once more for Peveril of the Peak! down with Bridgenorth, and all upstart cuckoldly Roundheads!"
Having indulged the throats of his followers with one buxom huzza, Lance commanded them to cease their clamours, and proceeded to conduct them, by such paths as seemed the least likely to be watched, to the courtyard of Moultrassie Hall. On the road they were joined by several stout yeoman farmers, either followers of the Peveril family, or friends to the High Church and Cavalier party; most of whom, alarmed by the news which began to fly fast through the neighbourhood, were armed with sword and pistol.
Lance Outram halted his party, at the distance, as he himself described it, of a flight-shot from the house, and advanced, alone, and in silence, to reconnoitre; and having previously commanded Ditchley and his subterranean allies to come to his assistance whenever he should whistle, he crept cautiously forward, and soon found that those whom he came to surprise, true to the discipline which had gained their party such decided superiority during the Civil War, had posted a sentinel, who paced through the courtyard, piously chanting a psalm-tune, while his arms, crossed on his bosom, supported a gun of formidable length.
"Now, a true solder," said Lance Outram to himself, "would put a stop to thy snivelling ditty, by making a broad arrow quiver in your heart, and no great alarm given. But, dang it, I have not the right spirit for a soldier—I cannot fight a man till my blood's up; and for shooting him from behind a wall it is cruelly like to stalking a deer. I'll e'en face him, and try what to make of him."
With this doughty resolution, and taking no farther care to conceal himself, he entered the courtyard boldly, and was making forward to the front door of the hall, as a matter of course. But the old Cromwellian, who was on guard, had not so learned his duty. "Who goes there?—Stand, friend—stand; or, verily, I will shoot thee to death!" were challenges which followed each other quick, the last being enforced by the levelling and presenting the said long-barrelled gun with which he was armed.
"Why, what a murrain!" answered Lance. "Is it your fashion to go a-shooting at this time o' night? Why, this is but a time for bat-fowling."
"Nay, but hark thee, friend," said the experienced sentinel, "I am none of those who do this work negligently. Thou canst not snare me with thy crafty speech, though thou wouldst make it to sound simple in mine ear. Of a verity I will shoot, unless thou tell thy name and business."
"Name!" said Lance; "why, what a dickens should it be but Robin Round—honest Robin of Redham; and for business, an you must needs know, I come on a message from some Parliament man, up yonder at the Castle, with letters for worshipful Master Bridgenorth of Moultrassie Hall; and this be the place, as I think; though why ye be marching up and down at his door, like the sign of a Red Man, with your old firelock there, I cannot so well guess."
"Give me the letters, my friend," said the sentinel, to whom this explanation seemed very natural and probable, "and I will cause them forthwith to be delivered into his worship's own hand."
Rummaging in his pockets, as if to pull out the letters which never existed, Master Lance approached within the sentinel's piece, and, before he was aware, suddenly seized him by the collar, whistled sharp and shrill, and exerting his skill as a wrestler, for which he had been distinguished in his youth, he stretched his antagonist on his back—the musket for which they struggled going off in the fall.
The miners rushed into the courtyard at Lance's signal; and hopeless any longer of prosecuting his design in silence, Lance commanded two of them to secure the prisoner, and the rest to cheer loudly, and attack the door of the house. Instantly the courtyard of the mansion rang with the cry of "Peveril of the Peak for ever!" with all the abuse which the Royalists had invented to cast upon the Roundheads, during so many years of contention; and at the same time, while some assailed the door with their mining implements, others directed their attack against the angle, where a kind of porch joined to the main front of the building; and there, in some degree protected by the projection of the wall, and of a balcony which overhung the porch, wrought in more security, as well as with more effect, than the others; for the doors being of oak, thickly studded with nails, offered a more effectual resistance to violence than the brick-work.
The noise of this hubbub on the outside, soon excited wild alarm and tumult within. Lights flew from window to window, and voices were heard demanding the cause of the attack; to which the party cries of those who were in the courtyard afforded a sufficient, or at least the only answer, which was vouchsafed. At length the window of a projecting staircase opened, and the voice of Bridgenorth himself demanded authoritatively what the tumult meant, and commanded the rioters to desist, upon their own proper and immediate peril.
"We want our young master, you canting old thief," was the reply; "and if we have him not instantly, the topmost stone of your house shall lie as low as the foundation."
