Peveril of the Peak eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2004)


  CHAPTER II

  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 inacknowledgement of the sufferings and loyalty of Peveril of the Peak,he had none in his disposal equal to the pleasure which Providence hadreserved for Bridgenorth on his return to Derbyshire. The exertion towhich he had been summoned, had had the usual effect of restoring to acertain extent the activity and energy of his character, and he felt itwould be unbecoming to relapse into the state of lethargic melancholyfrom which it had roused him. Time also had its usual effect inmitigating the subjects of his regret; and when he had passed one day atthe Hall in regretting that he could not expect the indirect news of hisdaughter's health, which Sir Geoffrey used to communicate in his almostdaily call, he reflected that it would be in every respect becoming thathe should pay a personal visit at Martindale Castle, carry thither theremembrances of the Knight to his lady, assure her of his health, andsatisfy himself respecting that of his daughter. He armed himself forthe worst--he called to recollection the thin cheeks, faded eye, wastedhand, pallid lip, which had marked the decaying health of all his formerinfants.

  "I shall see," he said, "these signs of mortality once more--I shallonce more see a beloved being to whom I have given birth, gliding tothe grave which ought to enclose me long before her. No matter--it isunmanly 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 ofhis 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 forcontentment, though not for splendour. And now I see, good MasterBridgenorth, the folly of putting faith in idle presentiments of evil.So often had Sir Geoffrey's repeated attempts in favour of the Stewartsled him into new misfortunes, that when, the other morning, I sawhim once more dressed in his fatal armour, and heard the sound of histrumpet, which had been so long silent, it seemed to me as if I saw hisshroud, and heard his death-knell. I say this to you, good neighbour,the rather because I fear your own mind has been harassed withanticipations of impending calamity, which it may please God to avertin your case as it has done in mine; and here comes a sight which bearsgood assurance of it."

  The door of the apartment opened as she spoke, and two lovely childrenentered. The eldest, Julian Peveril, a fine boy betwixt four andfive years old, led in his hand, with an air of dignified support andattention, a little girl of eighteen months, who rolled and totteredalong, keeping herself with difficulty upright by the assistance of herelder, stronger, and masculine companion.

  Bridgenorth cast a hasty and fearful glance upon the countenance of hisdaughter, and, even in that glimpse, perceived, with exquisite delight,that his fears were unfounded. He caught her in his arms, pressed herto his heart, and the child, though at first alarmed at the vehemenceof his caresses, presently, as if prompted by Nature, smiled in reply tothem. Again he held her at some distance from him, and examined hermore attentively; he satisfied himself that the complexion of the youngcherub he had in his arms was not the hectic tinge of disease, but theclear 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 toLady Peveril, who had sat observing the scene with great pleasure; "butpraise 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; "butthe Hall is not distant, and I will see my little charge often. DameMartha, the housekeeper at Moultrassie, has sense, and is careful. Iwill tell her the rules I have observed with little Alice, and----"

  "God forbid my girl should ever come to Moultrassie," said MajorBridgenorth hastily; "it has been the grave of her race. The air of thelow grounds suited them not--or there is perhaps a fate connected withthe 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 areundervaluing my qualities as a nurse. If she goes not to her father'shouse, she shall not quit mine. I will keep the little lady as a pledgeof her safety and my own skill; and since you are afraid of the damp ofthe 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 wasprecisely the point which he would have given worlds to arrive at, butwhich he saw no chance of attaining.

  It is too well known, that those whose families are long pursued by sucha fatal disease as existed in his, become, it may be said, superstitiousrespecting its fatal effects, and ascribe to place, circumstance, andindividual care, much more perhaps than these can in any case contributeto avert the fatality of constitutional distemper. Lady Peveril wasaware that this was peculiarly the impression of her neighbour; that thedepression of his spirits, the excess of his care, the feverishness ofhis apprehensions, the restraint and gloom of the solitude in which hedwelt, were really calculated to produce the evil which most of all hedreaded. She pitied him, she felt for him, she was grateful for formerprotection received at his hands--she had become interested in the childitself. What female fails to feel such interest in the helpless creatureshe has tended? And to sum the whole up, the dame had a share of humanvanity; and being a sort of Lady Bountiful in her way (for the characterwas not then confined to the old and the foolish), she was proud ofthe skill by which she had averted the probable attacks of hereditarymalady, so inveterate in the family of Bridgenorth. It needed not,perhaps, in other cases, that so many reasons should be assigned foran act of neighbourly humanity; but civil war had so lately torn thecountry asunder, and broken all the usual ties of vicinage and goodneighbourhood, that it was unusual to see them preserved among personsof different political opinions.

