PEVERIL OF THE PEAK
By Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
PEVERIL OF THE PEAK
When civil dudgeon first grew high, And men fell out, they knew not why; When foul words, jealousies, and fears, Set folk together by the ears— —BUTLER.
William, the Conqueror of England, was, or supposed himself to be, the father of a certain William Peveril, who attended him to the battle of Hastings, and there distinguished himself. The liberal-minded monarch, who assumed in his charters the veritable title of Gulielmus Bastardus, was not likely to let his son's illegitimacy be any bar to the course of his royal favour, when the laws of England were issued from the mouth of the Norman victor, and the lands of the Saxons were at his unlimited disposal. William Peveril obtained a liberal grant of property and lordships in Derbyshire, and became the erecter of that Gothic fortress, which, hanging over the mouth of the Devil's Cavern, so well known to tourists, gives the name of Castleton to the adjacent village.
From this feudal Baron, who chose his nest upon the principles on which an eagle selects her eyry, and built it in such a fashion as if he had intended it, as an Irishman said of the Martello towers, for the sole purpose of puzzling posterity, there was, or conceived themselves to be, descended (for their pedigree was rather hypothetical) an opulent family of knightly rank, in the same county of Derby. The great fief of Castleton, with its adjacent wastes and forests, and all the wonders which they contain, had been forfeited in King John's stormy days, by one William Peveril, and had been granted anew to the Lord Ferrers of that day. Yet this William's descendants, though no longer possessed of what they alleged to have been their original property, were long distinguished by the proud title of Peverils of the Peak, which served to mark their high descent and lofty pretensions.
In Charles the Second's time, the representative of this ancient family was Sir Geoffrey Peveril, a man who had many of the ordinary attributes of an old-fashioned country gentleman, and very few individual traits to distinguish him from the general portrait of that worthy class of mankind. He was proud of small advantages, angry at small disappointments, incapable of forming any resolution or opinion abstracted from his own prejudices—he was proud of his birth, lavish in his housekeeping, convivial with those kindred and acquaintances, who would allow his superiority in rank—contentious and quarrelsome with all that crossed his pretensions—kind to the poor, except when they plundered his game—a Royalist in his political opinions, and one who detested alike a Roundhead, a poacher, and a Presbyterian. In religion Sir Geoffrey was a high-churchman, of so exalted a strain that many thought he still nourished in private the Roman Catholic tenets, which his family had only renounced in his father's time, and that he had a dispensation for conforming in outward observances to the Protestant faith. There was at least such a scandal amongst the Puritans, and the influence which Sir Geoffrey Peveril certainly appeared to possess amongst the Catholic gentlemen of Derbyshire and Cheshire, seemed to give countenance to the rumour.
Such was Sir Geoffrey, who might have passed to his grave without further distinction than a brass-plate in the chancel, had he not lived in times which forced the most inactive spirits into exertion, as a tempest influences the sluggish waters of the deadest mere. When the Civil Wars broke out, Peveril of the Peak, proud from pedigree, and brave by constitution, raised a regiment for the King, and showed upon several occasions more capacity for command than men had heretofore given him credit for.
Even in the midst of the civil turmoil, he fell in love with, and married, a beautiful and amiable young lady of the noble house of Stanley; and from that time had the more merit in his loyalty, as it divorced him from her society, unless at very brief intervals, when his duty permitted an occasional visit to his home. Scorning to be allured from his military duty by domestic inducements, Peveril of the Peak fought on for several rough years of civil war, and performed his part with sufficient gallantry, until his regiment was surprised and cut to pieces by Poyntz, Cromwell's enterprising and successful general of cavalry. The defeated Cavalier escaped from the field of battle, and, like a true descendant of William the Conqueror, disdaining submission, threw himself into his own castellated mansion, which was attacked and defended in a siege of that irregular kind which caused the destruction of so many baronial residences during the course of those unhappy wars. Martindale Castle, after having suffered severely from the cannon which Cromwell himself brought against it, was at length surrendered when in the last extremity. Sir Geoffrey himself became a prisoner, and while his liberty was only restored upon a promise of remaining a peaceful subject to the Commonwealth in future, his former delinquencies, as they were termed by the ruling party, were severely punished by fine and sequestration.
But neither his forced promise, nor the fear of farther unpleasant consequences to his person or property, could prevent Peveril of the Peak from joining the gallant Earl of Derby the night before the fatal engagement in Wiggan Lane, where the Earl's forces were dispersed. Sir Geoffrey having had his share in that action, escaped with the relics of the Royalists after the defeat, to join Charles II. He witnessed also the final defeat of Worcester, where he was a second time made prisoner; and as, in the opinion of Cromwell and the language of the times, he was regarded as an obstinate malignant, he was in great danger of having shared with the Earl of Derby his execution at Bolton-le-Moor, having partaken with him the dangers of two actions. But Sir Geoffrey's life was preserved by the interest of a friend, who possessed influence in the councils of Oliver.—This was a Mr. Bridgenorth, a gentleman of middling quality, whose father had been successful in some commercial adventure during the peaceful reign of James I.; and who had bequeathed his son a considerable sum of money, in addition to the moderate patrimony which he inherited from his father.
The substantial, though small-sized, brick building of Moultrassie Hall, was but two miles distant from Martindale Castle, and the young Bridgenorth attended the same school with the heir of the Peverils. A sort of companionship, if not intimacy, took place betwixt them, which continued during their youthful sports—the rather that Bridgenorth, though he did not at heart admit Sir Geoffrey's claims of superiority to the extent which the other's vanity would have exacted, paid deference in a reasonable degree to the representative of a family so much more ancient and important than his own, without conceiving that he in any respect degraded himself by doing so.
Mr. Bridgenorth did not, however, carry his complaisance so far as to embrace Sir Geoffrey's side during the Civil War. On the contrary, as an active Justice of the Peace, he rendered much assistance in arraying the militia in the cause of the Parliament, and for some time held a military commission in that service. This was partly owing to his religious principles, for he was a zealous Presbyterian, partly to his political ideas, which, without being absolutely democratical, favoured the popular side of the great national question. Besides, he was a moneyed man, and to a certain extent had a shrewd eye to his worldly interest. He understood how to improve the opportunities which civil war afforded, of advancing his fortune, by a dexterous use of his capital; and he was not at a loss to perceive that these were likely to be obtained in joining the Parliament; while the King's cause, as it was managed, held out nothing to the wealthy but a course of exaction and compulsory loans. For these reasons, Bridgenorth became a decided Roundhead, and all friendly communication betwixt his neighbour and him was abruptly broken asunder. This was done with the less acrimony, that, during the Civil War, Sir Geoffrey was almost constantly in the field, following the vacillating and unhappy fortunes of his master; while Major Bridgenorth, who soon renounced active military service, resided chiefly in London, and only occasionally visited the Hall.
Upon these visits, it was with great pleasure he received the intelligence, that Lady Peveril had shown much kindness to Mrs. Bridgenorth, and had actually given her and her family shelter in Martindale Castle, when Moultrassie Hall was threatened with pillage by a body of Prince Rupert's ill-disciplined Cavaliers. This acquaintance had been matured by frequent walks together, which the vicinity of their places of residence suffered the Lady Peveril to have with Mrs. Bridgenorth, who deemed herself much honoured in being thus admitted into the society of so distinguished a lady. Major Bridgenorth heard of this growing intimacy with great pleasure, and he determined to repay the obligation, as far as he could without much hurt to himself, by interfering with all his influence, in behalf of her unfortunate husband. It was chiefly owing to Major Bridgenorth's mediation, that Sir Geoffrey's life was saved after the battle of Worcester. He obtained him permission to compound for his estate on easier terms than many who had been less obstinate in malignancy; and, finally, when, in order to raise the money to the composition, the Knight was obliged to sell a considerable portion of his patrimony, Major Bridgenorth became the purchaser, and that at a larger price than had been paid to any Cavalier under such circumstances, by a member of the Committee for Sequestrations. It is true, the prudent committeeman did not, by any means, lose sight of his own interest in the transaction, for the price was, after all, very moderate, and the property lay adjacent to Moultrassie Hall, the value of which was at least trebled by the acquisition. But then it was also true, that the unfortunate owner must have submitted to much worse conditions, had the committeeman used, as others did, the full advantages which his situation gave him; and Bridgenorth took credit to himself, and received it from others, for having, on this occasion, fairly sacrificed his interest to his liberality.
Sir Geoffrey Peveril was of the same opinion, and the rather that Mr. Bridgenorth seemed to bear his exaltation with great moderation, and was disposed to show him personally the same deference in his present sunshine of prosperity, which he had exhibited formerly in their early acquaintance. It is but justice to Major Bridgenorth to observe, that in this conduct he paid respect as much to the misfortunes as to the pretensions of his far-descended neighbour, and that, with the frank generosity of a blunt Englishman, he conceded points of ceremony, about which he himself was indifferent, merely because he saw that his doing so gave pleasure to Sir Geoffrey.