"We shall try that presently," said Bridgenorth; "for if there is another blow struck against the walls of my peaceful house, I will fire my carabine among you, and your blood be upon your own head. I have a score of friends, well armed with musket and pistol, to defend my house; and we have both the means and heart, with Heaven's assistance, to repay any violence you can offer."
"Master Bridgenorth," replied Lance, who, though no soldier, was sportsman enough to comprehend the advantage which those under cover, and using firearms, must necessarily have over his party, exposed to their aim, in a great measure, and without means of answering their fire,—"Master Bridgenorth, let us crave parley with you, and fair conditions. We desire to do you no evil, but will have back our young master; it is enough that you have got our old one and his lady. It is foul chasing to kill hart, hind, and fawn; and we will give you some light on the subject in an instant."
This speech was followed by a great crash amongst the lower windows of the house, according to a new species of attack which had been suggested by some of the assailants.
"I would take the honest fellow's word, and let young Peveril go," said one of the garrison, who, carelessly yawning, approached on the inside of the post at which Bridgenorth had stationed himself.
"Are you mad?" said Bridgenorth; "or do you think me poor enough in spirit to give up the advantages I now possess over the family of Peveril, for the awe of a parcel of boors, whom the first discharge will scatter like chaff before the whirlwind?"
"Nay," answered the speaker, who was the same individual that had struck Julian by his resemblance to the man who called himself Ganlesse, "I love a dire revenge, but we shall buy it somewhat too dear if these rascals set the house on fire, as they are like to do, while you are parleying from the window. They have thrown torches or firebrands into the hall; and it is all our friends can do to keep the flame from catching the wainscoting, which is old and dry."
"Now, may Heaven judge thee for thy lightness of spirit," answered Bridgenorth; "one would think mischief was so properly thy element, that to thee it was indifferent whether friend or foe was the sufferer."
So saying, he ran hastily downstairs towards the hall, into which, through broken casements, and betwixt the iron bars, which prevented human entrance, the assailants had thrust lighted straw, sufficient to excite much smoke and some fire, and to throw the defenders of the house into great confusion; insomuch, that of several shots fired hastily from the windows, little or no damage followed to the besiegers, who, getting warm on the onset, answered the hostile charges with loud shouts of "Peveril for ever!" and had already made a practicable breach through the brick-wall of the tenement, through which Lance, Ditchley, and several of the most adventurous among their followers, made their way into the hall.
The complete capture of the house remained, however, as far off as ever. The defenders mixed with much coolness and skill that solemn and deep spirit of enthusiasm which sets life at less than nothing, in comparison to real or supposed duty. From the half-open doors which led into the hall, they maintained a fire which began to grow fatal. One miner was shot dead; three or four were wounded; and Lance scarce knew whether he should draw his forces from the house, and leave it a prey to the flames, or, making a desperate attack on the posts occupied by the defenders, try to obtain unmolested possession of the place. At this moment, his course of conduct was determined by an unexpected occurrence, of which it is necessary to trace the cause.
Julian Peveril had been, like other inhabitants of Moultrassie Hall on that momentous night, awakened by the report of the sentinel's musket, followed by the shouts of his father's vassals and followers; of which he collected enough to guess that Bridgenorth's house was attacked with a view to his liberation. Very doubtful of the issue of such an attempt, dizzy with the slumber from which he had been so suddenly awakened, and confounded with the rapid succession of events to which he had been lately a witness, he speedily put on a part of his clothes, and hastened to the window of his apartment. From this he could see nothing to relieve his anxiety, for it looked towards a quarter different from that on which the attack was made. He attempted his door; it was locked on the outside; and his perplexity and anxiety became extreme, when suddenly the lock was turned, and in an underdress, hastily assumed in the moment of alarm, her hair streaming on her shoulders, her eyes gleaming betwixt fear and resolution, Alice Bridgenorth rushed into his apartment, and seized his hand with the fervent exclamation, "Julian, save my father!"
The light which she bore in her hand served to show those features which could rarely have been viewed by any one without emotion, but which bore an expression irresistible to a lover.
"Alice," he said, "what means this? What is the danger? Where is your father?"
"Do not stay to question," she answered; "but if you would save him, follow me!"
At the same time she led the way, with great speed, half-way down the turret stair case which led to his room, thence turning through a side door, along a long gallery, to a larger and wider stair, at the bottom of which stood her father, surrounded by four or five of his friends, scarce discernible through the smoke of the fire which began to take hold in the hall, as well as that which arose from the repeated discharge of their own firearms.