  Major Bridgenorth himself felt this; and while the tear of joy in hiseye showed how gladly he would accept Lady Peveril's proposal, he couldnot 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 thankfulof men; but can it be consistent with your own convenience? Sir Geoffreyhas his opinions on many points, which have differed, and probably dostill differ, from mine. He is high-born, and I of middling parentageonly. He uses the Church Service, and I the Catechism of the Assembly ofDivines at Westminster----"

  "I hope you will find prescribed in neither of them," said the LadyPeveril, "that I may not be a mother to your motherless child. I trust,Master Bridgenorth, the joyful Restoration of his Majesty, a workwrought by the direct hand of Providence, may be the means of closingand healing all civil and religious dissensions among us, and that,instead of showing the superior purity of our faith, by persecutingthose who think otherwise from ourselves on doctrinal points, we shallendeavour to show its real Christian tendency, by emulating each otherin actions of good-will towards man, as the best way of showing our loveto God."

  "Your ladyship speaks what your own kind heart dictates," answeredBridgenorth, 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 aftera moment's pause, being perhaps rather complimentary than sincere)--"we,who thought it our duty in time past to take arms for freedom ofconscience, and against arbitrary power, might now sit down in peaceand contentment. But I wot not how it may fall. You have sharp and hotspirits amongst you; I will not say our pow
er was always moderatelyused, and revenge is sweet to the race of fallen Adam."

  "Come, Master Bridgenorth," said the Lady Peveril gaily, "those evilomenings do but point out conclusions, which, unless they wereso anticipated, are most unlikely to come to pass. You know whatShakespeare 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 forgotyou love no play-books."

  "With reverence to your ladyship," said Bridgenorth, "I were much toblame did I need the idle words of a Warwickshire stroller, to teach memy grateful duty to your ladyship on this occasion, which appoints me tobe 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 mydomination at least, give you a favourable impression of the new orderof 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 warrantsto invite the whole neighbourhood to a solemn feast at the Castle,on Thursday next; and I not only pray you to be personally presentyourself, but to prevail on your worthy pastor, and such neighbours andfriends, high and low, as may think in your own way, to meet with therest of the neighbourhood, to rejoice on this joyful occasion of theKing's Restoration, and thereby to show that we are to be henceforward aunited people."

  The parliamentarian Major was considerably embarrassed by this proposal.He looked upward, and downward, and around, cast his eye first to theoak-carved ceiling, and anon fixed it upon the floor; then threwit around the room till it lighted on his child, the sight of whomsuggested another and a better train of reflections than ceiling andfloor had been able to supply.

  "Madam," he said, "I have long been a stranger to festivity, perhapsfrom constitutional melancholy, perhaps from the depression which isnatural to a desolate and deprived man, in whose ear mirth is marred,like a pleasant air when performed on a mistuned instrument. But thoughneither my thoughts nor temperament are Jovial or Mercurial, it becomesme to be grateful to Heaven for the good He has sent me by the means ofyour ladyship. David, the man after God's own heart, did wash and eatbread when his beloved child was removed--mine is restored to me, andshall I not show gratitude under a blessing, when he showed resignationunder an affliction? Madam, I will wait on your gracious invitation withacceptance; and such of my friends with whom I may possess influence,and whose presence your ladyship may desire, shall accompany me to thefestivity, that our Israel may be as one people."

  Having spoken these words with an aspect which belonged more to a martyrthan to a guest bidden to a festival, and having kissed, and solemnlyblessed his little girl, Major Bridgenorth took his departure forMoultrassie Hall.