Peveril of the Peak eBook: Page1

Walter Scott (2004)




  Produced by Emma Wong Shee, John Bickers, and Dagny

  PEVERIL OF THE PEAK

  By Sir Walter Scott, Bart.

  PEVERIL OF THE PEAK

  CHAPTER I

  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, thefather of a certain William Peveril, who attended him to the battle ofHastings, 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 ofhis royal favour, when the laws of England were issued from the mouthof the Norman victor, and the lands of the Saxons were at his unlimiteddisposal. William Peveril obtained a liberal grant of property andlordships in Derbyshire, and became the erecter of that Gothic fortress,which, hanging over the mouth of the Devil's Cavern, so well known totourists, gives the name of Castleton to the adjacent village.

  From this feudal Baron, who chose his nest upon the principles on whichan eagle selects her eyry, and built it in such a fashion as if he hadintended it, as an Irishman said of the Martello towers, for the solepurpose of puzzling posterity, there was, or conceived themselves to be,descended (for their pedigree was rather hypothetical) an opulentfamily of knightly rank, in the same county of Derby. The great fiefof Castleton, with its adjacent wastes and forests, and all the wonderswhich they contain, had been forfeited in King John's stormy days, byone William Peveril, and had been granted anew to the Lord Ferrers ofthat day. Yet this William's descendants, though no longer possessedof what they alleged to have been their original property, were longdistinguished by the proud title of Peverils of the Peak, which servedto mark their high descent and lofty pretensions.

  In Charles the Second's time, the representative of this ancient familywas Sir Geoffrey Peveril, a man who had many of the ordinary attributesof an old-fashioned country gentleman, and very few individual traitsto distinguish him from the general portrait of that worthy classof mankind. He was proud of small advantages, angry at smalldisappointments, incapable of forming any resolution or opinionabstracted from his own prejudices--he was proud of his birth, lavishin his housekeeping, convivial with those kindred and acquaintances, whowould allow his superiority in rank--contentious and quarrelsome withall that crossed his pretensions--kind to the poor, except when theyplundered his game--a Royalist in his political opinions, and one whodetested alike a Roundhead, a poacher, and a Presbyterian. In religionSir Geoffrey was a high-churchman, of so exalted a strain that manythought he still nourished in private the Roman Catholic tenets, whichhis family had only renounced in his father's time, and that he had adispensation for conforming in outward observances to the Protestantfaith. There was at least such a scandal amongst the Puritans, andthe influence which Sir Geoffrey Peveril certainly appeared to possessamongst the Catholic gentlemen of Derbyshire and Cheshire, seemed togive countenance to the rumour.

  Such was Sir Geoffrey, who might have passed to his grave withoutfurther distinction than a brass-plate in the chancel, had he not livedin times which forced the most inactive spirits into exertion, as atempest influences the sluggish waters of the deadest mere. When theCivil Wars broke out, Peveril of the Peak, proud from pedigree, andbrave by constitution, raised a regiment for the King, and showed uponseveral occasions more capacity for command than men had heretoforegiven him credit for.

  Even in the midst of the civil turmoil, he fell in love with, andmarried, a beautiful and amiable young lady of the noble house ofStanley; and from that time had the more merit in his loyalty, as itdivorced him from her society, unless at very brief intervals, when hisduty permitted an occasional visit to his home. Scorning to be alluredfrom his military duty by domestic inducements, Peveril of the Peakfought on for several rough years of civil war, and performed his partwith sufficient gallantry, until his regiment was surprised and cutto pieces by Poyntz, Cromwell's enterprising and successful general ofcavalry. 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 anddefended in a siege of that irregular kind which caused the destructionof so many baronial residences during the course of those unhappy wars.Martindale Castle, after having suffered severely from the cannon whichCromwell himself brought against it, was at length surrendered when inthe last extremity. Sir Geoffrey himself became a prisoner, and whilehis liberty was only restored upon a promise of remaining a peacefulsubject to the Commonwealth in future, his former delinquencies, asthey were termed by the ruling party, were severely punished by fine andsequestration.

  But neither his forced promise, nor the fear of farther unpleasantconsequences to his person or property, could prevent Peveril of thePeak from joining the gallant Earl of Derby the night before the fatalengagement in Wiggan Lane, where the Earl's forces were dispersed. SirGeoffrey having had his share in that action, escaped with the relicsof the Royalists after the defeat, to join Charles II. He witnessed alsothe 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, hewas regarded as an obstinate malignant, he was in great danger of havingshared with the Earl of Derby his execution at Bolton-le-Moor, havingpartaken with him the dangers of two actions. But Sir Geoffrey's lifewas preserved by the interest of a friend, who possessed influence inthe councils of Oliver.--This was a Mr. Bridgenorth, a gentleman ofmiddling quality, whose father had been successful in some commercialadventure during the peaceful reign of James I.; and who had bequeathedhis son a considerable sum of money, in addition to the moderatepatrimony which he inherited from his father.

