The World's Greatest Books, Vol VII
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse

But Varney was taken on the spot. He made very little mystery either of the crime or of its motives—alleging that there was sufficient against him to deprive him of Leicester's confidence, and to destroy all his towering plans of ambition. "I was not born," he said, "to drag on the remainder of life a degraded outcast; nor will I so die that my fate shall make a holiday to the vulgar herd."

That night he swallowed a small quantity of strong poison, which he carried about his person, and next morning was found dead in his cell.

The news of the countess's dreadful fate put a sudden stop to the pleasures of Kenilworth. Leicester retired from court, and for a considerable time abandoned himself to his remorse. But as Varney in his last declaration had been studious to spare the character of his patron, the earl was the object rather of compassion than resentment. The queen at length recalled him to court; he was once more distinguished as a statesman and favourite; and the rest of his career is well known to history. But there was something retributive in his death, for it is believed he died by swallowing a draught of poison, designed by him for another person.

Tressilian at length embarked with his friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, for the Virginia expedition, and young in years, but old in grief, died before his day in that foreign land.

* * * * *

Old Mortality

"Old Mortality" and the "Black Dwarf" were published together as the first series of the "Tales of My Landlord" on December 1, 1816. The first is certainly one of the best of Scott's historical romances. It was the fourth of the "Waverley Novels," and the authorship was still unavowed; though Mr. Murray, the publisher, at once declared it "must be written either by Walter Scott or the Devil." On the other hand, there were critics who did not believe the book was Sir Walter's because it lacked his "tedious descriptions." Some said openly it was the work of several hands. The study of the fierce, fanatical Covenanters in "Old Mortality" is done not only with all the author's literary genius, but a wonderful fidelity to historical truth; and while the accuracy of the portrait of Claverhouse—"Bonny Dundee"—will always be disputed, no lover of romance will question its brilliant charm. The immediate popularity of "Old Mortality" was less than many of the "Waverley Novels," only two editions, amounting to 4,000 copies, being sold in six weeks.

I.—Tillietudlem Castle

"Most readers," says the manuscript of Mr. Pattieson, "must have witnessed with delight the joyous burst which attends the dismissing of the village school. The buoyant spirit of childhood may then be seen to explode, as it were, in shout and song and frolic; but there is one individual who partakes of the relief, whose feelings are not so obvious, or so apt to receive sympathy—the teacher himself."

The reader may form some conception of the relief which a solitary walk, on a fine summer evening, affords to the head which has ached, and the nerves which have been shattered for so many hours in plying the irksome task of public instruction.

To me these evening strolls have been the happiest hours of an unhappy life; and it was in one of them that I met, for the first time, the religious itinerant known in various parts of Scotland by the title of "Old Mortality." He was busily engaged in deepening with his chisel the letters of the inscription upon the monument of the slaughtered Presbyterians—those champions of the Covenant whose deeds and sufferings were his favourite theme.

For nearly thirty years this pious enthusiast visited annually the graves of those who suffered for the cause during the reigns of the last two Stuarts, most numerous in the districts of Ayr, Galloway, and Dumfries. To talk of their exploits was the delight, as to repair their monuments was the business of his life.

My readers will understand that in embodying into one narrative many of the anecdotes I derived from Old Mortality, I have endeavoured to correct and verify them from the most authentic sources of tradition afforded by the representatives of either party. Peace to their memory!

"Implacable resentment was their crime, And grievous has the expiation been."

Under the reign of the last Stuarts, frequent musters of the people, both for military exercise and for sports and pastimes, were appointed by authority, and the Sheriff of Lanark was holding the wappen-schaw of a wild district, on the day our narrative commences, May 5, 1679.

The lord-lieutenant of the country alone, who was of ducal rank, pretended to the magnificence of a wheel-carriage, but near it might be seen the erect form of Lady Margaret Bellenden on her sober palfrey, and her granddaughter; the fair-haired Edith appeared beside her aged relative like Spring, close to Winter.

Many civilities passed between her ladyship and the representatives of sundry ancient royal families, and not a young man of rank passed by them in the course of the muster, but carried himself more erect in the saddle and displayed his horsemanship to the best advantage in the eyes of Miss Edith Bellenden.

When the military evolutions were over, a loud shout announced that the competitors were about to step forth for the shooting of the popinjay— the figure of a bird suspended to a pole. When a slender young man, dressed with great simplicity, yet with an air of elegance, his dark-green cloak thrown back over his shoulder, approached the station with his fusee in his hand, there was a murmur among the spectators.