Peveril of the Peak did justice to his neighbour's delicacy, in consideration of which he forgot many things. He forgot that Major Bridgenorth was already in possession of a fair third of his estate, and had various pecuniary claims affecting the remainder, to the extent of one-third more. He endeavoured even to forget, what it was still more difficult not to remember, the altered situation in which they and their mansions now stood to each other.
Before the Civil War, the superb battlements and turrets of Martindale Castle looked down on the red brick-built Hall, as it stole out from the green plantations, just as an oak in Martindale Chase would have looked beside one of the stunted and formal young beech-trees with which Bridgenorth had graced his avenue; but after the siege which we have commemorated, the enlarged and augmented Hall was as much predominant in the landscape over the shattered and blackened ruins of the Castle, of which only one wing was left habitable, as the youthful beech, in all its vigour of shoot and bud, would appear to the same aged oak stripped of its boughs, and rifted by lightning, one-half laid in shivers on the ground, and the other remaining a blackened and ungraceful trunk, rent and splintered, and without either life or leaves. Sir Geoffrey could not but feel, that the situation and prospects were exchanged as disadvantageously for himself as the appearance of their mansions; and that though the authority of the man in office under the Parliament, the sequestrator, and the committeeman, had been only exerted for the protection of the Cavalier and the malignant, they would have been as effectual if applied to procure his utter ruin; and that he was become a client, while his neighbour was elevated into a patron.
There were two considerations, besides the necessity of the case and the constant advice of his lady, which enabled Peveril of the Peak to endure, with some patience, this state of degradation. The first was, that the politics of Major Bridgenorth began, on many points, to assimilate themselves to his own. As a Presbyterian, he was not an utter enemy to monarchy, and had been considerably shocked at the unexpected trial and execution of the King; as a civilian and a man of property, he feared the domination of the military; and though he wished not to see Charles restored by force of arms, yet he arrived at the conclusion, that to bring back the heir of the royal family on such terms of composition as might ensure the protection of those popular immunities and privileges for which the Long Parliament had at first contended, would be the surest and most desirable termination to the mutations in state affairs which had agitated Britain. Indeed, the Major's ideas on this point approached so nearly those of his neighbour, that he had well-nigh suffered Sir Geoffrey, who had a finger in almost all the conspiracies of the Royalists, to involve him in the unfortunate rising of Penruddock and Groves, in the west, in which many of the Presbyterian interest, as well as the Cavalier party, were engaged. And though his habitual prudence eventually kept him out of this and other dangers, Major Bridgenorth was considered during the last years of Cromwell's domination, and the interregnum which succeeded, as a disaffected person to the Commonwealth, and a favourer of Charles Stewart.
But besides this approximation to the same political opinions, another bond of intimacy united the families of the Castle and the Hall. Major Bridgenorth, fortunate, and eminently so, in all his worldly transactions, was visited by severe and reiterated misfortunes in his family, and became, in this particular, an object of compassion to his poorer and more decayed neighbour. Betwixt the breaking out of the Civil War and the Restoration, he lost successively a family of no less than six children, apparently through a delicacy of constitution, which cut off the little prattlers at the early age when they most wind themselves round the heart of the parents.
In the beginning of the year 1658, Major Bridgenorth was childless; ere it ended, he had a daughter, indeed, but her birth was purchased by the death of an affectionate wife, whose constitution had been exhausted by maternal grief, and by the anxious and harrowing reflection, that from her the children they had lost derived that delicacy of health, which proved unable to undergo the tear and wear of existence. The same voice which told Bridgenorth that he was the father of a living child (it was the friendly voice of Lady Peveril), communicated to him the melancholy intelligence that he was no longer a husband. The feelings of Major Bridgenorth were strong and deep, rather than hasty and vehement; and his grief assumed the form of a sullen stupor, from which neither the friendly remonstrances of Sir Geoffrey, who did not fail to be with his neighbour at this distressing conjuncture, even though he knew he must meet the Presbyterian pastor, nor the ghastly exhortations of this latter person, were able to rouse the unfortunate widower.
At length Lady Peveril, with the ready invention of a female sharped by the sight of distress and the feelings of sympathy, tried on the sufferer one of those experiments by which grief is often awakened from despondency into tears. She placed in Bridgenorth's arms the infant whose birth had cost him so dear, and conjured him to remember that his Alice was not yet dead, since she survived in the helpless child she had left to his paternal care.
"Take her away—take her away!" said the unhappy man, and they were the first words he had spoken; "let me not look on her—it is but another blossom that has bloomed to fade, and the tree that bore it will never flourish more!"
He almost threw the child into Lady Peveril's arms, placed his hands before his face, and wept aloud. Lady Peveril did not say "be comforted," but she ventured to promise that the blossom should ripen to fruit.
"Never, never!" said Bridgenorth; "take the unhappy child away, and let me only know when I shall wear black for her—Wear black!" he exclaimed, interrupting himself, "what other colour shall I wear during the remainder of my life?"
"I will take the child for a season," said Lady Peveril, "since the sight of her is so painful to you; and the little Alice shall share the nursery of our Julian, until it shall be pleasure and not pain for you to look on her."
"That hour will never come," said the unhappy father; "her doom is written—she will follow the rest—God's will be done.—Lady, I thank you—I trust her to your care; and I thank God that my eye shall not see her dying agonies."
Without detaining the reader's attention longer on this painful theme, it is enough to say that the Lady Peveril did undertake the duties of a mother to the little orphan; and perhaps it was owing, in a great measure, to her judicious treatment of the infant, that its feeble hold of life was preserved, since the glimmering spark might probably have been altogether smothered, had it, like the Major's former children, undergone the over-care and over-nursing of a mother rendered nervously cautious and anxious by so many successive losses. The lady was the more ready to undertake this charge, that she herself had lost two infant children; and that she attributed the preservation of the third, now a fine healthy child of three years old, to Julian's being subjected to rather a different course of diet and treatment than was then generally practised. She resolved to follow the same regiment with the little orphan, which she had observed in the case of her own boy; and it was equally successful. By a more sparing use of medicine, by a bolder admission of fresh air, by a firm, yet cautious attention to encourage rather than to supersede the exertions of nature, the puny infant, under the care of an excellent nurse, gradually improved in strength and in liveliness.
Sir Geoffrey, like most men of his frank and good-natured disposition, was naturally fond of children, and so much compassionated the sorrows of his neighbour, that he entirely forgot his being a Presbyterian, until it became necessary that the infant should be christened by a teacher of that persuasion.
This was a trying case—the father seemed incapable of giving direction; and that the threshold of Martindale Castle should be violated by the heretical step of a dissenting clergyman, was matter of horror to its orthodox owner. He had seen the famous Hugh Peters, with a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other, ride in triumph through the court-door when Martindale was surrendered; and the bitterness of that hour had entered like iron into his soul. Yet such was Lady Peveril's influence over the prejudices of her husband, that he was induced to connive at the ceremony taking place in a remote garden house, which was not properly within the precincts of the Castle-wall. The lady even dared to be present while the ceremony was performed by the Reverend Master Solsgrace, who had once preached a sermon of three hours' length before the House of Commons, upon a thanksgiving occasion after the relief of Exeter. Sir Geoffrey Peveril took care to be absent the whole day from the Castle, and it was only from the great interest which he took in the washing, perfuming, and as it were purification of the summer-house, that it could have been guessed he knew anything of what had taken place in it.
But, whatever prejudices the good Knight might entertain against his neighbour's form of religion, they did not in any way influence his feelings towards him as a sufferer under severe affliction. The mode in which he showed his sympathy was rather singular, but exactly suited the character of both, and the terms on which they stood with each other.
Morning after morning the good Baronet made Moultrassie Hall the termination of his walk or ride, and said a single word of kindness as he passed. Sometimes he entered the old parlour where the proprietor sat in solitary wretchedness and despondency; but more frequently (for Sir Geoffrey did not pretend to great talents of conversation), he paused on the terrace, and stopping or halting his horse by the latticed window, said aloud to the melancholy inmate, "How is it with you, Master Bridgenorth?" (the Knight would never acknowledge his neighbour's military rank of Major); "I just looked in to bid you keep a good heart, man, and to tell you that Julian is well, and little Alice is well, and all are well at Martindale Castle."