Julian saw there was not a moment to be lost, if he meant to be a successful mediator. He rushed through Bridgenorth's party ere they were aware of his approach, and throwing himself amongst the assailants who occupied the hall in considerable numbers, he assured them of his personal safety, and conjured them to depart.
"Not without a few more slices at the Rump, master," answered Lance. "I am principally glad to see you safe and well; but here is Joe Rimegap shot as dead as a buck in season, and more of us are hurt; and we'll have revenge, and roast the Puritans like apples for lambswool!"
"Then you shall roast me along with them," said Julian; "for I vow to God, I will not leave the hall, being bound by parole of honour to abide with Major Bridgenorth till lawfully dismissed."
"Now out on you, an you were ten times a Peveril!" said Ditchley; "to give so many honest fellows loss and labour on your behalf, and to show them no kinder countenance.—I say, beat up the fire, and burn all together!"
"Nay, nay; but peace, my masters, and hearken to reason," said Julian; "we are all here in evil condition, and you will only make it worse by contention. Do you help to put out this same fire, which will else cost us all dear. Keep yourselves under arms. Let Master Bridgenorth and me settle some grounds of accommodation, and I trust all will be favourably made up on both sides; and if not, you shall have my consent and countenance to fight it out; and come on it what will, I will never forget this night's good service."
He then drew Ditchley and Lance Outram aside, while the rest stood suspended at his appearance and words, and expressing the utmost thanks and gratitude for what they had already done, urged them, as the greatest favour which they could do towards him and his father's house, to permit him to negotiate the terms of his emancipation from thraldom; at the same time forcing on Ditchley five or six gold pieces, that the brave lads of Bonadventure might drink his health; whilst to Lance he expressed the warmest sense of his active kindness, but protested he could only consider it as good service to his house, if he was allowed to manage the matter after his own fashion.
"Why," answered Lance, "I am well out on it, Master Julian; for it is matter beyond my mastery. All that I stand to is, that I will see you safe out of this same Moultrassie Hall; for our old Naunt Ellesmere will else give me but cold comfort when I come home. Truth is, I began unwillingly; but when I saw the poor fellow Joe shot beside me, why, I thought we should have some amends. But I put it all in your Honour's hands."
During this colloquy both parties had been amicably employed in extinguishing the fire, which might otherwise have been fatal to all. It required a general effort to get it under; and both parties agreed on the necessary labour, with as much unanimity, as if the water they brought in leathern buckets from the well to throw upon the fire, had some effect in slaking their mutual hostility.
Necessity—thou best of peacemakers, As well as surest prompter of invention— Help us to composition! —ANONYMOUS.
While the fire continued, the two parties laboured in active union, like the jarring factions of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem, when compelled to unite in resisting an assault of the besiegers. But when the last bucket of water had hissed on the few embers that continued to glimmer—when the sense of mutual hostility, hitherto suspended by a feeling of common danger, was in its turn rekindled—the parties, mingled as they had hitherto been in one common exertion, drew off from each other, and began to arrange themselves at opposite sides of the hall, and handle their weapons, as if for a renewal of the fight.
Bridgenorth interrupted any farther progress of this menaced hostility. "Julian Peveril," he said, "thou art free to walk thine own path, since thou wilt not walk with me that road which is more safe, as well as more honourable. But if you do by my counsel, you will get soon beyond the British seas."
"Ralph Bridgenorth," said one of his friends, "this is but evil and feeble conduct on thine own part. Wilt thou withhold thy hand from the battle, to defend, from these sons of Belial, the captive of thy bow and of thy spear? Surely we are enow to deal with them in the security of the old serpent, until we essay whether the Lord will not give us victory therein."
A hum of stern assent followed; and had not Ganlesse now interfered, the combat would probably have been renewed. He took the advocate for war apart into one of the window recesses, and apparently satisfied his objections; for as he returned to his companions, he said to them, "Our friend hath so well argued this matter, that, verily, since he is of the same mind with the worthy Major Bridgenorth, I think the youth may be set at liberty."
As no farther objection was offered, it only remained with Julian to thank and reward those who had been active in his assistance. Having first obtained from Bridgenorth a promise of indemnity to them for the riot they had committed, a few kind words conveyed his sense of their services; and some broad pieces, thrust into the hand of Lance Outram, furnished the means for affording them a holiday. They would have remained to protect him, but, fearful of farther disorder, and relying entirely on the good faith of Major Bridgenorth, he dismissed them all except Lance, whom he detained to attend upon him for a few minutes, till he should depart from Moultrassie. But ere leaving the Hall, he could not repress his desire to speak with Bridgenorth in secret; and advancing towards him, he expressed such a desire.