"Ewhow, sirs, to see his father's son at the like o' thae fearless follies!" said some of the more rigid, but the generality were content to wish success to the son of a deceased Presbyterian leader. Their wishes were gratified. The green adventurer made the first palpable hit of the day, and two only of those who followed succeeded—the first, a young man of low rank, who kept his face muffled in a grey cloak; and the second, a gallant young cavalier, remarkably handsome, who had been in close attendance on Lady Margaret and Miss Bellenden.

But the applause, even of those whose wishes had favoured Lord Evandale, were at the third trial transferred to his triumphant rival, who was led by four of the duke's friends to his presence, passing in front of Lady Margaret and her granddaughter. The captain of the popinjay (as the victor was called) and Miss Bellenden coloured like crimson, as the latter returned the low inclination he made, even to the saddlebow, in passing her.

"Do you know that young person?" said Lady Margaret.

"I—I—have seen him, madam, at my uncle's, and—and—elsewhere, occasionally," stammered Edith.

"I hear them say around me," said Lady Margaret, "that the young spark is the nephew of old Milnwood."

"The son of the late Colonel Morton of Milnwood, who commanded a regiment of horse with great courage at Dunbar and Inverkeithing," said a gentleman beside Lady Margaret.

"Ay, and before that, who fought for the Covenanters, both at Marston Moor and Philipshaugh," said Lady Margaret, sighing. "His son ought to dispense with intruding himself into the company of those to whom his name must bring unpleasing recollections."

"You forget, my dear lady, he comes here to discharge suit and service in name for his uncle. He is an old miser, and although probably against the grain, sends the young gentleman to save pecuniary pains and penalties. The youngster is, I suppose, happy enough to escape for the day from the dullness of the old home at Milnwood."

The company now dispersed, excepting such as, having tried their dexterity at the popinjay, were, by ancient custom, obliged to partake of a grace-cup with their captain, who, though he spared the cup himself, took care it should go round with due celerity among the rest.

On leaving the alehouse, a stranger observed to Morton that he was riding towards Milnwood, and asked for the advantage of his company.

"Certainly," said Morton, though there was a gloomy and relentless severity in the man's manner from which he recoiled, and they rode off together.

They had not long left, when Cornet Grahame, a kinsman of Claverhouse, entered with the news that the Archbishop of St. Andrews had been murdered by a body of the rebel Whigs.

He read their descriptions, and it was clear that the stern stranger who had just left with Henry Morton, was Balfour of Burley, the actual commander of the band of assassins, though Morton himself knew nothing of Burley's terrible deed.

"Horse, horse, and pursue, my lads!" exclaimed Cornet Grahame. "The murdering dog's head is worth its weight in gold."

II.—Henry Morton's Escape

The dragoons soon arrived at Milnwood, and carried off Henry Morton prisoner for having given a night's shelter to Balfour of Burley, an old military comrade of his father's. Morton acknowledged he had done this, but refused to give any other information. Hitherto he had meddled with no party in the state. They decided to bring him before Colonel Grahame of Claverhouse, who was expected next day at the Castle of Tillietudlem, the residence of Lady Margaret Bellenden.

Although Henry Morton had prevailed upon the sergeant to let him be muffled up in one of the soldier's cloaks, Miss Edith Bellenden found it impossible to withdraw her eyes from him, and her waiting maid soon discovered his identity, and found means for the lovers (for such they were) to meet in secret in the room where the prisoner was confined.

"You are lost, you are lost, if you are to plead your cause with Claverhouse!" sighed Edith. "The primate was his intimate friend and early patron. 'No excuse, no subterfuge,' he wrote to my grandmother, 'shall save either those connected with the deed, or such as have given them countenance and shelter.'"

They were interrupted by the guard, and Morton, assuming a firmness he was far from feeling, whispered, "Farewell, Edith; leave me to my fate; it cannot be beyond endurance, since you are interested in it. Good night, good night! Do not remain here till you are discovered."

"Everyone has his taste, to be sure," said the sentinel; "but, d—— me if I would vex so sweet a girl for all the Whigs that ever swore a covenant!"

After breakfast next day, Major Bellenden, Edith's grand-uncle, to whom she had written, approached Claverhouse, to plead for the life of the son of his old friend, but she heard the reply.

"It cannot be, Major Bellenden; lenity in his case is altogether beyond the bounds of my commission. And here comes Evandale with news, as I think. What tidings do you bring us, Evandale?" addressing the young lord, who now entered in complete uniform but with dress disordered, and boots bespattered.

"Unpleasant news, sir," was the reply. "A large body of Whigs are in arms among the hills, and have broken out into actual rebellion."

Claverhouse immediately bid them sound to horse, saying, "There are rogues enough in the country to make the rebels five times their strength, if they are not checked at once."

"Many," said Evandale, "are flocking to them already, and they expect a strong body of the indulged Presbyterians, headed by young Milnwood, the son of the famous old Roundhead, Colonel Silas Morton."