A deep sigh, sometimes coupled with "I thank you, Sir Geoffrey; my grateful duty waits on Lady Peveril," was generally Bridgenorth's only answer. But the news was received on the one part with the kindness which was designed upon the other; it gradually became less painful and more interesting; the lattice window was never closed, nor was the leathern easy-chair which stood next to it ever empty, when the usual hour of the Baronet's momentary visit approached. At length the expectation of that passing minute became the pivot upon which the thoughts of poor Bridgenorth turned during all the rest of the day. Most men have known the influence of such brief but ruling moments at some period of their lives. The moment when a lover passes the window of his mistress—the moment when the epicure hears the dinner-bell,—is that into which is crowded the whole interest of the day; the hours which precede it are spent in anticipation; the hours which follow, in reflection on what has passed; and fancy dwelling on each brief circumstance, gives to seconds the duration of minutes, to minutes that of hours. Thus seated in his lonely chair, Bridgenorth could catch at a distance the stately step of Sir Geoffrey, or the heavy tramp of his war-horse, Black Hastings, which had borne him in many an action; he could hear the hum of "The King shall enjoy his own again," or the habitual whistle of "Cuckolds and Roundheads," die unto reverential silence, as the Knight approached the mansion of affliction; and then came the strong hale voice of the huntsman soldier with its usual greeting.
By degrees the communication became something more protracted, as Major Bridgenorth's grief, like all human feelings, lost its overwhelming violence, and permitted him to attend, in some degree, to what passed around him, to discharge various duties which pressed upon him, and to give a share of attention to the situation of the country, distracted as it was by the contending factions, whose strife only terminated in the Restoration. Still, however, though slowly recovering from the effects of the shock which he had sustained, Major Bridgenorth felt himself as yet unable to make up his mind to the effort necessary to see his infant; and though separated by so short a distance from the being in whose existence he was more interested than in anything the world afforded, he only made himself acquainted with the windows of the apartment where little Alice was lodged, and was often observed to watch them from the terrace, as they brightened in the evening under the influence of the setting sun. In truth, though a strong-minded man in most respects, he was unable to lay aside the gloomy impression that this remaining pledge of affection was soon to be conveyed to that grave which had already devoured all besides that was dear to him; and he awaited in miserable suspense the moment when he should hear that symptoms of the fatal malady had begun to show themselves.
The voice of Peveril continued to be that of a comforter until the month of April 1660, when it suddenly assumed a new and different tone. "The King shall enjoy his own again," far from ceasing, as the hasty tread of Black Hastings came up the avenue, bore burden to the clatter of his hoofs on the paved courtyard, as Sir Geoffrey sprang from his great war-saddle, now once more garnished with pistols of two feet in length, and, armed with steel-cap, back and breast, and a truncheon in his hand, he rushed into the apartment of the astonished Major, with his eyes sparkling, and his cheek inflamed, while he called out, "Up! up, neighbour! No time now to mope in the chimney-corner! Where is your buff-coat and broadsword, man? Take the true side once in your life, and mend past mistakes. The King is all lenity, man—all royal nature and mercy. I will get your full pardon."
"What means all this?" said Bridgenorth—"Is all well with you—all well at Martindale Castle, Sir Geoffrey?"
"Well as you could wish them, Alice, and Julian, and all. But I have news worth twenty of that—Monk has declared at London against those stinking scoundrels the Rump. Fairfax is up in Yorkshire—for the King—for the King, man! Churchmen, Presbyterians, and all, are in buff and bandoleer for King Charles. I have a letter from Fairfax to secure Derby and Chesterfield with all the men I can make. D—n him, fine that I should take orders from him! But never mind that—all are friends now, and you and I, good neighbour, will charge abreast, as good neighbours should. See there! read—read—read—and then boot and saddle in an instant.
'Hey for cavaliers—ho for cavaliers, Pray for cavaliers, Dub-a-dub, dub-a-dub, Have at old Beelzebub, Oliver shakes in his bier!'"
After thundering forth this elegant effusion of loyal enthusiasm, the sturdy Cavalier's heart became too full. He threw himself on a seat, and exclaiming, "Did ever I think to live to see this happy day!" he wept, to his own surprise, as much as to that of Bridgenorth.
Upon considering the crisis in which the country was placed, it appeared to Major Bridgenorth, as it had done to Fairfax, and other leaders of the Presbyterian party, that their frank embracing of the royal interest was the wisest and most patriotic measure which they could adopt in the circumstances, when all ranks and classes of men were seeking refuge from the uncertainty and varied oppression attending the repeated contests between the factions of Westminster Hall and of Wallingford House. Accordingly he joined with Sir Geoffrey, with less enthusiasm indeed, but with equal sincerity, taking such measures as seemed proper to secure their part of the country on the King's behalf, which was done as effectually and peaceably as in other parts of England. The neighbours were both at Chesterfield, when news arrived that the King had landed in England; and Sir Geoffrey instantly announced his purpose of waiting upon his Majesty, even before his return to the Castle of Martindale.
"Who knows, neighbour," he said, "whether Sir Geoffrey Peveril will ever return to Martindale? Titles must be going amongst them yonder, and I have deserved something among the rest.—Lord Peveril would sound well—or stay, Earl of Martindale—no, not of Martindale—Earl of the Peak.—Meanwhile, trust your affairs to me—I will see you secured—I would you had been no Presbyterian, neighbour—a knighthood,—I mean a knight-bachelor, not a knight-baronet,—would have served your turn well."
"I leave these things to my betters, Sir Geoffrey," said the Major, "and desire nothing so earnestly as to find all well at Martindale when I return."
"You will—you will find them all well," said the Baronet; "Julian, Alice, Lady Peveril, and all of them—Bear my commendations to them, and kiss them all, neighbour, Lady Peveril and all—you may kiss a Countess when I come back; all will go well with you now you are turned honest man."
"I always meant to be so, Sir Geoffrey," said Bridgenorth calmly.
"Well, well, well—no offence meant," said the Knight, "all is well now—so you to Moultrassie Hall, and I to Whitehall. Said I well, aha! So ho, mine host, a stoup of Canary to the King's health ere we get to horse—I forgot, neighbour—you drink no healths."
"I wish the King's health as sincerely as if I drank a gallon to it," replied the Major; "and I wish you, Sir Geoffrey, all success on your journey, and a safe return."
Why, then, we will have bellowing of beeves, Broaching of barrels, brandishing of spigots; Blood shall flow freely, but it shall be gore Of herds and flocks, and venison and poultry, Join'd to the brave heart's-blood of John-a-Barleycorn! —OLD PLAY.
Whatever rewards Charles might have condescended to bestow in acknowledgement of the sufferings and loyalty of Peveril of the Peak, he had none in his disposal equal to the pleasure which Providence had reserved for Bridgenorth on his return to Derbyshire. The exertion to which he had been summoned, had had the usual effect of restoring to a certain extent the activity and energy of his character, and he felt it would be unbecoming to relapse into the state of lethargic melancholy from which it had roused him. Time also had its usual effect in mitigating the subjects of his regret; and when he had passed one day at the Hall in regretting that he could not expect the indirect news of his daughter's health, which Sir Geoffrey used to communicate in his almost daily call, he reflected that it would be in every respect becoming that he should pay a personal visit at Martindale Castle, carry thither the remembrances of the Knight to his lady, assure her of his health, and satisfy himself respecting that of his daughter. He armed himself for the worst—he called to recollection the thin cheeks, faded eye, wasted hand, pallid lip, which had marked the decaying health of all his former infants.
"I shall see," he said, "these signs of mortality once more—I shall once more see a beloved being to whom I have given birth, gliding to the grave which ought to enclose me long before her. No matter—it is unmanly so long to shrink from that which must be—God's will be done!"
He went accordingly, on the subsequent morning, to Martindale Castle, and gave the lady the welcome assurances of her husband's safety, and of his hopes of preferment.
"For the first, may Almighty God be praised!" said the Lady Peveril; "and be the other as our gracious and restored Sovereign may will it. We are great enough for our means, and have means sufficient for contentment, though not for splendour. And now I see, good Master Bridgenorth, the folly of putting faith in idle presentiments of evil. So often had Sir Geoffrey's repeated attempts in favour of the Stewarts led him into new misfortunes, that when, the other morning, I saw him once more dressed in his fatal armour, and heard the sound of his trumpet, which had been so long silent, it seemed to me as if I saw his shroud, and heard his death-knell. I say this to you, good neighbour, the rather because I fear your own mind has been harassed with anticipations of impending calamity, which it may please God to avert in your case as it has done in mine; and here comes a sight which bears good assurance of it."
The door of the apartment opened as she spoke, and two lovely children entered. The eldest, Julian Peveril, a fine boy betwixt four and five years old, led in his hand, with an air of dignified support and attention, a little girl of eighteen months, who rolled and tottered along, keeping herself with difficulty upright by the assistance of her elder, stronger, and masculine companion.