  The substantial, though small-sized, brick building of MoultrassieHall, was but two miles distant from Martindale Castle, and the youngBridgenorth attended the same school with the heir of the Peverils. Asort of companionship, if not intimacy, took place betwixt them, whichcontinued during their youthful sports--the rather that Bridgenorth,though he did not at heart admit Sir Geoffrey's claims of superiority tothe extent which the other's vanity would have exacted, paid deferencein a reasonable degree to the representative of a family so much moreancient and important than his own, without conceiving that he in anyrespect degraded himself by doing so.

  Mr. Bridgenorth did not, however, carry his complaisance so far as toembrace Sir Geoffrey's side during the Civil War. On the contrary, as anactive Justice of the Peace, he rendered much assistance in arrayingthe militia in the cause of the Parliament, and for some time helda military commission in that service. This was partly owing to hisreligious principles, for he was a zealous Presbyterian, partly to hispolitical ideas, which, without being absolutely democratical, favouredthe popular side of the great national question. Besides, he was amoneyed man, and to a certain extent had a shrewd eye to his worldlyinterest. He understood how to improve the opportunities which civil warafforded, 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 beobtained in joining the Parliament; while the King's cause, as it wasmanaged, held out nothing to the wealthy but a course of exactionand compulsory loans. For these reasons, Bridgenorth became a decidedRoundhead, and all friendly communication betwixt his neighbour and himwas 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; whileMajor Bridgenorth, who soon renounced active military service, residedchiefly in London, and
only occasionally visited the Hall.

  Upon these visits, it was with great pleasure he received theintelligence, that Lady Peveril had shown much kindness to Mrs.Bridgenorth, and had actually given her and her family shelter inMartindale Castle, when Moultrassie Hall was threatened with pillage bya body of Prince Rupert's ill-disciplined Cavaliers. This acquaintancehad been matured by frequent walks together, which the vicinity oftheir places of residence suffered the Lady Peveril to have with Mrs.Bridgenorth, who deemed herself much honoured in being thus admittedinto the society of so distinguished a lady. Major Bridgenorth heard ofthis growing intimacy with great pleasure, and he determined to repaythe obligation, as far as he could without much hurt to himself,by interfering with all his influence, in behalf of her unfortunatehusband. It was chiefly owing to Major Bridgenorth's mediation, that SirGeoffrey's life was saved after the battle of Worcester. He obtained himpermission to compound for his estate on easier terms than many who hadbeen less obstinate in malignancy; and, finally, when, in order toraise the money to the composition, the Knight was obliged to sell aconsiderable portion of his patrimony, Major Bridgenorth became thepurchaser, and that at a larger price than had been paid to anyCavalier under such circumstances, by a member of the Committee forSequestrations. It is true, the prudent committeeman did not, by anymeans, lose sight of his own interest in the transaction, for theprice was, after all, very moderate, and the property lay adjacentto Moultrassie Hall, the value of which was at least trebled by theacquisition. But then it was also true, that the unfortunate owner musthave submitted to much worse conditions, had the committeeman used,as others did, the full advantages which his situation gave him; andBridgenorth took credit to himself, and received it from others,for having, on this occasion, fairly sacrificed his interest to hisliberality.

  Sir Geoffrey Peveril was of the same opinion, and the rather that Mr.Bridgenorth seemed to bear his exaltation with great moderation, andwas disposed to show him personally the same deference in his presentsunshine of prosperity, which he had exhibited formerly in their earlyacquaintance. It is but justice to Major Bridgenorth to observe, thatin this conduct he paid respect as much to the misfortunes as to thepretensions of his far-descended neighbour, and that, with the frankgenerosity of a blunt Englishman, he conceded points of ceremony, aboutwhich he himself was indifferent, merely because he saw that his doingso gave pleasure to Sir Geoffrey.

  Peveril of the Peak did justice to his neighbour's delicacy, inconsideration of which he forgot many things. He forgot that MajorBridgenorth was already in possession of a fair third of his estate, andhad various pecuniary claims affecting the remainder, to the extent ofone-third more. He endeavoured even to forget, what it was still moredifficult not to remember, the altered situation in which they and theirmansions now stood to each other.