"It's a lie!" said the major hastily, and begged that Henry Morton might at once be heard himself. Evandale drew near to Miss Bellenden, and addressed her in a manner, expressing a feeling much deeper and more agitating than was conveyed in his phrases.

"I will but dispose of this young fellow," said Claverhouse, "and then Lord Evandale—I am sorry to interrupt your conversation—but then we must mount. Why do you not bring up your prisoner? And hark ye, let two files load their carbines."

Edith broke through the restraint that had hitherto kept her silent, and entreated Lord Evandale to use his interest with his colonel, becoming bolder and more urgent as the soldiers entered with the prisoner, whom they had just informed that Lady Margaret's niece was interceding for his life with Lord Evandale, to whom she was about to be married.

The unfortunate prisoner heard enough, as he passed behind Edith's seat, of the broken expressions which passed between her and Lord Evandale, to confirm all that the soldiers had told him.

That moment made a singular and instantaneous change in his character. Desperate himself, he determined to support the rights of his country, insulted in his person. So he declined to answer any questions, and assured Claverhouse that there were yet Scotsmen who could assert the liberties of Scotland.

"Make you peace then, with Heaven, in five minutes space. Bothwell, lead him down to the courtyard, and draw up your party!"

A silence of horror fell on all but the speaker at these words. Edith sprang up, but her strength gave way, and she would have fallen had she not been caught by her attendant.

Evandale at once addressed Claverhouse, and calling him aside reminded him of services rendered by his family in an affair of the privy council.

"Certainly, my dear Evandale," answered Claverhouse; "I am not a man who forgets such debts. How can I evince my gratitude?"

"I will hold the debt cancelled," said Lord Evandale, "if you will spare this young man's life."

"Evandale," replied Claverhouse in great surprise, "you are mad—absolutely mad. You see him? He is tottering on the verge between time and eternity; yet his is the only cheek unblanched, the only heart that keeps its usual time. Look at him well. If that man should ever come to head an army of rebels, you will have much to answer for."

He then said aloud, "Young man, your life is for the present safe, owing to the interference of your friends." So Morton was hurried down to the courtyard, where three other prisoners remained under an escort of dragoons; soon they were all pressing forward to overtake the main body, as it was supposed they would come in sight of the enemy in less than two hours. It was obvious, when they did so that there were old soldiers with the rebels from the choice of the ground, and the order of battle in which they waited the assault. Cornet Grahame was sent with a flag of truce to offer a free pardon to all but the murderers of the archbishop if they would disperse themselves. On his persisting in addressing the people themselves in spite of the warning of their spokesman, Balfour of Burley, whom he recognised. "Then the Lord grant grace to thy soul—amen!" said Burley, and fired, and Cornet Grahame dropped from his horse, mortally wounded.

"What have you done?" said one of Balfour's brother officers.

"My duty," said Balfour firmly. "Is it not written 'Thou shalt be zealous even to slaying?' Let those who dare now venture to talk of truce or pardon!"

Claverhouse saw his nephew fall; with a glance of indescribable emotion he looked at Evandale. "I will avenge him, or die," exclaimed Evandale, and rode furiously down the hill, followed by his own troop, and that of the deceased cornet, each striving to be first in revenge. They soon fell into confusion in the broken ground. In vain Claverhouse shouted, "Halt! halt! This rashness will undo us." The enemy set upon them with the utmost fury, crying, "Woe, woe to the uncircumcised Philistines! Down with the Dagon and all his adherents!" Though the young nobleman fought like a lion, he was forced to retreat, and soon Claverhouse was compelled to follow his troops in their flight; as he passed Henry Morton and the other prisoners just released from their bonds, Evandale's horse was shot, and Morton rushed forward just in time to prevent his being killed by Balfour himself in hot pursuit.

III.—The Presbyterian Insurgents

John Balfour of Burley, a man of some fortune and good family, a soldier from his youth upwards, aspired to place himself at the head of the Presbyterian forces then in arms against the English government. On this account he was particularly anxious to secure the accession of young Henry Morton to the cause of the insurgents, for the memory of Morton's father was esteemed among the Presbyterians, and few persons of decent quality had so far joined the rising.

Morton, on his side, was willing to join in any insurrection which promised freedom to the country though he abhorred the murder of Sharpe, and the tenets of the wilder set of Cameronians, by whom the seeds of disunion were already thickly sown in the ill-fated party.

At the nomination of the council of the Presbyterian army Morton was sent with the main body to march against Glasgow, while Burley, with a chosen body of five hundred men, remained behind to blockade the castle of Tillietudlem. A command to surrender had been scorned with indignation by Major Bellenden and Lord Evandale.