Bridgenorth cast a hasty and fearful glance upon the countenance of his daughter, and, even in that glimpse, perceived, with exquisite delight, that his fears were unfounded. He caught her in his arms, pressed her to his heart, and the child, though at first alarmed at the vehemence of his caresses, presently, as if prompted by Nature, smiled in reply to them. Again he held her at some distance from him, and examined her more attentively; he satisfied himself that the complexion of the young cherub he had in his arms was not the hectic tinge of disease, but the clear hue of ruddy health; and that though her little frame was slight, it was firm and springy.
"I did not think that it could have been thus," he said, looking to Lady Peveril, who had sat observing the scene with great pleasure; "but praise be to God in the first instance, and next, thanks to you, madam, who have been His instrument."
"Julian must lose his playfellow now, I suppose?" said the lady; "but the Hall is not distant, and I will see my little charge often. Dame Martha, the housekeeper at Moultrassie, has sense, and is careful. I will tell her the rules I have observed with little Alice, and——"
"God forbid my girl should ever come to Moultrassie," said Major Bridgenorth hastily; "it has been the grave of her race. The air of the low grounds suited them not—or there is perhaps a fate connected with the mansion. I will seek for her some other place of abode."
"That you shall not, under your favour be it spoken, Major Bridgenorth," answered the lady. "If you do so, we must suppose that you are undervaluing my qualities as a nurse. If she goes not to her father's house, she shall not quit mine. I will keep the little lady as a pledge of her safety and my own skill; and since you are afraid of the damp of the low grounds, I hope you will come here frequently to visit her."
This was a proposal which went to the heart of Major Bridgenorth. It was precisely the point which he would have given worlds to arrive at, but which he saw no chance of attaining.
It is too well known, that those whose families are long pursued by such a fatal disease as existed in his, become, it may be said, superstitious respecting its fatal effects, and ascribe to place, circumstance, and individual care, much more perhaps than these can in any case contribute to avert the fatality of constitutional distemper. Lady Peveril was aware that this was peculiarly the impression of her neighbour; that the depression of his spirits, the excess of his care, the feverishness of his apprehensions, the restraint and gloom of the solitude in which he dwelt, were really calculated to produce the evil which most of all he dreaded. She pitied him, she felt for him, she was grateful for former protection received at his hands—she had become interested in the child itself. What female fails to feel such interest in the helpless creature she has tended? And to sum the whole up, the dame had a share of human vanity; and being a sort of Lady Bountiful in her way (for the character was not then confined to the old and the foolish), she was proud of the skill by which she had averted the probable attacks of hereditary malady, so inveterate in the family of Bridgenorth. It needed not, perhaps, in other cases, that so many reasons should be assigned for an act of neighbourly humanity; but civil war had so lately torn the country asunder, and broken all the usual ties of vicinage and good neighbourhood, that it was unusual to see them preserved among persons of different political opinions.
Major Bridgenorth himself felt this; and while the tear of joy in his eye showed how gladly he would accept Lady Peveril's proposal, he could not help stating the obvious inconveniences attendant upon her scheme, though it was in the tone of one who would gladly hear them overruled. "Madam," he said, "your kindness makes me the happiest and most thankful of men; but can it be consistent with your own convenience? Sir Geoffrey has his opinions on many points, which have differed, and probably do still differ, from mine. He is high-born, and I of middling parentage only. He uses the Church Service, and I the Catechism of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster——"
"I hope you will find prescribed in neither of them," said the Lady Peveril, "that I may not be a mother to your motherless child. I trust, Master Bridgenorth, the joyful Restoration of his Majesty, a work wrought by the direct hand of Providence, may be the means of closing and healing all civil and religious dissensions among us, and that, instead of showing the superior purity of our faith, by persecuting those who think otherwise from ourselves on doctrinal points, we shall endeavour to show its real Christian tendency, by emulating each other in actions of good-will towards man, as the best way of showing our love to God."
"Your ladyship speaks what your own kind heart dictates," answered Bridgenorth, who had his own share of the narrow-mindedness of the time; "and sure am I, that if all who call themselves loyalists and Cavaliers, thought like you—and like my friend Sir Geoffrey"—(this he added after a moment's pause, being perhaps rather complimentary than sincere)—"we, who thought it our duty in time past to take arms for freedom of conscience, and against arbitrary power, might now sit down in peace and contentment. But I wot not how it may fall. You have sharp and hot spirits amongst you; I will not say our power was always moderately used, and revenge is sweet to the race of fallen Adam."
"Come, Master Bridgenorth," said the Lady Peveril gaily, "those evil omenings do but point out conclusions, which, unless they were so anticipated, are most unlikely to come to pass. You know what Shakespeare says—
'To fly the boar before the boar pursues, Were to incense the boar to follow us, And make pursuit when he did mean no chase.'
"But I crave your pardon—it is so long since we have met, that I forgot you love no play-books."
"With reverence to your ladyship," said Bridgenorth, "I were much to blame did I need the idle words of a Warwickshire stroller, to teach me my grateful duty to your ladyship on this occasion, which appoints me to be directed by you in all things which my conscience will permit."
"Since you permit me such influence, then," replied the Lady Peveril, "I shall be moderate in exercising it, in order that I may, in my domination at least, give you a favourable impression of the new order of things. So, if you will be a subject of mine for one day, neighbour, I am going, at my lord and husband's command, to issue out my warrants to invite the whole neighbourhood to a solemn feast at the Castle, on Thursday next; and I not only pray you to be personally present yourself, but to prevail on your worthy pastor, and such neighbours and friends, high and low, as may think in your own way, to meet with the rest of the neighbourhood, to rejoice on this joyful occasion of the King's Restoration, and thereby to show that we are to be henceforward a united people."
The parliamentarian Major was considerably embarrassed by this proposal. He looked upward, and downward, and around, cast his eye first to the oak-carved ceiling, and anon fixed it upon the floor; then threw it around the room till it lighted on his child, the sight of whom suggested another and a better train of reflections than ceiling and floor had been able to supply.
"Madam," he said, "I have long been a stranger to festivity, perhaps from constitutional melancholy, perhaps from the depression which is natural to a desolate and deprived man, in whose ear mirth is marred, like a pleasant air when performed on a mistuned instrument. But though neither my thoughts nor temperament are Jovial or Mercurial, it becomes me to be grateful to Heaven for the good He has sent me by the means of your ladyship. David, the man after God's own heart, did wash and eat bread when his beloved child was removed—mine is restored to me, and shall I not show gratitude under a blessing, when he showed resignation under an affliction? Madam, I will wait on your gracious invitation with acceptance; and such of my friends with whom I may possess influence, and whose presence your ladyship may desire, shall accompany me to the festivity, that our Israel may be as one people."
Having spoken these words with an aspect which belonged more to a martyr than to a guest bidden to a festival, and having kissed, and solemnly blessed his little girl, Major Bridgenorth took his departure for Moultrassie Hall.
Here's neither want of appetite nor mouths; Pray Heaven we be not scant of meat or mirth! —OLD PLAY.
Even upon ordinary occasions, and where means were ample, a great entertainment in those days was not such a sinecure as in modern times, when the lady who presides has but to intimate to her menials the day and hour when she wills it to take place. At that simple period, the lady was expected to enter deeply into the arrangement and provision of the whole affair; and from a little gallery, which communicated with her own private apartment, and looked down upon the kitchen, her shrill voice was to be heard, from time to time, like that of the warning spirit in a tempest, rising above the clash of pots and stewpans—the creaking spits—the clattering of marrowbones and cleavers—the scolding of cooks—and all the other various kinds of din which form an accompaniment to dressing a large dinner.
But all this toil and anxiety was more than doubled in the case of the approaching feast at Martindale Castle, where the presiding Genius of the festivity was scarce provided with adequate means to carry her hospitable purpose into effect. The tyrannical conduct of husbands, in such cases, is universal; and I scarce know one householder of my acquaintance who has not, on some ill-omened and most inconvenient season, announced suddenly to his innocent helpmate, that he had invited
"Some odious Major Rock, To drop in at six o'clock."
to the great discomposure of the lady, and the discredit, perhaps, of her domestic arrangements.
Peveril of the Peak was still more thoughtless; for he had directed his lady to invite the whole honest men of the neighbourhood to make good cheer at Martindale Castle, in honour of the blessed Restoration of his most sacred Majesty, without precisely explaining where the provisions were to come from. The deer-park had lain waste ever since the siege; the dovecot could do little to furnish forth such an entertainment; the fishponds, it is true, were well provided (which the neighbouring Presbyterians noted as a suspicious circumstance); and game was to be had for the shooting, upon the extensive heaths and hills of Derbyshire. But these were but the secondary parts of a banquet; and the house-steward and bailiff, Lady Peveril's only coadjutors and counsellors, could not agree how the butcher-meat—the most substantial part, or, as it were, the main body of the entertainment—was to be supplied. The house-steward threatened the sacrifice of a fine yoke of young bullocks, which the bailiff, who pleaded the necessity of their agricultural services, tenaciously resisted; and Lady Peveril's good and dutiful nature did not prevent her from making some impatient reflections on the want of consideration of her absent Knight, who had thus thoughtlessly placed her in so embarrassing a situation.