Tacitly granting what was asked of him, Bridgenorth led the way to a small summer saloon adjoining to the Hall, where, with his usual gravity and indifference of manner, he seemed to await in silence what Peveril had to communicate.
Julian found it difficult, where so little opening was afforded him, to find a tone in which to open the subjects he had at heart, that should be at once dignified and conciliating. "Major Bridgenorth," he said at length, "you have been a son, and an affectionate one—You may conceive my present anxiety—My father!—What has been designed for him?"
"What the law will," answered Bridgenorth. "Had he walked by the counsels which I procured to be given to him, he might have dwelt safely in the house of his ancestors. His fate is now beyond my control—far beyond yours. It must be with him as his country decide."
"And my mother?" said Peveril.
"Will consult, as she has ever done, her own duty; and create her own happiness by doing so," replied Bridgenorth. "Believe, my designs towards your family are better than they may seem through the mist which adversity has spread around your house. I may triumph as a man; but as a man I must also remember, in my hour, that mine enemies have had theirs.—Have you aught else to say?" he added, after a momentary pause. "You have rejected once, yea, and again, the hand I stretched out to you. Methinks little more remains between us."
These words, which seemed to cut short farther discussion, were calmly spoken; so that though they appeared to discourage farther question, they could not interrupt that which still trembled on Julian's tongue. He made a step or two towards the door; then suddenly returned. "Your daughter?" he said—"Major Bridgenorth—I should ask—I do ask forgiveness for mentioning her name—but may I not inquire after her?—May I not express my wishes for her future happiness?"
"Your interest in her is but too flattering," said Bridgenorth; "but you have already chosen your part; and you must be, in future, strangers to each other. I may have wished it otherwise, but the hour of grace is passed, during which your compliance with my advice might—I will speak it plainly—have led to your union. For her happiness—if such a word belongs to mortal pilgrimage—I shall care for it sufficiently. She leaves this place to-day, under the guardianship of a sure friend."
"Not of——?" exclaimed Peveril, and stopped short; for he felt he had no right to pronounce the name which came to his lips.
"Why do you pause?" said Bridgenorth; "a sudden thought is often a wise, almost always an honest one. With whom did you suppose I meant to entrust my child, that the idea called forth so anxious an expression?"
"Again I should ask your forgiveness," said Julian, "for meddling where I have little right to interfere. But I saw a face here that is known to me—the person calls himself Ganlesse—Is it with him that you mean to entrust your daughter?"
"Even to the person who call himself Ganlesse," said Bridgenorth, without expressing either anger or surprise.
"And do you know to whom you commit a charge so precious to all who know her, and so dear to yourself?" said Julian.
"Do you know, who ask me the question?" answered Bridgenorth.
"I own I do not," answered Julian; "but I have seen him in a character so different from that he now wears, that I feel it my duty to warn you, how you entrust the charge of your child to one who can alternately play the profligate or the hypocrite, as it suits his own interest or humour."
Bridgenorth smiled contemptuously. "I might be angry," he said, "with the officious zeal which supposes that its green conceptions can instruct my grey hairs; but, good Julian, I do but only ask from you the liberal construction, that I, who have had much converse with mankind, know with whom I trust what is dearest to me. He of whom thou speakest hath one visage to his friends, though he may have others to the world, living amongst those before whom honest features should be concealed under a grotesque vizard; even as in the sinful sports of the day, called maskings and mummeries, where the wise, if he show himself at all, must be contented to play the apish and fantastic fool."
"I would only pray your wisdom to beware," said Julian, "of one, who, as he has a vizard for others, may also have one which can disguise his real features from you yourself."
"This is being over careful, young man," replied Bridgenorth, more shortly than he had hitherto spoken; "if you would walk by my counsel, you will attend to your own affairs, which, credit me, deserve all your care, and leave others to the management of theirs."
This was too plain to be misunderstood; and Peveril was compelled to take his leave of Bridgenorth, and of Moultrassie Hall, without farther parley or explanation. The reader may imagine how oft he looked back, and tried to guess, amongst the lights which continued to twinkle in various parts of the building, which sparkle it was that gleamed from the bower of Alice. When the road turned into another direction, he sunk into deep reverie, from which he was at length roused by the voice of Lance, who demanded where he intended to quarter for the night. He was unprepared to answer the question, but the honest keeper himself prompted a solution of the problem, by requesting that he would occupy a spare bed in the Lodge; to which Julian willingly agreed. The rest of the inhabitants had retired to rest when they entered; but Dame Ellesmere, apprised by a messenger of her nephew's hospitable intent, had everything in the best readiness she could, for the son of her ancient patron. Peveril betook himself to rest; and, notwithstanding so many subjects of anxiety, slept soundly till the morning was far advanced.