A few weeks later a pause in the hostilities enabled Morton, anxious for the fate of Tillietudlem, to return to Burley's camp, where he learnt that Evandale had been taken prisoner, and was to be hanged at daybreak unless the castle surrendered.

Burley sullenly yielded his prisoner into Morton's hands, and Evandale, released on parole by the man whose life he had previously saved, undertook to set out for Edinburgh, with a list of the grievances of the insurgents. A mutiny within the castle drove Major Bellenden to evacuate Tillietudlem; the ladies acquiesced in the decision, and when the scarlet and blue colours of the Scottish Covenant floated from the keep of Tillietudlem, the cavalcade led by the major was on the road towards Edinburgh.

Lord Evandale's good word saved Morton a second time when Claverhouse routed the Presbyterian army at Bothwell Bridge. Morton was taken prisoner, but his life was spared, and at Leith he was put on board a vessel bound for Rotterdam with letters of recommendation to the Prince of Orange.

IV.—Henry Morton Returns in Time

By the prudent tolerance of King William Scotland narrowly escaped the horrors of a protracted civil war. The triumphant Whigs re-established Presbytery as the national religion, and only the extreme sect of Cameronians on the one side, and the Highlanders, who were for the deposed Stuart king, on the other, disturbed the peace of the land. Balfour of Burley refused to sheathe his sword, and Evandale followed his old commander Claverhouse (now Viscount Dundee) in joining the rebel Jacobites. Major Bellenden was dead.

No news had ever come of Henry Morton, and it was believed with good reason he was lost when the vessel in which he sailed went down with crew and passengers. But Morton was already back in Scotland, in the service of King William.

In the belief of her Morton's death, Edith Bellenden had become betrothed to Lord Evandale, though she postponed marriage, and her prayers went out to him that he would refrain from joining Claverhouse, when he came to bid her farewell.

"Oh, my lord, remain!" said Edith. "Do not rush on death and ruin! Remain to be our prop and stay, and hope everything from time."

"It is too late, Edith," answered Lord Evandale. "I know you cannot love me, that your heart is dead or absent. But were it otherwise, the die is now cast."

As he spoke thus an old servant rushed in to say a party of horse headed by one Basil Olifant, a rascal who was anxious to take Evandale for the sake of reward, had beset the outlets of the house.

"Oh, hide yourself, my lord!" cried Edith, in an agony of terror.

"I will not, by Heaven!" answered Lord Evandale. "What right has the villain to assail me or stop my passage? I will make my way, were he backed by a regiment. And now, farewell, Edith!"

He clasped her in his arms, and kissed her tenderly; then rushed out and mounted his horse, and with his servants rode composedly down the avenue.

As soon as Lord Evandale appeared, Olifant's party spread themselves a little, as if preparing to enclose him. Their leader stood fast, supported by three men, two of whom were dragoons, the third in dress and appearance a countryman, all well-armed. Whoever had before seen the strong figure, stern features, and resolved manner of the third attendant could have no difficulty in recognising Balfour of Burley.

"Follow me," said Lord Evandale to his servants, "and if we are forcibly opposed, do as I do."

He advanced at a hand gallop; Olifant called out, "Shoot the traitor!" and four carbines were fired upon the unfortunate nobleman. He reeled in the saddle, and fell from his horse mortally wounded. His servants fired and Basil Olifant and a dragoon were stretched lifeless on the ground.

Burley, whose blood was up, exclaimed, "Down with the Midianites!" and advanced, sword in hand. At this instant the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard, and a party of horse appeared on the fatal field. They were foreign dragoons led by a Dutch commander, accompanied by Morton and a civil magistrate.

Only the belief that Evandale was to marry Edith had kept Morton hitherto from revealing his return.

A hasty call to surrender, in the name of God and King William, was obeyed by all except Burley, who turned his horse and attempted to escape. Pursued by soldiers he made for the river, but was shot in the middle of the stream, and felt himself dangerously wounded. He returned towards the bank he had left, waving his hand as if in token of surrender. The troopers ceased firing, and as he approached a dragoon laid hands on him. Burley, in requital, grasped his throat, and both came headlong into the river, and were swept down the stream. They were twice seen to rise, the trooper trying to swim, and Burley clinging to him in a manner that showed his desire that both should perish. Their corpses were taken out about a quarter of a mile down the river.

While the soul of this stern enthusiast flitted to its account, that of the brave and generous Lord Evandale was also released. Morton had flung himself from his horse, to render his dying friend all the aid in his power. Evandale knew him, for he pressed his hand, and intimated by signs his wish to be conveyed to the house. This was done with all the care possible, and the clamorous grief of the lamenting household was far exceeded in intensity by the silent agony of Edith. Unconscious even of the presence of Morton, she was not aware that fate, who was removing one faithful lover, had restored another as if from the grave, until Lord Evandale taking their hands in his, united them together, raised his face as if to pray for a blessing on them, and sunk back and expired in the next moment.