These reflections were scarcely just, if a man is only responsible for such resolutions as he adopts when he is fully master of himself. Sir Geoffrey's loyalty, like that of many persons in his situation, had, by dint of hopes and fears, victories and defeats, struggles and sufferings, all arising out of the same moving cause, and turning, as it were, on the same pivot, acquired the character of an intense and enthusiastic passion; and the singular and surprising change of fortune, by which his highest wishes were not only gratified, but far exceeded, occasioned for some time a kind of intoxication of loyal rapture which seemed to pervade the whole kingdom. Sir Geoffrey had seen Charles and his brothers, and had been received by the merry monarch with that graceful, and at the same time frank urbanity, by which he conciliated all who approached him; the Knight's services and merits had been fully acknowledged, and recompense had been hinted at, if not expressly promised. Was it for Peveril of the Peak, in the jubilee of his spirits, to consider how his wife was to find beef and mutton to feast his neighbours?
Luckily, however, for the embarrassed lady, there existed some one who had composure of mind sufficient to foresee this difficulty. Just as she had made up her mind, very reluctantly, to become debtor to Major Bridgenorth for the sum necessary to carry her husband's commands into effect, and whilst she was bitterly regretting this departure from the strictness of her usual economy, the steward, who, by-the-bye, had not been absolutely sober since the news of the King's landing at Dover, burst into the apartment, snapping his fingers, and showing more marks of delight than was quite consistent with the dignity of my lady's large parlour.
"What means this, Whitaker?" said the lady, somewhat peevishly; for she was interrupted in the commencement of a letter to her neighbour on the unpleasant business of the proposed loan,—"Is it to be always thus with you?—Are you dreaming?"
"A vision of good omen, I trust," said the steward, with a triumphant flourish of the hand; "far better than Pharaoh's, though, like his, it be of fat kine."
"I prithee be plain, man," said the lady, "or fetch some one who can speak to purpose."
"Why, odds-my-life, madam," said the steward, "mine errand can speak for itself. Do you not hear them low? Do you not hear them bleat? A yoke of fat oxen, and half a score prime wethers. The Castle is victualled for this bout, let them storm when they will; and Gatherill may have his d—d mains ploughed to the boot."
The lady, without farther questioning her elated domestic, rose and went to the window, where she certainly beheld the oxen and sheep which had given rise to Whitaker's exultation. "Whence come they?" said she, in some surprise.
"Let them construe that who can," answered Whitaker; "the fellow who drove them was a west-country man, and only said they came from a friend to help to furnish out your ladyship's entertainment; the man would not stay to drink—I am sorry he would not stay to drink—I crave your ladyship's pardon for not keeping him by the ears to drink—it was not my fault."
"That I'll be sworn it was not," said the lady.
"Nay, madam, by G—, I assure you it was not," said the zealous steward; "for, rather than the Castle should lose credit, I drank his health myself in double ale, though I had had my morning draught already. I tell you the naked truth, my lady, by G—!"
"It was no great compulsion, I suppose," said the lady; "but, Whitaker, suppose you should show your joy on such occasions, by drinking and swearing a little less, rather than a little more, would it not be as well, think you?"
"I crave your ladyship's pardon," said Whitaker, with much reverence; "I hope I know my place. I am your ladyship's poor servant; and I know it does not become me to drink and swear like your ladyship—that is, like his honour, Sir Geoffrey, I would say. But I pray you, if I am not to drink and swear after my degree, how are men to know Peveril of the Peak's steward,—and I may say butler too, since I have had the keys of the cellar ever since old Spigots was shot dead on the northwest turret, with a black jack in his hand,—I say, how is an old Cavalier like me to be known from those cuckoldly Roundheads that do nothing but fast and pray, if we are not to drink and swear according to our degree?"
The lady was silent, for she well knew speech availed nothing; and, after a moment's pause, proceeded to intimate to the steward that she would have the persons, whose names were marked in a written paper, which she delivered to him, invited to the approaching banquet.
Whitaker, instead of receiving the list with the mute acquiescence of a modern Major Domo, carried it into the recess of one of the windows, and, adjusting his spectacles, began to read it to himself. The first names, being those of distinguished Cavalier families in the neighbourhood, he muttered over in a tone of approbation—paused and pshawed at that of Bridgenorth—yet acquiesced, with the observation, "But he is a good neighbour, so it may pass for once." But when he read the name and surname of Nehemiah Solsgrace, the Presbyterian parson, Whitaker's patience altogether forsook him; and he declared he would as soon throw himself into Eldon-hole,[*] as consent that the intrusive old puritan howlet, who had usurped the pulpit of a sound orthodox divine, should ever darken the gates of Martindale Castle by any message or mediation of his.
[*] A chasm in the earth supposed to be unfathomable, one of the wonders of the Peak.
"The false crop-eared hypocrites," cried he, with a hearty oath, "have had their turn of the good weather. The sun is on our side of the hedge now, and we will pay off old scores, as sure as my name is Richard Whitaker."
"You presume on your long services, Whitaker, and on your master's absence, or you had not dared to use me thus," said the lady.
The unwonted agitation of her voice attracted the attention of the refractory steward, notwithstanding his present state of elevation; but he no sooner saw that her eye glistened, and her cheek reddened, than his obstinacy was at once subdued.
"A murrain on me," he said, "but I have made my lady angry in good earnest! and that is an unwonted sight for to see.—I crave your pardon, my lady! It was not poor Dick Whitaker disputed your honourable commands, but only that second draught of double ale. We have put a double stroke of malt to it, as your ladyship well knows, ever since the happy Restoration. To be sure I hate a fanatic as I do the cloven foot of Satan; but then your honourable ladyship hath a right to invite Satan himself, cloven foot and all, to Martindale Castle; and to send me to hell's gate with a billet of invitation—and so your will shall be done."
The invitations were sent round accordingly, in all due form; and one of the bullocks was sent down to be roasted whole at the market-place of a little village called Martindale-Moultrassie, which stood considerably to the eastward both of the Castle and Hall, from which it took its double name, at about an equal distance from both; so that, suppose a line drawn from the one manor-house to the other, to be the base of a triangle, the village would have occupied the salient angle. As the said village, since the late transference of a part of Peveril's property, belonged to Sir Geoffrey and to Bridgenorth in nearly equal portions, the lady judged it not proper to dispute the right of the latter to add some hogsheads of beer to the popular festivity.
In the meanwhile, she could not but suspect the Major of being the unknown friend who had relieved her from the dilemma arising from the want of provisions; and she esteemed herself happy when a visit from him, on the day preceding the proposed entertainment, gave her, as she thought, an opportunity of expressing her gratitude.
No, sir—I will not pledge—I'm one of those Who think good wine needs neither bush nor preface To make it welcome. If you doubt my word, Fill the quart-cup, and see if I will choke on't. —OLD PLAY.
There was a serious gravity of expression in the disclamation with which Major Bridgenorth replied to the thanks tendered to him by Lady Peveril, for the supply of provisions which had reached her Castle so opportunely. He seemed first not to be aware what she alluded to; and, when she explained the circumstance, he protested so seriously that he had no share in the benefit conferred, that Lady Peveril was compelled to believe him, the rather that, being a man of plain downright character, affecting no refined delicacy of sentiment, and practising almost a quaker-like sincerity of expression, it would have been much contrary to his general character to have made such a disavowal, unless it were founded in truth.
"My present visit to you, madam," said he, "had indeed some reference to the festivity of to-morrow." Lady Peveril listened, but as her visitor seemed to find some difficulty in expressing himself, she was compelled to ask an explanation. "Madam," said the Major, "you are not perhaps entirely ignorant that the more tender-conscienced among us have scruples at certain practices, so general amongst your people at times of rejoicing, that you may be said to insist upon them as articles of faith, or at least greatly to resent their omission."
"I trust, Master Bridgenorth," said the Lady Peveril, not fully comprehending the drift of his discourse, "that we shall, as your entertainers, carefully avoid all allusions or reproaches founded on past misunderstanding."
"We would expect no less, madam, from your candour and courtesy," said Bridgenorth; "but I perceive you do not fully understand me. To be plain, then, I allude to the fashion of drinking healths, and pledging each other in draughts of strong liquor, which most among us consider as a superfluous and sinful provoking of each other to debauchery, and the excessive use of strong drink; and which, besides, if derived, as learned divines have supposed, from the custom of the blinded Pagans, who made libations and invoked idols when they drank, may be justly said to have something in it heathenish, and allied to demon-worship."