His slumbers were first broken by Lance, who had been long up, and already active in his service. He informed him, that his horse, arms, and small cloak-bag had been sent from the Castle by one of Major Bridgenorth's servants, who brought a letter, discharging from the Major's service the unfortunate Deborah Debbitch, and prohibiting her return to the Hall. The officer of the House of Commons, escorted by a strong guard, had left Martindale Castle that morning early, travelling in Sir Geoffrey's carriage—his lady being also permitted to attend on him. To this he had to add, that the property at the Castle was taken possession of by Master Win-the-fight, the attorney, from Chesterfield, with other officers of law, in name of Major Bridgenorth, a large creditor of the unfortunate knight.
Having told these Job's tidings, Lance paused; and, after a moment's hesitation, declared he was resolved to quit the country, and go up to London along with his young master. Julian argued the point with him; and insisted he had better stay to take charge of his aunt, in case she should be disturbed by these strangers. Lance replied, "She would have one with her, who would protect her well enough; for there was wherewithal to buy protection amongst them. But for himself, he was resolved to follow Master Julian to the death."
Julian heartily thanked him for his love.
"Nay, it is not altogether out of love neither," said Lance, "though I am as loving as another; but it is, as it were, partly out of fear, lest I be called over the coals for last night's matter; for as for the miners, they will never trouble them, as the creatures only act after their kind."
"I will write in your behalf to Major Bridgenorth, who is bound to afford you protection, if you have such fear," said Julian.
"Nay, for that matter, it is not altogether fear, more than altogether love," answered the enigmatical keeper, "although it hath a tasting of both in it. And, to speak plain truth, thus it is—Dame Debbitch and Naunt Ellesmere have resolved to set up their horses together, and have made up all their quarrels. And of all ghosts in the world, the worst is, when an old true-love comes back to haunt a poor fellow like me. Mistress Deborah, though distressed enow for the loss of her place, has been already speaking of a broken sixpence, or some such token, as if a man could remember such things for so many years, even if she had not gone over seas, like woodcock, in the meanwhile."
Julian could scarce forbear laughing. "I thought you too much of a man, Lance, to fear a woman marrying you whether you would or no."
"It has been many an honest man's luck, for all that," said Lance; "and a woman in the very house has so many deuced opportunities. And then there would be two upon one; for Naunt, though high enough when any of your folks are concerned, hath some look to the main chance; and it seems Mistress Deb is as rich as a Jew."
"And you, Lance," said Julian, "have no mind to marry for cake and pudding."
"No, truly, master," answered Lance, "unless I knew of what dough they were baked. How the devil do I know how the jade came by so much? And then if she speaks of tokens and love-passages, let her be the same tight lass I broke the sixpence with, and I will be the same true lad to her. But I never heard of true love lasting ten years; and hers, if it lives at all, must be nearer twenty."
"Well, then, Lance," said Julian, "since you are resolved on the thing, we will go to London together; where, if I cannot retain you in my service, and if my father recovers not these misfortunes, I will endeavour to promote you elsewhere."
"Nay, nay," said Lance, "I trust to be back to bonny Martindale before it is long, and to keep the greenwood, as I have been wont to do; for, as to Dame Debbitch, when they have not me for their common butt, Naunt and she will soon bend bows on each other. So here comes old Dame Ellesmere with your breakfast. I will but give some directions about the deer to Rough Ralph, my helper, and saddle my forest pony, and your honour's horse, which is no prime one, and we will be ready to trot."
Julian was not sorry for this addition to his establishment; for Lance had shown himself, on the preceding evening, a shrewd and bold fellow, and attached to his master. He therefore set himself to reconcile his aunt to parting with her nephew for some time. Her unlimited devotion for "the family," readily induced the old lady to acquiesce in his proposal, though not without a gentle sigh over the ruins of a castle in the air, which was founded on the well-saved purse of Mistress Deborah Debbitch. "At any rate," she thought, "it was as well that Lance should be out of the way of that bold, long-legged, beggarly trollop, Cis Sellok." But to poor Deb herself, the expatriation of Lance, whom she had looked to as a sailor to a port under his lee, for which he can run, if weather becomes foul, was a second severe blow, following close on her dismissal from the profitable service of Major Bridgenorth.