* * * * *

The marriage of Morton and Miss Bellenden was delayed for several months on account of Lord Evandale's death. Lady Margaret was prevailed on to countenance Morton, who now stood high in the reputation of the world, and Edith was her only hope, and she wished to see her happy. So Lady Margaret put her prejudice aside, for Morton's being an old Covenanter stuck sorely with her for some time, and consoled herself with the recollection that his most sacred majesty Charles the Second had once observed to her that marriage went by destiny.

* * * * *

Peveril of the Peak

"Peveril of the Peak," the longest of all the Waverley novels, was published in 1823. For the main idea of the tale Sir Walter was indebted to some papers found by his younger brother, Thomas Scott, in the Isle of Man. These papers gave the story of William Christian, who took the side of the Roundheads against the high-spirited Countess of Derby, and was subsequently tried and executed, according to the laws of the island, by that lady, for having dethroned his august mistress and imprisoned her and her family. "Peveril" is one of the most complicated, in respect of characters and incidents, of Scott's works. The canvas is crowded with personages, good, bad, and indifferent, yet all full of vitality and responding to the actual forces which their creator set in motion.

I.—Cavalier and Roundhead

In Charles the Second's time, the representative of an ancient family in the county of Derbyshire, long distinguished by the proud title of Peverils of the Peak, was Sir Geoffrey Peveril, a man with the attributes of an old-fashioned country gentleman.

When the civil wars broke out, Peveril of the Peak raised a regiment for the king, and performed his part with sufficient gallantry for several rough years. He witnessed also the final defeat at Worcester, where, for the second time, he was made prisoner, and being regarded as an obstinate malignant, was in great danger of execution. But Sir Geoffrey's life was preserved by the interest of a friend, who possessed influence in the councils of Cromwell. This was a Major Bridgenorth, a gentleman of middling quality, who had inherited from his father a considerable sum of money, and to whom Sir Geoffrey was under pecuniary obligations.

Moultrassie Hall, the residence of Mr. Bridgenorth, was but two miles distant from Martindale Castle, the ancient seat of the Peverils; and while, as Bridgenorth was a decided Roundhead, all friendly communication which had grown up betwixt Sir Geoffrey and his neighbour was abruptly broken asunder at the outbreak of hostilities, on the trial and execution of Charles I., Bridgenorth was so shocked, fearing the domination of the military, that his politics on many points became those of the Peverils, and he favoured the return of Charles II.

Another bond of intimacy, stronger than the same political opinions, now united the families of the castle and the hall.

In the beginning of the year 1658 Major Bridgenorth—who had lost successively a family of six young children—was childless; ere it ended, he had a daughter, but her birth was purchased by the death of an affectionate wife. The same voice which told Bridgenorth that he was a father of a living child—it was the friendly voice of Lady Peveril— told him that he was no longer a husband.

Lady Peveril 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.

"Take her away—take her away!" said the unhappy man. "Let me not look on her! It is but another blossom that has bloomed to fade."

"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; "she will follow the rest—God's will be done! Lady, I thank you—I trust her to your care."

It is enough to say that the Lady Peveril did undertake the duties of a mother to the little orphan, and the puny infant gradually improved in strength and in loveliness.

Sir Geoffrey was naturally fond of children, and so much compassionated the sorrows of his neighbour, that morning after morning he made Moultrassie Hall the termination of his walk or ride, and said a single word of kindness as he passed. "How is it with you, Master Bridgenorth?" the knight would say, halting his horse by the latticed window. "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."

"I thank you, Sir Geoffrey; my grateful duty waits on Lady Peveril," was generally Bridgenorth's only answer.

The voice of Peveril suddenly assumed a new and different tone in the month of April, 1660. He rushed into the apartment of the astonished major with his eyes sparkling and 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. Monk has declared at London—for the king. Fairfax is up in Yorkshire—for the king, for the king, man! I have a letter from Fairfax to secure Derby and Chesterfield with all the men I can make. All are friends now, and you and I, good neighbour, will charge abreast as good neighbours should!" The sturdy cavalier's heart became too full, 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.

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, while the major desired nothing better than to find all well at Martindale on his return.

Accordingly, on the subsequent morning, Bridgenorth went to Martindale Castle, and gave Lady Peveril the welcome assurances of her husband's safety.

"May Almighty God be praised!" said the Lady Peveril. 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 a little girl of eighteen months, who rolled and tottered along.

Bridgenorth cast a hasty glance upon his daughter, and then caught her in his arms and pressed her to his heart. The child, though at first alarmed at the vehemence of his caresses, presently smiled in reply to them.