The lady had already hastily considered all the topics which were likely to introduce discord into the proposed festivity; but this very ridiculous, yet fatal discrepancy, betwixt the manners of the parties on convivial occasions, had entirely escaped her. She endeavoured to soothe the objecting party, whose brows were knit like one who had fixed an opinion by which he was determined to abide.
"I grant," she said, "my good neighbour, that this custom is at least idle, and may be prejudicial if it leads to excess in the use of liquor, which is apt enough to take place without such conversation. But I think, when it hath not this consequence, it is a thing indifferent, affords a unanimous mode of expressing our good wishes to our friends, and our loyal duty to our sovereign; and, without meaning to put any force upon the inclination of those who believe otherwise, I cannot see how I can deny my guests and friends the privilege of drinking a health to the King, or to my husband, after the old English fashion."
"My lady," said the Major, "if the age of fashion were to command it, Popery is one of the oldest English fashions that I have heard of; but it is our happiness that we are not benighted like our fathers, and therefore we must act according to the light that is in us, and not after their darkness. I had myself the honour to attend the Lord-Keeper Whitelocke, when, at the table of the Chamberlain of the kingdom of Sweden, he did positively refuse to pledge the health of his Queen, Christina, thereby giving great offence, and putting in peril the whole purpose of that voyage; which it is not to be thought so wise a man would have done, but that he held such compliance a thing not merely indifferent, but rather sinful and damnable."
"With all respect to Whitelocke," said the Lady Peveril, "I continue of my own opinion, though, Heaven knows, I am no friend to riot or wassail. I would fain accommodate myself to your scruples, and will discourage all other pledges; but surely those of the King and of Peveril of the Peak may be permitted?"
"I dare not," answered Bridgenorth, "lay even the ninety-ninth part of a grain of incense upon an altar erected to Satan."
"How, sir!" said the lady; "do you bring Satan into comparison with our master King Charles, and with my noble lord and husband?"
"Pardon me, madam," answered Bridgenorth, "I have no such thoughts—indeed they would ill become me. I do wish the King's health and Sir Geoffrey's devoutly, and I will pray for both. But I see not what good it should do their health if I should prejudice my own by quaffing pledges out of quart flagons."
"Since we cannot agree upon this matter," said Lady Peveril, "we must find some resource by which to offend those of neither party. Suppose you winked at our friends drinking these pledges, and we should connive at your sitting still?"
But neither would this composition satisfy Bridgenorth, who was of opinion, as he expressed himself, that it would be holding a candle to Beelzebub. In fact, his temper, naturally stubborn, was at present rendered much more so by a previous conference with his preacher, who, though a very good man in the main, was particularly and illiberally tenacious of the petty distinctions which his sect adopted; and while he thought with considerable apprehension on the accession of power which Popery, Prelacy, and Peveril of the Peak, were like to acquire by the late Revolution, became naturally anxious to put his flock on their guard, and prevent their being kidnapped by the wolf. He disliked extremely that Major Bridgenorth, indisputably the head of the Presbyterian interest in that neighbourhood, should have given his only daughter to be, as he termed it, nursed by a Canaanitish woman; and he told him plainly that he liked not this going to feast in the high places with the uncircumcised in heart, and looked on the whole conviviality only as a making-merry in the house of Tirzah.
Upon receiving this rebuke from his pastor, Bridgenorth began to suspect he might have been partly wrong in the readiness which, in his first ardour of gratitude, he had shown to enter into intimate intercourse with the Castle of Martindale; but he was too proud to avow this to the preacher, and it was not till after a considerable debate betwixt them, that it was mutually agreed their presence at the entertainment should depend upon the condition, that no healths or pledges should be given in their presence. Bridgenorth, therefore, as the delegate and representative of his party, was bound to stand firm against all entreaty, and the lady became greatly embarrassed. She now regretted sincerely that her well-intended invitation had ever been given, for she foresaw that its rejection was to awaken all former subjects of quarrel, and perhaps to lead to new violences amongst people who had not many years since been engaged in civil war. To yield up the disputed point to the Presbyterians, would have been to offend the Cavalier party, and Sir Geoffrey in particular, in the most mortal degree; for they made it as firm a point of honour to give healths, and compel others to pledge them, as the Puritans made it a deep article of religion to refuse both. At length the lady changed the discourse, introduced that of Major Bridgenorth's child, caused it to be sent for, and put into his arms. The mother's stratagem took effect; for, though the parliamentary major stood firm, the father, as in the case of the Governor of Tilbury, was softened, and he agreed that his friends should accept a compromise. This was, that the major himself, the reverend divine, and such of their friends as held strict Puritan tenets, should form a separate party in the Large Parlour, while the Hall should be occupied by the jovial Cavaliers; and that each party should regulate their potations after their own conscience, or after their own fashion.
Major Bridgenorth himself seemed greatly relieved after this important matter had been settled. He had held it matter of conscience to be stubborn in maintaining his own opinion, but was heartily glad when he escaped from the apparently inevitable necessity of affronting Lady Peveril by the refusal of her invitation. He remained longer than usual, and spoke and smiled more than was his custom. His first care on his return was to announce to the clergyman and his congregation the compromise which he had made, and this not as a matter for deliberation, but one upon which he had already resolved; and such was his authority among them, that though the preacher longed to pronounce a separation of the parties, and to exclaim—"To your tents, O Israel!" he did not see the chance of being seconded by so many, as would make it worth while to disturb the unanimous acquiescence in their delegate's proposal.
Nevertheless, each party being put upon the alert by the consequences of Major Bridgenorth's embassy, so many points of doubt and delicate discussion were started in succession, that the Lady Peveril, the only person, perhaps, who was desirous of achieving an effectual reconciliation between them, incurred, in reward for her good intentions, the censure of both factions, and had much reason to regret her well-meant project of bringing the Capulets and Montagues of Derbyshire together on the same occasion of public festivity.
As it was now settled that the guests were to form two different parties, it became not only a subject of dispute betwixt themselves, which should be first admitted within the Castle of Martindale, but matter of serious apprehension to Lady Peveril and Major Bridgenorth, lest, if they were to approach by the same avenue and entrance, a quarrel might take place betwixt them, and proceed to extremities, even before they reached the place of entertainment. The lady believed she had discovered an admirable expedient for preventing the possibility of such interference, by directing that the Cavaliers should be admitted by the principal entrance, while the Roundheads should enter the Castle through a great breach which had been made in the course of the siege, and across which there had been made a sort of by-path to drive the cattle down to their pasture in the wood. By this contrivance the Lady Peveril imagined she had altogether avoided the various risks which might occur from two such parties encountering each other, and disputing for precedence. Several other circumstances of less importance were adjusted at the same time, and apparently so much to the satisfaction of the Presbyterian teacher, that, in a long lecture on the subject of the Marriage Garment, he was at the pains to explain to his hearers, that outward apparel was not alone meant by that scriptural expression, but also a suitable frame of mind for enjoyment of peaceful festivity; and therefore he exhorted the brethren, that whatever might be the errors of the poor blinded malignants, with whom they were in some sort to eat and drink upon the morrow they ought not on this occasion to show any evil will against them, lest they should therein become troublers of the peace of Israel.
Honest Doctor Dummerar, the elected Episcopal Vicar of Martindale cum Moultrassie, preached to the Cavaliers on the same subject. He had served the cure before the breaking out of the rebellion, and was in high favour with Sir Geoffrey, not merely on account of his sound orthodoxy and deep learning, but his exquisite skill in playing at bowls, and his facetious conversation over a pipe and tankard of October. For these latter accomplishments, the Doctor had the honour to be recorded by old Century White amongst the roll of lewd, incompetent, profligate clergymen of the Church of England, whom he denounced to God and man, on account chiefly of the heinous sin of playing at games of skill and chance, and of occasionally joining in the social meetings of their parishioners. When the King's party began to lose ground, Doctor Dummerar left his vicarage, and, betaking himself to the camp, showed upon several occasions, when acting as chaplain to Sir Geoffrey Peveril's regiment, that his portly bodily presence included a stout and masculine heart. When all was lost, and he himself, with most other loyal divines, was deprived of his living, he made such shift as he could; now lurking in the garrets of old friends in the University, who shared with him, and such as him, the slender means of livelihood which the evil times had left them; and now lying hid in the houses of the oppressed and sequestered gentry, who respected at once his character and sufferings. When the Restoration took place, Doctor Dummerar emerged from some one of his hiding-places, and hied him to Martindale Castle, to enjoy the triumph inseparable from this happy change.