Julian visited the disconsolate damsel, in hopes of gaining some light upon Bridgenorth's projects regarding his daughter—the character of this Ganlesse—and other matters, with which her residence in the family might have made her acquainted; but he found her by far too much troubled in mind to afford him the least information. The name of Ganlesse she did not seem to recollect—that of Alice rendered her hysterical—that of Bridgenorth, furious. She numbered up the various services she had rendered in the family—and denounced the plague of swartness to the linen—of leanness to the poultry—of dearth and dishonour to the housekeeping—and of lingering sickness and early death to Alice;—all which evils, she averred, had only been kept off by her continued, watchful, and incessant cares.—Then again turning to the subject of the fugitive Lance, she expressed such a total contempt of that mean-spirited fellow, in a tone between laughing and crying, as satisfied Julian it was not a topic likely to act as a sedative; and that, therefore, unless he made a longer stay than the urgent state of his affairs permitted, he was not likely to find Mistress Deborah in such a state of composure as might enable him to obtain from her any rational or useful information.
Lance, who good-naturedly took upon himself the whole burden of Dame Debbitch's mental alienation, or "taking on," as such fits of passio hysterica are usually termed in the country, had too much feeling to present himself before the victim of her own sensibility, and of his obduracy. He therefore intimated to Julian, by his assistant Ralph, that the horses stood saddled behind the Lodge, and that all was ready for their departure.
Julian took the hint, and they were soon mounted, and clearing the road, at a rapid trot, in the direction of London; but not by the most usual route. Julian calculated that the carriage in which his father was transported would travel slowly; and it was his purpose, if possible, to get to London before it should arrive there, in order to have time to consult, with the friends of his family, what measures should be taken in his father's behalf.
In this manner they advanced a day's journey towards London; at the conclusion of which, Julian found his resting-place in a small inn upon the road. No one came, at the first call, to attend upon the guests and their horses, although the house was well lighted up; and there was a prodigious chattering in the kitchen, such as can only be produced by a French cook when his mystery is in the very moment of projection. It instantly occurred to Julian—so rare was the ministry of these Gallic artists at that time—that the clamour he heard must necessarily be produced by the Sieur Chaubert, on whose plats he had lately feasted, along with Smith and Ganlesse.
One, or both of these, were therefore probably in the little inn; and if so, he might have some opportunity to discover their real purpose and character. How to avail himself of such a meeting he knew not; but chance favoured him more than he could have expected.
"I can scarce receive you, gentlefolks," said the landlord, who at length appeared at the door; "here be a sort of quality in my house to-night, whom less than all will not satisfy; nor all neither, for that matter."
"We are but plain fellows, landlord," said Julian; "we are bound for Moseley-market, and can get no farther to-night. Any hole will serve us, no matter what."
"Why," said the honest host, "if that be the case, I must e'en put one of you behind the bar, though the gentlemen have desired to be private; the other must take heart of grace and help me at the tap."
"The tap for me," said Lance, without waiting his master's decision. "It is an element which I could live and die in."
"The bar, then, for me," said Peveril; and stepping back, whispered to Lance to exchange cloaks with him, desirous, if possible, to avoid being recognised.
The exchange was made in an instant; and presently afterwards the landlord brought a light; and as he guided Julian into his hostelry, cautioned him to sit quiet in the place where he should stow him; and if he was discovered, to say that he was one of the house, and leave him to make it good. "You will hear what the gallants say," he added; "but I think thou wilt carry away but little on it; for when it is not French, it is Court gibberish; and that is as hard to construe."
The bar, into which our hero was inducted on these conditions, seemed formed, with respect to the public room, upon the principle of a citadel, intended to observe and bridle a rebellious capital. Here sat the host on the Saturday evenings, screened from the observation of his guests, yet with the power of observing both their wants and their behaviour, and also that of overhearing their conversation—a practice which he was much addicted to, being one of that numerous class of philanthropists, to whom their neighbours' business is of as much consequence, or rather more, than their own.
Here he planted his new guest, with a repeated caution not to disturb the gentlemen by speech or motion; and a promise that he should be speedily accommodated with a cold buttock of beef, and a tankard of home-brewed. And here he left him with no other light than that which glimmered from the well-illuminated apartment within, through a sort of shuttle which accommodated the landlord with a view into it.