"Julian must lose his playfellow now, I suppose?" said Lady Peveril. "But the hall is not distant, and I will see my little charge often."

"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. I will seek for her some other place of abode."

"Major Bridgenorth," answered the lady, "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. He expressed his grateful duty to Lady Peveril, and having solemnly blessed his little girl, took his departure for Moultrassie Hall.


The friendly relations between the inhabitants of Martindale and Moultrassie came to an end with the common rejoicing over the restoration of Charles II.

The Countess of Derby, queen in the Isle of Man, whose husband had perished for the crown, took refuge at the castle, fleeing from a warrant for her arrest, and told her story to Lady Peveril in the presence of Major Bridgenorth.

The countess had kept the royal standard flying in Man until her vassal, William Christian, turned against her. Then for seven years she had endured strict captivity, until the tide turned, and she was once more in possession of the sovereignty of the island. "I was no sooner placed in possession of my rightful power," said the countess, "than I ordered the dempster to hold a high court of justice upon the traitor Christian, according to all the formalities of the isle. He was fully convicted of his crime, and without delay was shot to death by a file of musketeers."

At hearing this, Bridgenorth clasped his hands together and groaned bitterly. "O Christian—worthy, well worthy of the name thou didst bear! My friend, my brother—the brother of my blessed wife Alice, art thou, then, cruelly murdered!"

Then, drawing himself up with resolution, he demanded the arrest of the countess.

This Lady Peveril would not permit, and Bridgenorth left the castle. The arrival of Sir Geoffrey from London with news that the council had sent a herald with the king's warrant for the Countess of Derby's arrest, made flight to the Isle of Man imperative. Bridgenorth, with a number of the old Roundheads, attempted to prevent the escape, but were beaten off by Sir Geoffrey and his men, and the countess embarked safely for her son's hereditary dominions, until the accusation against her for breach of the royal indemnity by the execution of Christian could be brought to some compromise.

Before leaving Martindale, the countess called Julian to her, and kissing his forehead said: "When I am safely established and have my present affairs arranged, you must let me have this little Julian of yours some time hence, to be nurtured in my house, held as my page, and the playfellow of the little Derby."

Five years passed.

Major Bridgenorth left his seat of Moultrassie Hall in the care of his old housekeeper and departed to no one knew whither, having in company with him his daughter, Alice, and Mrs. Deborah Debbitch, the child's early nurse at the castle.

Lady Peveril, with many tears, took a temporary leave of her son, Julian, who was sent as had been long intended for the purpose of sharing the education of the young Earl of Derby. The plan seemed to be in every respect successful, and when, from time to time, Julian visited the house of his father, Lady Peveril had the satisfaction to see him improved in person and in manner. In process of time he became a gallant and accomplished youth, and travelled for some time upon the Continent with the young earl.

III.—The Island Lovers

Julian, leaving the earl to go on a sailing voyage, assumed the dress of one who means to amuse himself with angling. Then, mounted upon a Manx pony, he rode briskly over the country, and halted at one of the mountain streams, and followed along the bank until he reached a house where once a fastness had stood, called the Black Fort.

He received no answer to his knocks, and impatience getting the upper hand, Julian opened the door, and passed through the hall into a summer parlour.

"How now—how is this?" said a woman's voice. "You here, Master Peveril, in spite of all the warnings you have had!"

"Yes, Mistress Deborah," said Peveril. "I am here once more, against every prohibition. Where is Alice?"

"Where you will never see her, Master Julian—you may satisfy yourself of that," answered Mistress Deborah. "For if Dame Christian should learn that you have chosen to make your visits to her niece, I promise you we should soon be obliged to find other quarters."

"Come now, Mistress Deborah, be good-humoured," said Julian. "Consider, was not all this intimacy of ours of your own making? Did you not make yourself known to me the very first time I strolled up this glen with my fishing-rod, and tell me that you were my former keeper, and that Alice had been my little playfellow?"

"Yes," said Dame Deborah; "but I did not bid you fall in love with us, though, or propose such a matter as marriage either to Alice or myself. Why, there is the knight your father, and my lady your mother; and there is her father that is half crazy with his religion, and her aunt that wears eternal black grogram for that unlucky Colonel Christian; and there is the Countess of Derby that would serve us all with the same sauce if we were thinking of anything that would displease her. Though I may indeed have said your estates were born to be united, and sure enough they might be were you to marry Alice Bridgenorth."

The good nature of Dame Debbitch could not, however, resist the appeal of Julian, and she left the apartment and ran upstairs.