His appearance at the Castle in his full clerical dress, and the warm reception which he received from the neighbouring gentry, added not a little to the alarm which was gradually extending itself through the party which were so lately the uppermost. It is true, Doctor Dummerar framed (honest worthy man) no extravagant views of elevation or preferment; but the probability of his being replaced in the living, from which he had been expelled under very flimsy pretences, inferred a severe blow to the Presbyterian divine, who could not be considered otherwise than as an intruder. The interest of the two preachers, therefore, as well as the sentiments of their flocks, were at direct variance; and here was another fatal objection in the way of Lady Peveril's scheme of a general and comprehensive healing ordinance.
Nevertheless, as we have already hinted, Doctor Dummerar behaved as handsomely upon the occasion as the Presbyterian incumbent had done. It is true, that in a sermon which he preached in the Castle hall to several of the most distinguished Cavalier families, besides a world of boys from the village, who went to see the novel circumstance of a parson in a cassock and surplice, he went at great length into the foulness of the various crimes committed by the rebellious party during the late evil times, and greatly magnified the merciful and peaceful nature of the honourable Lady of the Manor, who condescended to look upon, or receive into her house in the way of friendship and hospitality, men holding the principles which had led to the murder of the King—the slaying and despoiling his loyal subjects—and the plundering and breaking down of the Church of God. But then he wiped all this handsomely up again, with the observation, that since it was the will of their gracious and newly-restored Sovereign, and the pleasure of the worshipful Lady Peveril, that this contumacious and rebellious race should be, for a time, forborne by their faithful subjects, it would be highly proper that all the loyal liegemen should, for the present, eschew subjects of dissension or quarrel with these sons of Shimei; which lesson of patience he enforced by the comfortable assurance, that they could not long abstain from their old rebellious practices; in which case, the Royalists would stand exculpated before God and man, in extirpating them from the face of the earth.
The close observers of the remarkable passages of the times from which we draw the events of our history, have left it upon record, that these two several sermons, much contrary, doubtless, to the intention of the worthy divines by whom they were delivered, had a greater effect in exasperating, than in composing, the disputes betwixt the two factions. Under such evil auspices, and with corresponding forebodings on the mind of Lady Peveril, the day of festivity at length arrived.
By different routes, and forming each a sort of procession, as if the adherents of each party were desirous of exhibiting its strength and numbers, the two several factions approached Martindale Castle; and so distinct did they appear in dress, aspect, and manners, that it seemed as if the revellers of a bridal party, and the sad attendants upon a funeral solemnity, were moving towards the same point from different quarters.
The puritanical party was by far the fewer in numbers, for which two excellent reasons might be given. In the first place, they had enjoyed power for several years, and, of course, became unpopular among the common people, never at any time attached to those, who, being in the immediate possession of authority, are often obliged to employ it in controlling their humours. Besides, the country people of England had, and still have, an animated attachment to field sports, and a natural unrestrained joviality of disposition, which rendered them impatient under the severe discipline of the fanatical preachers; while they were not less naturally discontented with the military despotism of Cromwell's Major-Generals. Secondly, the people were fickle as usual, and the return of the King had novelty in it, and was therefore popular. The side of the Puritans was also deserted at this period by a numerous class of more thinking and prudential persons, who never forsook them till they became unfortunate. These sagacious personages were called in that age the Waiters upon Providence, and deemed it a high delinquency towards Heaven if they afforded countenance to any cause longer than it was favoured by fortune.
But, though thus forsaken by the fickle and the selfish, a solemn enthusiasm, a stern and determined depth of principle, a confidence in the sincerity of their own motives, and the manly English pride which inclined them to cling to their former opinions, like the traveller in the fable to his cloak, the more strongly that the tempest blew around them, detained in the ranks of the Puritans many, who, if no longer formidable from numbers, were still so from their character. They consisted chiefly of the middling gentry, with others whom industry or successful speculations in commerce or in mining had raised into eminence—the persons who feel most umbrage from the overshadowing aristocracy, and are usually the most vehement in defence of what they hold to be their rights. Their dress was in general studiously simple and unostentatious, or only remarkable by the contradictory affectation of extreme simplicity or carelessness. The dark colour of their cloaks, varying from absolute black to what was called sad-coloured—their steeple-crowned hats, with their broad shadowy brims—their long swords, suspended by a simple strap around the loins, without shoulder-belt, sword-knot, plate, buckles, or any of the other decorations with which the Cavaliers loved to adorn their trusty rapiers,—the shortness of their hair, which made their ears appear of disproportioned size,—above all, the stern and gloomy gravity of their looks, announced their belonging to that class of enthusiasts, who, resolute and undismayed, had cast down the former fabric of government, and who now regarded with somewhat more than suspicion, that which had been so unexpectedly substituted in its stead. There was gloom in their countenances; but it was not that of dejection, far less of despair. They looked like veterans after a defeat, which may have checked their career and wounded their pride, but has left their courage undiminished.
The melancholy, now become habitual, which overcast Major Bridgenorth's countenance, well qualified him to act as the chief of the group who now advanced from the village. When they reached the point by which they were first to turn aside into the wood which surrounded the Castle, they felt a momentary impression of degradation, as if they were yielding the high road to their old and oft-defeated enemies the Cavaliers. When they began to ascend the winding path, which had been the daily passage of the cattle, the opening of the wooded glade gave them a view of the Castle ditch, half choked with the rubbish of the breach, and of the breach itself, which was made at the angle of a large square flanking-tower, one-half of which had been battered into ruins, while the other fragment remained in a state strangely shattered and precarious, and seemed to be tottering above the huge aperture in the wall. A stern still smile was exchanged among the Puritans, as the sight reminded them of the victories of former days. Holdfast Clegg, a millwright of Derby, who had been himself active at the siege, pointed to the breach, and said, with a grim smile to Mr. Solsgrace, "I little thought, that when my own hand helped to level the cannon which Oliver pointed against yon tower, we should have been obliged to climb like foxes up the very walls which we won by our bow and by our spear. Methought these malignants had then enough of shutting their gates and making high their horn against us."
"Be patient, my brother," said Solsgrace; "be patient, and let not thy soul be disquieted. We enter not this high place dishonourably, seeing we ascend by the gate which the Lord opened to the godly."
The words of the pastor were like a spark to gunpowder. The countenances of the mournful retinue suddenly expanded, and, accepting what had fallen from him as an omen and a light from heaven how they were to interpret their present situation, they uplifted, with one consent, one of the triumphant songs in which the Israelites celebrated the victories which had been vouchsafed to them over the heathen inhabitants of the Promised Land:—
"Let God arise, and then His foes Shall turn themselves to flight, His enemies for fear shall run, And scatter out of sight;
And as wax melts before the fire, And wind blows smoke away, So in the presence of the Lord, The wicked shall decay.
God's army twenty thousand is, Of angels bright and strong, The Lord also in Sinai Is present them among.
Thou didst, O Lord, ascend on high, And captive led'st them all, Who, in times past, Thy chosen flock In bondage did enthral."
These sounds of devotional triumph reached the joyous band of the Cavaliers, who, decked in whatever pomp their repeated misfortunes and impoverishment had left them, were moving towards the same point, though by a different road, and were filling the principal avenue to the Castle, with tiptoe mirth and revelry. The two parties were strongly contrasted; for, during that period of civil dissension, the manners of the different factions distinguished them as completely as separate uniforms might have done. If the Puritan was affectedly plain in his dress, and ridiculously precise in his manners, the Cavalier often carried his love of ornament into tawdry finery, and his contempt of hypocrisy into licentious profligacy. Gay gallant fellows, young and old, thronged together towards the ancient Castle, with general and joyous manifestation of those spirits, which, as they had been buoyant enough to support their owners during the worst of times, as they termed Oliver's usurpation, were now so inflated as to transport them nearly beyond the reach of sober reason. Feathers waved, lace glittered, spears jingled, steeds caracoled; and here and there a petronel, or pistol, was fired off by some one, who found his own natural talents for making a noise inadequate to the dignity of the occasion. Boys—for, as we said before, the rabble were with the uppermost party, as usual—halloo'd and whooped, "Down with the Rump," and "Fie upon Oliver!" Musical instruments, of as many different fashions as were then in use, played all at once, and without any regard to each other's tune; and the glee of the occasion, while it reconciled the pride of the high-born of the party to fraternise with the general rout, derived an additional zest from the conscious triumph, that their exultation was heard by their neighbours, the crestfallen Roundheads.