  Before the Civil War, the superb battlements and turrets of MartindaleCastle looked down on the red brick-built Hall, as it stole out from thegreen plantations, just as an oak in Martindale Chase would have lookedbeside one of the stunted and formal young beech-trees with whichBridgenorth had graced his avenue; but after the siege which we havecommemorated, the enlarged and augmented Hall was as much predominant inthe landscape over the shattered and blackened ruins of the Castle, ofwhich only one wing was left habitable, as the youthful beech, in allits vigour of shoot and bud, would appear to the same aged oak strippedof its boughs, and rifted by lightning, one-half laid in shivers on theground, and the other remaining a blackened and ungraceful trunk, rentand splintered, and without either life or leaves. Sir Geoffrey couldnot but feel, that the situation and prospects were exchanged asdisadvantageously for himself as the appearance of their mansions; andthat though the authority of the man in office under the Parliament,the sequestrator, and the committeeman, had been only exerted for theprotection of the Cavalier and the malignant, they would have been aseffectual if applied to procure his utter ruin; and that he was become aclient, while his neighbour was elevated into a patron.

  There were two considerations, besides the necessity of the case andthe constant advice of his lady, which enabled Peveril of the Peak toendure, with some patience, this state of degradation. The firstwas, that the politics of Major Bridgenorth began, on many points, toassimilate themselves to his own. As a Presbyterian, he was not an utterenemy to monarchy, and had been considerably shocked at the unexpectedtrial and execution of the King; as a civilian and a man of property, hefeared the domination of the military; and though he wished not to seeCharles restored by force of arms, yet he arrived at the conclusion,that to bring back the heir of the royal family on such terms ofcomposition as might ensure the protection of those popular immunitiesand privileges for which the Long Parliament had at first contended,would be the surest and most desirable termination to the mutations instate affairs which had agitated Britain. Indeed, the Major's ideason this point approached so nearly those of his neighbour, that he hadwell-nigh suffered Sir Geoffrey, who had a finger in almost all theconspiracies of the Royalists, to involve him in the unfortunate risingof Penruddock and Groves, in the west, in which many of the Presbyterianinterest, as well as the Cavalier party, were engaged. And though hishabitual prudence eventually kept him out of this and other dangers,Major Bridgenorth was considered during the last years of Cromwell'sdomination, and the interregnum which succeeded, as a disaffected personto the Commonwealth, and a favourer of Charles Stewart.

  But besides this approximation to the same political opinions, anotherbond of intimacy united the families of the Castle and the Hall.Major Bridgenorth, fortunate, and eminently so, in all his worldlytransactions, was visited by severe and reiterated misfortunes in hisfamily, and became, in this particular, an object of compassion to hispoorer and more decayed neighbour. Betwixt the breaking out of the CivilWar and the Restoration, he lost successively a family of no less thansix children, apparently through a delicacy of constitution, which cutoff the little prattlers at the early age when they most wind themselvesround the heart of the parents.

  In the beginning of the year 1658, Major Bridgenorth was childless; ereit ended, he had a daughter, indeed, but her birth was purchased by thedeath of an affectionate wife, whose constitution had been exhausted bymaternal grief, and by the anxious and harrowing reflection, that fromher the children they had lost derived that delicacy of health, whichproved unable to undergo the tear and wear of existence. The same voicewhich told Bridgenorth that he was the father of a living child (it wasthe friendly voice of Lady Peveril), communicated to him the melancholyintelligence that he was no longer a husband. The feelings of MajorBridgenorth were strong and deep, rather than hasty and vehement; andhis grief assumed the form of a sullen stupor, from which neither thefriendly remonstrances of Sir Geoffrey, who did not fail to be with hisneighbour at this distressing conjuncture, even though he knew he mustmeet the Presbyterian pastor, nor the ghastly exhortations of thislatter person, were able to rouse the unfortunate widower.

  At length Lady Peveril, with the ready invention of a female sharpedby the sight of distress and the feelings of sympathy, tried on thesufferer one of those experiments by which grief is often awakened fromdespondency into tears. She placed in Bridgenorth's arms the infantwhose birth had cost him so dear, and conjured him to remember that hisAlice was not yet dead, since she survived in the helpless child she hadleft to his paternal care.

  "Take her away--take her away!" said the unhappy man, and they were thefirst words he had spoken; "let me not look on her--it is but anotherblossom that has bloomed to fade, and the tree that bore it will neverflourish more!"

  He almost threw the child into Lady Peveril's arms, placed hishands before his face, and wept aloud. Lady Peveril did not say "becomforted," but she ventured to promise that the blossom should ripen tofruit.