The visits of Julian to the Black Fort had hitherto been only occasional, but his affections were fixed, and his ardent character had already declared his love. To-day, on her entrance to the room, Alice reproached him for again coming there against her earnest request. "It were better that we should part for a long time," she said softly, "and for heaven's sake let it be as soon as possible—perhaps it is even now too late to prevent some unpleasant accident. Spare yourself, Julian— spare me—and in mercy to us both depart, and return not again till you can be more reasonable."

"Reasonable?" replied Julian. "Did you not say that if our parents could be brought to consent to our union, you would no longer oppose my suit?"

"Indeed, indeed, Julian," said the almost weeping girl, "you ought not to press me thus. It is ungenerous, it is cruel. You dared not to mention the subject to your own father—how should you venture to mention it to mine?"

"Major Bridgenorth," replied Julian, "by my mother's account, is an estimable man. I will remind him that to my mother's care he owes the dearest treasure and comfort of his life. Let me but know where to find him, Alice, and you shall soon hear if I have feared to plead my cause with him."

"Do not attempt it," said Alice. "He is already a man of sorrows. Besides, I could not tell you if I would where he is now to be found. My letters reach him from time to time by means of my Aunt Christian, but of his address I am entirely ignorant."

"Then, by heaven," answered Julian, "I will watch his arrival in this island, and he shall answer me on the subject of my suit."

"Then demand that answer now," said a voice, as the door opened, "for here stands Ralph Bridgenorth." As he spoke, he entered the apartment with slow and sedate step, and eyed alternately his daughter and Julian Peveril with a penetrating glance.

Bidding his daughter learn to rule her passions and retire to her chamber, Bridgenorth turned to Julian and told him he had long known of this attachment, and went on to point out calmly the differences which made the union seem impossible. "But heaven hath at times opened a door where man beholds no means of issue," continued Bridgenorth. "Julian, your mother is, after the fashion of the world, one of the best and one of the wisest of women, with a mind as pure as the original frailty of our vile nature will permit. Of your father I say nothing—he is what the times and examples of others have made him. I have power over him, which ere now he might have felt, but there is one within his chambers who might have suffered in his suffering. Enough, however, of this, for to-day this is thy habitation."

So saying, he stretched out his thin, bony hand and grasped that of Julian Peveril.

Presently, with the feeling of one who walks in a pleasant dream from which he fears to awake, and whose delight is mingled with wonder and with uncertainty, Julian found himself seated between Alice Bridgenorth and her father—the being he most loved on earth and the person whom he had ever considered as the great obstacle to their intercourse.

It was evening when he departed. "You have not, after all," said Bridgenorth, bidding Julian farewell, "told me the cause of your coming hither. Will you find no words to ask of me the great boon which you seek? Nay, reply not to me now, but go, and peace be with you."

IV.—The Popish Plot

Julian Peveril set out for London when the fictitious "popish plot" of Titus Oates had set England "stark staring mad," promising the countess that he would apprise her should any danger menace the Earl of Derby or herself. He had learnt that Bridgenorth was on the island with secret and severe orders, and that the countess in return was issuing warrants on her own authority for the apprehension of Bridgenorth, and before leaving he obtained one more interview with Alice, who was alive to the dangers on all sides.

"Break off all intercourse with our family," said Alice. "Return to your parents—or, what will be much safer, visit the Continent, and abide till God sends better days to England, for these are black with many a storm. Placed as we are, with open war about to break out betwixt our parents and friends, we must part on this spot, and at this hour, never to meet again."

"No, by heaven!" said Peveril, venturing to throw his arm around her; "we part not, Alice. If I am to leave my native land you shall be my companion in my exile. Fear not for my parents; they love me, and they will soon learn to love, in Alice, the only being on earth who could have rendered their son happy. And for your own father, when state and church intrigues allow him to bestow a thought upon you, will he not think your happiness is cared for when you are my wife? What could his pride desire better for you than the establishment which will one day be mine?"

"It cannot—it cannot be," said Alice, faltering. "Think what I, the cause of all, should feel when your father frowns, your mother weeps, your noble friends stand aloof, and you—even you—shall have made the painful discovery that you have incurred the resentment of all to satisfy a boyish passion. Farewell, then, Julian; but first take the solemn advice which I impart to you: shun my father—you cannot walk in his paths; leave this island, which will soon be agitated by strange incidents; while you stay be on your guard, distrust everything——"

Alice broke off suddenly, and with a faint shriek. Once more her father stood unexpectedly before them.

"I thank you, Alice," he said solemnly to his daughter, "for the hints you have thrown out; and now retire, and let me complete the conference which you have commenced."

"I go, sir," said Alice. "Julian, to you my last words are: Farewell and caution!"

She turned from them, and was seen no more.