When the loud and sonorous swell of the psalm-tune, multiplied by all the echoes of the cliffs and ruinous halls, came full upon their ear, as if to warn them how little they were to reckon upon the depression of their adversaries, at first it was answered with a scornful laugh, raised to as much height as the scoffers' lungs would permit, in order that it might carry to the psalmodists the contempt of their auditors; but this was a forced exertion of party spleen. There is something in melancholy feelings more natural to an imperfect and suffering state than in those of gaiety, and when they are brought into collision, the former seldom fail to triumph. If a funeral-train and wedding-procession were to meet unexpectedly, it will readily be allowed that the mirth of the last would be speedily merged in the gloom of the others. But the Cavaliers, moreover, had sympathies of a different kind. The psalm-tune, which now came rolling on their ear, had been heard too often, and upon too many occasions had preceded victory gained over the malignants, to permit them, even in their triumph, to hear it without emotion. There was a sort of pause, of which the party themselves seemed rather ashamed, until the silence was broken by the stout old knight, Sir Jasper Cranbourne, whose gallantry was so universally acknowledged, that he could afford, if we may use such an expression, to confess emotions, which men whose courage was in any respect liable to suspicion, would have thought it imprudent to acknowledge.
"Adad," said the old Knight, "may I never taste claret again, if that is not the very tune with which the prick-eared villains began their onset at Wiggan Lane, where they trowled us down like so many ninepins! Faith, neighbours, to say truth, and shame the devil, I did not like the sound of it above half."
"If I thought the round-headed rogues did it in scorn of us," said Dick Wildblood of the Dale, "I would cudgel their psalmody out of their peasantly throats with this very truncheon;" a motion which, being seconded by old Roger Raine, the drunken tapster of the Peveril Arms in the village, might have brought on a general battle, but that Sir Jasper forbade the feud.
"We'll have no ranting, Dick," said the old Knight to the young Franklin; "adad, man, we'll have none, for three reasons: first, because it would be ungentle to Lady Peveril; then, because it is against the King's peace; and, lastly, Dick, because if we did set on the psalm-singing knaves, thou mightest come by the worst, my boy, as has chanced to thee before."
"Who, I! Sir Jasper?" answered Dick—"I come by the worst!—I'll be d—d if it ever happened but in that accursed lane, where we had no more flank, front, or rear, than if we had been so many herrings in a barrel."
"That was the reason, I fancy," answered Sir Jasper, "that you, to mend the matter, scrambled into the hedge, and stuck there, horse and man, till I beat thee through it with my leading-staff; and then, instead of charging to the front, you went right-about, and away as fast as your feet would carry you."
This reminiscence produced a laugh at Dick's expense, who was known, or at least suspected, to have more tongue in his head than mettle in his bosom. And this sort of rallying on the part of the Knight having fortunately abated the resentment which had begun to awaken in the breasts of the royalist cavalcade, farther cause for offence was removed, by the sudden ceasing of the sounds which they had been disposed to interpret into those of premeditated insult.
This was owing to the arrival of the Puritans at the bottom of the large and wide breach, which had been formerly made in the wall of the Castle by their victorious cannon. The sight of its gaping heaps of rubbish, and disjointed masses of building, up which slowly winded a narrow and steep path, such as is made amongst ancient ruins by the rare passage of those who occasionally visit them, was calculated, when contrasted with the grey and solid massiveness of the towers and curtains which yet stood uninjured, to remind them of their victory over the stronghold of their enemies, and how they had bound nobles and princes with fetters of iron.
But feelings more suitable to the purpose of their visit to Martindale Castle, were awakened in the bosoms even of these stern sectaries, when the Lady of the Castle, still in the very prime of beauty and of womanhood, appeared at the top of the breach with her principal female attendants, to receive her guests with the honour and courtesy becoming her invitation. She had laid aside the black dress which had been her sole attire for several years, and was arrayed with a splendour not unbecoming her high descent and quality. Jewels, indeed, she had none; but her long and dark hair was surmounted with a chaplet made of oak leaves, interspersed with lilies; the former being the emblem of the King's preservation in the Royal Oak, and the latter of his happy Restoration. What rendered her presence still more interesting to those who looked on her, was the presence of the two children whom she held in either hand; one of whom was well known to them all to be the child of their leader, Major Bridgenorth, who had been restored to life and health by the almost maternal care of the Lady Peveril.
If even the inferior persons of the party felt the healing influence of her presence, thus accompanied, poor Bridgenorth was almost overwhelmed with it. The strictness of his cast and manners permitted him not to sink on his knee, and kiss the hand which held his little orphan; but the deepness of his obeisance—the faltering tremor of his voice—and the glistening of his eye, showed a grateful respect for the lady whom he addressed, deeper and more reverential than could have been expressed even by Persian prostration. A few courteous and mild words, expressive of the pleasure she found in once more seeing her neighbours as her friends—a few kind inquiries, addressed to the principal individuals among her guests, concerning their families and connections, completed her triumph over angry thoughts and dangerous recollections, and disposed men's bosoms to sympathise with the purposes of the meeting.
Even Solsgrace himself, although imagining himself bound by his office and duty to watch over and counteract the wiles of the "Amalekitish woman," did not escape the sympathetic infection; being so much struck with the marks of peace and good-will exhibited by Lady Peveril, that he immediately raised the psalm—
"O what a happy thing it is, And joyful, for to see Brethren to dwell together in Friendship and unity!"
Accepting this salutation as a mark of courtesy repaid, the Lady Peveril marshalled in person this party of her guests to the apartment, where ample good cheer was provided for them; and had even the patience to remain while Master Nehemiah Solsgrace pronounced a benediction of portentous length, as an introduction to the banquet. Her presence was in some measure a restraint on the worthy divine, whose prolusion lasted the longer, and was the more intricate and embarrassed, that he felt himself debarred from rounding it off by his usual alliterative petition for deliverance from Popery, Prelacy, and Peveril of the Peak, which had become so habitual to him, that, after various attempts to conclude with some other form of words, he found himself at last obliged to pronounce the first words of his usual formula aloud, and mutter the rest in such a manner as not to be intelligible even by those who stood nearest to him.
The minister's silence was followed by all the various sounds which announce the onset of a hungry company on a well-furnished table; and at the same time gave the lady an opportunity to leave the apartment, and look to the accommodation of her other company. She felt, indeed, that it was high time to do so; and that the royalist guests might be disposed to misapprehend, or even to resent, the prior attentions which she had thought it prudent to offer to the Puritans.
These apprehensions were not altogether ill-founded. It was in vain that the steward had displayed the royal standard, with its proud motto of Tandem Triumphans, on one of the great towers which flanked the main entrance of the Castle; while, from the other, floated the banner of Peveril of the Peak, under which many of those who now approached had fought during all the vicissitudes of civil war. It was in vain he repeated his clamorous "Welcome, noble Cavaliers! welcome, generous gentlemen!" There was a slight murmur amongst them, that their welcome ought to have come from the mouth of the Colonel's lady—not from that of a menial. Sir Jasper Cranbourne, who had sense as well as spirit and courage, and who was aware of his fair cousin's motives, having been indeed consulted by her upon all the arrangements which she had adopted, saw matters were in such a state that no time ought to be lost in conducting the guests to the banqueting apartment, where a fortunate diversion from all these topics of rising discontent might be made, at the expense of the good cheer of all sorts, which the lady's care had so liberally provided.
The stratagem of the old soldier succeeded in its utmost extent. He assumed the great oaken-chair usually occupied by the steward at his audits; and Dr. Dummerar having pronounced a brief Latin benediction (which was not the less esteemed by the hearers that none of them understood it), Sir Jasper exhorted the company to wet their appetites to the dinner by a brimming cup to his Majesty's health, filled as high and as deep as their goblets would permit. In a moment all was bustle, with the clank of wine-cups and of flagons. In another moment the guests were on their feet like so many statues, all hushed as death, but with eyes glancing with expectation, and hands outstretched, which displayed their loyal brimmers. The voice of Sir Jasper, clear, sonorous, and emphatic, as the sound of his war-trumpet, announced the health of the restored Monarch, hastily echoed back by the assemblage, impatient to render it due homage. Another brief pause was filled by the draining of their cups, and the mustering breath to join in a shout so loud, that not only the rafters of the old hall trembled while they echoed it back, but the garlands of oaken boughs and flowers with which they were decorated, waved wildly, and rustled as if agitated by a sudden whirlwind. This rite observed, the company proceeded to assail the good cheer with which the table groaned, animated as they were to the attack both by mirth and melody, for they were attended by all the minstrels of the district, who, like the Episcopal clergy, had been put to silence during the reign of the self-entitled saints of the Commonwealth. The social occupation of good eating and drinking, the exchange of pledges betwixt old neighbours who had been fellow-soldiers in the moment of resistance—fellow-sufferers in the time of depression and subjugation, and were now partners in the same general subject of congratulation, soon wiped from their memory the trifling cause of complaint, which in the minds of some had darkened the festivity of the day; so that when the Lady Peveril walked into the hall, accompanied as before with the children and her female attendants, she was welcomed with the acclamations due to the mistress of the banquet and of the Castle—the dame of the noble Knight, who had led most of them to battle with an undaunted and persevering valour, which was worthy of better success.