  "Never, never!" said Bridgenorth; "take the unhappy child away, and letme only know when I shall wear black for her--Wear black!" he exclaimed,interrupting himself, "what other colour shall I wear during theremainder of my life?"

>   "I will take the child for a season," said Lady Peveril, "since thesight of her is so painful to you; and the little Alice shall share thenursery of our Julian, until it shall be pleasure and not pain for youto look on her."

  "That hour will never come," said the unhappy father; "her doom iswritten--she will follow the rest--God's will be done.--Lady, I thankyou--I trust her to your care; and I thank God that my eye shall not seeher 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 ofa mother to the little orphan; and perhaps it was owing, in a greatmeasure, to her judicious treatment of the infant, that its feeble holdof life was preserved, since the glimmering spark might probably havebeen altogether smothered, had it, like the Major's former children,undergone the over-care and over-nursing of a mother rendered nervouslycautious and anxious by so many successive losses. The lady was the moreready to undertake this charge, that she herself had lost two infantchildren; and that she attributed the preservation of the third, now afine healthy child of three years old, to Julian's being subjected torather a different course of diet and treatment than was then generallypractised. She resolved to follow the same regiment with the littleorphan, which she had observed in the case of her own boy; and it wasequally successful. By a more sparing use of medicine, by a bolderadmission of fresh air, by a firm, yet cautious attention to encouragerather than to supersede the exertions of nature, the puny infant, underthe care of an excellent nurse, gradually improved in strength and inliveliness.

  Sir Geoffrey, like most men of his frank and good-natured disposition,was naturally fond of children, and so much compassionated the sorrowsof his neighbour, that he entirely forgot his being a Presbyterian,until it became necessary that the infant should be christened by ateacher 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 theheretical step of a dissenting clergyman, was matter of horror to itsorthodox owner. He had seen the famous Hugh Peters, with a Bible in onehand and a pistol in the other, ride in triumph through the court-doorwhen Martindale was surrendered; and the bitterness of that hour hadentered like iron into his soul. Yet such was Lady Peveril's influenceover the prejudices of her husband, that he was induced to conniveat the ceremony taking place in a remote garden house, which was notproperly within the precincts of the Castle-wall. The lady even daredto be present while the ceremony was performed by the Reverend MasterSolsgrace, who had once preached a sermon of three hours' length beforethe House of Commons, upon a thanksgiving occasion after the relief ofExeter. Sir Geoffrey Peveril took care to be absent the whole day fromthe Castle, and it was only from the great interest which he took inthe washing, perfuming, and as it were purification of the summer-house,that it could have been guessed he knew anything of what had taken placein it.

  But, whatever prejudices the good Knight might entertain against hisneighbour's form of religion, they did not in any way influence hisfeelings towards him as a sufferer under severe affliction. The mode inwhich he showed his sympathy was rather singular, but exactly suited thecharacter of both, and the terms on which they stood with each other.

  Morning after morning the good Baronet made Moultrassie Hall thetermination of his walk or ride, and said a single word of kindness ashe passed. Sometimes he entered the old parlour where the proprietor satin solitary wretchedness and despondency; but more frequently (for SirGeoffrey did not pretend to great talents of conversation), he paused onthe terrace, and stopping or halting his horse by the latticed window,said aloud to the melancholy inmate, "How is it with you, MasterBridgenorth?" (the Knight would never acknowledge his neighbour'smilitary 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, andall are well at Martindale Castle."

  A deep sigh, sometimes coupled with "I thank you, Sir Geoffrey; mygrateful duty waits on Lady Peveril," was generally Bridgenorth's onlyanswer. But the news was received on the one part with the kindnesswhich was designed upon the other; it gradually became less painfuland more interesting; the lattice window was never closed, nor was theleathern easy-chair which stood next to it ever empty, when theusual hour of the Baronet's momentary visit approached. At length theexpectation of that passing minute became the pivot upon which thethoughts of poor Bridgenorth turned during all the rest of the day. Mostmen have known the influence of such brief but ruling moments at someperiod of their lives. The moment when a lover passes the window of hismistress--the moment when the epicure hears the dinner-bell,--is thatinto which is crowded the whole interest of the day; the hours whichprecede it are spent in anticipation; the hours which follow, inreflection on what has passed; and fancy dwelling on each briefcircumstance, gives to seconds the duration of minutes, to minutes thatof hours. Thus seated in his lonely chair, Bridgenorth could catch ata distance the stately step of Sir Geoffrey, or the heavy tramp of hiswar-horse, Black Hastings, which had borne him in many an action; hecould hear the hum of "The King shall enjoy his own again," or thehabitual whistle of "Cuckolds and Roundheads," die unto reverentialsilence, as the Knight approached the mansion of affliction; and thencame the strong hale voice of the huntsman soldier with its usualgreeting.

  By degrees the communication became something more protracted, as MajorBridgenorth's grief, like all human feelings, lost its overwhelmingviolence, and permitted him to attend, in some degree, to what passedaround him, to discharge various duties which pressed upon him, and togive a share of attention to the situation of the country, distracted asit was by the contending factions, whose strife only terminated in theRestoration. Still, however, though slowly recovering from the effectsof the shock which he had sustained, Major Bridgenorth felt himselfas yet unable to make up his mind to the effort necessary to see hisinfant; and though separated by so short a distance from the beingin whose existence he was more interested than in anything the worldafforded, he only made himself acquainted with the windows of theapartment where little Alice was lodged, and was often observed towatch them from the terrace, as they brightened in the evening under theinfluence of the setting sun. In truth, though a strong-minded man inmost respects, he was unable to lay aside the gloomy impression thatthis remaining pledge of affection was soon to be conveyed to that gravewhich had already devoured all besides that was dear to him; and heawaited in miserable suspense the moment when he should hear thatsymptoms of the fatal malady had begun to show themselves.

  The voice of Peveril continued to be that of a comforter until the monthof April 1660, when it suddenly assumed a new and different tone. "TheKing shall enjoy his own again," far from ceasing, as the hasty treadof Black Hastings came up the avenue, bore burden to the clatter ofhis hoofs on the paved courtyard, as Sir Geoffrey sprang from his greatwar-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 eyessparkling, and his cheek inflamed, while he called out, "Up! up,neighbour! No time now to mope in the chimney-corner! Where is yourbuff-coat and broadsword, man? Take the true side once in your life, andmend past mistakes. The King is all lenity, man--all royal nature andmercy. I will get your full pardon."

  "What means all this?" said Bridgenorth--"Is all well with you--all wellat Martindale Castle, Sir Geoffrey?"

  "Well as you could wish them, Alice, and Julian, and all. But I havenews worth twenty of that--Monk has declared at London against thosestinking scoundrels the Rump. Fairfax is up in Yorkshire--for theKing--for the King, man! Churchmen, Presbyterians, and all, are in buffand bandoleer for King Charles. I have a letter from Fairfax to secureDerby and Chesterfield with all the men I can make. D--n him, fine thatI should take orders from him! But never mind that--all are friends now,and you and I, good neighbour, will charge abreast, as good neighboursshould. See there! read--read--read--and
then boot and saddle in aninstant.

  '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, thesturdy Cavalier's heart became too full. He threw himself on a seat, andexclaiming, "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 appearedto Major Bridgenorth, as it had done to Fairfax, and other leaders ofthe Presbyterian party, that their frank embracing of the royal interestwas the wisest and most patriotic measure which they could adopt in thecircumstances, when all ranks and classes of men were seeking refugefrom the uncertainty and varied oppression attending the repeatedcontests between the factions of Westminster Hall and of WallingfordHouse. Accordingly he joined with Sir Geoffrey, with less enthusiasmindeed, but with equal sincerity, taking such measures as seemed properto secure their part of the country on the King's behalf, which wasdone as effectually and peaceably as in other parts of England. Theneighbours were both at Chesterfield, when news arrived that the Kinghad landed in England; and Sir Geoffrey instantly announced his purposeof waiting upon his Majesty, even before his return to the Castle ofMartindale.

  "Who knows, neighbour," he said, "whether Sir Geoffrey Peveril will everreturn to Martindale? Titles must be going amongst them yonder, andI have deserved something among the rest.--Lord Peveril would soundwell--or stay, Earl of Martindale--no, not of Martindale--Earl of thePeak.--Meanwhile, trust your affairs to me--I will see you secured--Iwould you had been no Presbyterian, neighbour--a knighthood,--I meana knight-bachelor, not a knight-baronet,--would have served your turnwell."

  "I leave these things to my betters, Sir Geoffrey," said the Major, "anddesire nothing so earnestly as to find all well at Martindale when Ireturn."

  "You will--you will find them all well," said the Baronet; "Julian,Alice, Lady Peveril, and all of them--Bear my commendations to them, andkiss them all, neighbour, Lady Peveril and all--you may kiss a Countesswhen I come back; all will go well with you now you are turned honestman."

  "I always meant to be so, Sir Geoffrey," said Bridgenorth calmly.

  "Well, well, well--no offence meant," said the Knight, "all is wellnow--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 tohorse--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 yourjourney, and a safe return."