Bridgenorth turned to Peveril. "You are willing to lead my only child into exile from her native country, to give her a claim to the kindness and protection from your family, which you know will be disregarded, on condition I consent to bestow her hand on you, with a fortune sufficient to have matched that of your ancestors when they had most reason to boast of their wealth. This, young man, seems no equal bargain. And yet, so little do I value the goods of this world, that it might not be utterly beyond thy power to reconcile me to the match which you have proposed."

"Show me but the means, Major Bridgenorth," said Peveril, "and you shall see how eagerly I will obey your directions, or submit to your conditions."

"This is a critical period," cried the major; "it becomes the duty of all men to step forward. You, Julian Peveril, yourself know the secret but rapid strides which Rome has made to erect her Dagon of idolatry within our Protestant land."

"I trust to live and die in the faith of the reformed Church of England," said Peveril. "I have seen popery too closely to be friendly to its tenets."

"Enough," said Bridgenorth, "that I find thee not as yet enlightened with the purer doctrine, but willing to uplift thy testimony against the errors and arts of the Church of Rome. At present thy prejudices occupy thy mind like the strong keeper of the house mentioned in Scripture. But, remember, thou wilt soon be called upon to justify what thou hast said, and I trust to see thy name rank high amongst those by whom the prey shall be rent from the mighty."

"You have spoken to me in riddles, Major Bridgenorth," said Peveril; "and I have asked for no explanation. But we do not part in anger?"

"Not in anger, my son," answered Bridgenorth, "but in love and strong affection. I accept not thy suit, neither do I reject it; only he that would be my son must first show himself the true and loving child of his oppressed and deluded country. Farewell; thou shalt hear of me sooner than thou thinkest for."

He shook Peveril heartily by the hand, leaving him with confused impressions of pleasure, doubt, and wonder. Surprised to find himself so far in the good graces of Alice's father, he could not help suspecting that Bridgenorth was desirous, as the price of his favour, that he should adopt some line of conduct inconsistent with the principles of his education.

Arrived in England, Julian first hastened to Martindale, only to find the castle in the hands of officers of the House of Commons and his mother and Sir Geoffrey prisoners on suspicion of conspiring in the popish plot, and about to be escorted to London by a strong guard. On their departure the property of the castle was taken possession of by an attorney in the name of Major Bridgenorth, a large creditor of the unfortunate knight.

Julian himself was soon seized and put to trial with his father. But the fury of the people had, however, now begun to pass away, and men's minds were beginning to cool. The character of the witnesses was more closely sifted—their testimonies did not in all cases tally. Chief Justice Scroggs, sagacious in the signs of the times, saw that court favour, and probably popular opinion also, were about to declare against the witnesses and in favour of the accused.

Sir Geoffrey and. Julian were both declared "not guilty" of the monstrous and absurd charges brought against them and the accusation against Lady Peveril was dropped.

No sooner had the Peverils, father and son, escaped to Lady Peveril's lodgings, and the first rapturous meeting over, than Alice Bridgenorth was presented by Julian's mother as the pretended daughter of an old cavalier, and Sir Geoffrey embraced her warmly. Julian, to whom his mother whispered that Alice was there by her father's authority, was as one enchanted, when a gentleman arrived from Whitehall bidding Sir Geoffrey and his son instantly attend upon the king's presence.

The Countess of Derby had come openly to court, braving all danger, when she heard of the arrest of the Peverils, resolved to save their lives. From the king's own lips she heard of the acquittal, and Charles II., for the moment anxious to reward the fidelity of his old follower, invited them forthwith to Whitehall.

Sir Geoffrey, with every feeling of his early life afloat in his memory, threw himself on his knees before the king, and Charles said, with feeling, "My good Sir Geoffrey, you have had some hard measure; we owe you amends, and will find time to pay our debt."

Later in the evening the Countess of Derby, who had had much private conversation with Julian, said, "Your majesty, there is a certain Major Bridgenorth, who designs, as we are informed, to leave England for ever. By dint of the law he hath acquired strong possession over the domains of Peveril, which he desires to restore to the ancient owners with much fair land besides, conditionally that our young Julian will receive them as the dowry of his only child."

"By my faith!" said the king, "she must be a foul-mouthed wench if Julian requires to be pressed to accept her on such fair conditions."

"They love each other like lovers of the last age," said the countess; "but the stout old knight likes not the roundheaded alliance."

"Our royal word shall put that to rights," said the king. "Sir Geoffrey Peveril has not suffered hardship so often at our command that he will refuse our recommendation when it comes to make amends for all losses."

The king did not speak without being fully aware of the ascendancy which he possessed over the spirit of the old Tory; and within four weeks afterwards the bells of Martindale-Moultrassie were ringing for the union of the two families, and the beacon-light of the castle blazed high over hill and dale.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse