Page images

present novel is far inferior to many of its predecessors, we proceed to give our readers an account of its nature.

The opening scene is laid in the neighbourhood of the Peak in Derbyshire. Sir Geoffrey Peveril, a cavalier, whose devotion to his king has crippled his fortune and endangered his life, is living with his lady and his only child, Julian, in Martindale-castle, the seat of his ancestors. His neighbour, Major Bridgenorth, of Moultrassie-hall, has been one of Cromwell's soldiers, and his influence with the Protector has preserved the life of Sir Geoffrey when his loyalty had placed it in jeopardy. An intimacy, and as much friendship as could subsist between the proud aristo cratical knight and the stern puritan, had long prevailed. Major Bridgenorth had lost his wife, and all his children but one, at an early age; his only surviving infant daughter had been taken by Lady Peveril, and under her care, educated with her own child Julian, the little Alice grew healthy and strong. The restoration of the king had brought back public tranquillity, which was, however, soon disturbed by the infamous machinations of the popish plot witnesses. The Countess of Derby is, by a strange anachronism, brought in as being suspected of sharing this plot, and arrives at Martindale-castle incog. in her way to the court. Major Bridgenorth is present at the meeting between her and Lady Peveril, who has been her early protegée. The following conversation exhibits the character of the countess, and explains an important incident in the novel. Lady Peveril expresses her surprise at the countess's manner of journeying:

"You remember," replies the countess," you must have heard-for I think Margaret Stanley would not be indifferent to my fate—that after my husband's murther at Bolton, I took up the standard which be never dropped until his death, and displayed it with my own hand in our Sovereignty of Man."

"I did indeed hear so, madam," said the Lady Peveril ; " and that you had bidden a bold defiance to the rebel government, even after all other parts of Britain had submitted to them. My husband, Sir Geoffrey, designed at one time to have gone to your assistance with some few followers; but we learned that the island was rendered to the Parliament party, and that you, dearest lady, were thrown into prison."

"But you heard not," said the countess, "how that disaster befell me. -Margaret, I would have held out that island against the knaves as long as the sea continued to flow around it. Till the shoals which surround it had become safe anchorage-till its precipices had melted with the sunshine-till of all its strong abodes and castles not one stone remained upon another, would I have defended against these villainous hypocritical rebels, my dear husband's hereditary dominion. The little kingdom of Man should have been yielded only when not an arm was left to wield a sword, not a finger to draw a trigger in its defence. But treachery did what force could never have done. When we had foiled various attempts upon the island by open force-treason accomplished what Blake and Lawson, with their floating castles, had found an enterprise too hazardous-a base rebel, whom we had nursed in our own bosoms, betrayed us to the enemy. This wretch was named Christian—” Major Bridgenorth started and turned towards the speaker, but instantly seemed to recollect himself, and again averted his face. The countess proceeded, without noticing the interruption, which, however,

[ocr errors]

rather surprised Lady Peveril, who was acquainted with her neighbour's general habits of indifference and apathy, and therefore the more surprised at his testifying such sudden symptoms of interest. She would once again have moved the countess to retire to another apartment, but Lady Derby proceeded with too much vehemence to endure interruption.

"This Christian," she said, “had eaten of my lord his sovereign's bread, and drank of his cup, even from childhood—for his fathers had been faithful servants to the house of Man and Derby. He himself had fought bravely by my husband's side, and enjoyed all his confidence; and when he was martyred by the rebels, he recommended to me, amongst other instructions communicated in the last message I received from him, to continue my confidence in Christian's fidelity. I obeyed, although I never loved the man. He was cold and phlegmatic, and utterly devoid of that sacred fire which is the incentive to noble deeds, suspected too of leaning to the cold metaphysios of calvinistic subtlety. But he was brave, wise, and experienced, and, as the event proved, possessed but too much interest with the islanders. When these rude people saw themselves without hope of relief, and pressed by a blockade, which brought want and disease into their island, they began to fall off from the faith which they had hitherto shown."

"What;" said the Lady Peveril, "could they forget what was due to the widow of their benefactor-she who had shared with the generous Derby the task of bettering their condition ?"

[ocr errors]

"Do not blame them," said the countess; "the rude herd acted but according to their kind-in present distress they forgot former benefits, and, nursed in their earthen hovels, with spirits suited to their dwellings, they were incapable of feeling the glory which is attached to constancy in suffering. But that Christian should have headed their revolt-that he, born a gentleman, and bred under my murdered Derby's own care in all that was chivalrous and noble-that he should have forgot a hundred benefits-why do I talk of benefits ?—that he should have forgotten that kindly intercourse which binds man to man far more than the reciprocity of obligation-that he should have headed the ruffians who broke suddenly into my apartment-immured me with my infants in one of my own castles, and assumed or usurped the tyranny of the island-that this should have been done by William Christian, my vassal, my servant, my friend, was a deed of ungrateful treachery, which even this age of treason will scarcely parallel!"

"And you were then imprisoned," said the Lady Peveril," and in your own sovereignty ?"

"For more than seven years I have endured strict captivity," said the countess. "I was indeed offered my liberty, and even some means of support, if I would have consented to leave the island, and pledged my word that I would not endeavour to repossess my son in his father's rights. But they little knew the princely house from which I springand as little the royal house of Stanley which I uphold-who hoped to humble Charlotte of Tremouille in so base a composition. I would rather have starved in the darkest and lowest vault of Ruffin Castle, than have consented to aught which might diminish in one hair's breadth the right of my son over his father's sovereignty."

"When the news arrived of the changes which were current in Britain, these sentiments were privately communicated to me; and a rising, effected as suddenly and effectually as that which had made me a captive, placed me at liberty and in possession of the sovereignty of Man, as regent for my son, the youthful Earl of Derby. Do you think I enjoyed that sovereignty long without doing justice to that traitor Christian ?"

"How, madam," said Lady Peveril, who though she knew the high and ambitious spirit of the countess, scarce anticipated the extremities to which it was capable of hurrying her-" Have you imprisoned Chris

tian ?"


Ay, wench-in that sure prison which felon never breaks from," answered the countess.

[ocr errors]

Bridgenorth, who had insensibly approached them, and was listening with an agony of interest which he was unable any longer to suppress,. broke in with the stern exclamation

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

'The countess interrupted him in her turu.


"I know not who you are who question-and you know not me when you speak to me of that which I dare, or dare not, do. But you seem interested in the fate of this Christian, and you shall hear it.—I was no sooner placed in possession of my rightful power, than I ordered the doomster of the island to hold upon the traitor a high court of justice, with all the formalities of the isle, as prescribed in its oldest records. The court was held in the open air, before the judges and keys, seated upon chairs of the living rock-the criminal was heard at length in his own defence, which amounted to little more than those specious allegiances of public consideration, which are ever used to colour the ugly front of treason. He was fully convicted of his crime, and he received the doom of a traitor."

"He passed from the judgment-seat to the place of execution, with no farther delay than might be necessary for his soul's sake. He was shot to death in the court-yard of Peel Castle, by a file of musketeers."

[ocr errors]

Bridgenorth clasped his hands together, wrung them, and groaned bitterly.

"As you seem interested for this criminal,” added the countess, addressing Bridgenorth, "I do him but justice in reporting to you, that his death was firm and manly, becoming the general tenor of his life, which, but for that gross act of traitorous ingratitude, had been fair and honourable. But what of that? The hypocrite is a saint, and the false traitor a man of honour, till opportunity, that faithful touchstone, proves their metal to be base."

"It is false, woman-it is false !" said Bridgenorth, no longer suppressing his indignation.

"What means this bearing, master Bridgenorth ?" said Lady Peveril, much surprised. "What is this Christian to you, that you should insult the Countess of Derby under my roof?"

"Speak not to me of countesses and of ceremonies," said Bridgenorth; "grief and anger leave me no leisure for idle observances, to humour the vanity of overgrown children.-O Christian-worthy, well worthy of the name thou didst bear! My friend-my brother-the brother of my blessed Alice-the only friend of my desolate estate; art thou then cru

elly murdered by a female fury, who, but for thee, had deservedly paid with her own blood that of God's saints, which she, as well as her tyrant husband, had spilled like water!"

Lady Peveril remonstrates with him upon his violence, but he persists in arresting the countess for the murder of Christian; and at length Lady Peveril, with more energy than might have been expected from the mildness of her temper, orders her servants to defeat his attempt by main force.

Sir Geoffrey, who was from home, now returns, and escorts the countess to Liverpool, in spite of the major's endeavour to stop her, and the consequence of this event is the breaking off all intimacy between the families; Major Bridgenorth takes away his daughter, persuading the nurse to accompany her, and they disappear from the county. The history then takes a leap to the Isle of Man, where Julian Peveril, by this time grown up, has been educated with the young Earl of Derby. The character of the young nobleman is so amusing that we regret he does not play a more prominent part. He is thus introduced:

'The Isle of Man, in the midst of the seventeenth century, was something very different, as a place of residence, from what it is now. Men had not discovered its merit, as a place of occasional refuge from the storms of life, and the society to be there met with was of a very uniform tenor. There were no smart fellows, whom fortune had tumbled from the seat of their barouches-no plucked pigeons, or winged rooks-no disappointed speculators-no ruined miners-in short, no one worth talking to. The society of the island was limited to the natives themselves, and a few merchants, who lived by contraband trade. The amusements were rare and monotonous, and the mercurial young Earl was soon heartily tired of his dominions.

Julian was seated in the deep recess which led to a latticed window of the Old Castle; and, with his arms crossed, and an air of profound contemplation, was surveying the long perspective of ocean, which rolled its successive waves up to the foot of the rock on which the ancient pile is founded. The Earl was suffering under the infliction of ennui-now looking into a volume of Homer-now whistling-now swinging on his chair now traversing the room-till, at length, his attention became swallowed up in admiration of the tranquillity of his companion.

King of Men!" he said, repeating the favourite epithet by which Homer describes Agamemnon. "I trust, for the old Greek's sake, he had a merrier office than being King of Man-Most philosophical Juliän, will nothing rouse thee-not even a bad pun on my own royal dignity?" "I wish you would be a little more the King in Man," said Julian, starting from his reverie, "and then you would find more amusement in your dominions."

"What? dethroite that royal Semiramis my mother," said the young lord," who has as much pleasure in playing Queen as if she were a real Sovereign? I wonder you can give me such counsel."

"Your mother, as you well know, my dear Derby, would be delighted, did you take any interest in the affairs of the island."

Ah, truly, she would permit me to be King; but she would choose to remain Viceroy over me. Why, she would only gain a subject the more, by my converting my spare time, which is so very valuable to me, to the cares of royalty. No, no, Julian, she thinks it power to direct

all the petty affairs of these poor Manxmen; and, thinking it power, she finds it pleasure. I shall not interfere, unless she hold a high court of justice again. I cannot afford to pay another fine to my brother, King Charles-But I forget-this is a sore point with you."

"With the countess, at least," replied Julian; " and I wonder you will speak of it."

[ocr errors]

Why, I bear no malice against the poor man's memory any more than yourself, though I have not the same reasons for holding it in veneration," replied the Earl of Derby ; " and yet I have some respect for it too. I remember their bringing him out to die-It was the first holiday I ever had in my life, and I heartily wish it had been on some other


"I would rather hear you speak of any thing else, my lord,” said Julian.

[ocr errors]

Why, there it goes," answered the Earl; "whenever I talk of any thing that puts you on your metal, and warms your blood, that runs as cold as a mer-man's-to use a simile of this happy island-Hey pass! you press me to change the subject.—Well, what shall we talk of ?— O, Julian, if you had not gone down to earth yourself among the castles and caverns of Derbyshire, we should have had enough of delicious topics -the play-houses, Julian-Both the King's house and the Duke'sLouis's establishment is a jest to them; and the Ring in the Park, which beats the Corso at Naples-and the beauties, who beat the whole world." "I am very willing to hear you speak on the subject, my lord," answered Julian; the less I have seen of the London world myself, the more I am liked to be amused by your account of it."



Ay, my friend-but where to begin ?-with the wit of Buckingham, and Sedley, and Etherege, or with the grace of Harry Jermyn-the courtesy of the Duke of Monmouth, or with the loveliness of La Belle Hamilton of the Duchess of Richmond-of Lady the person of Roxalana, the smart humour of Mrs. Nelly


"Or what say you to the bewitching sorceries of Lady Cynthia ?" demanded his companion.


Faith, I would have kept these to myself, to follow your prudent example. But since you ask me, I fairly own I cannot tell what to say of them; only I think of them twenty times as often as all the beauties I have spoke of. And yet she is neither the twentieth part so beautiful as the plainest of these court beauties, nor so witty as the dullest I have named, nor so modish-that is the great matter—as the most obscure. I cannot tell what makes me doat on her, except that she is as capricious as her whole sex put together."

The interesting part of the story then begins. Julian Peveril has met by accident with Alice Bridgenorth, who is changed, from his infantine playmate to a beautiful young woman. A mutual passion ensues, which is nourished by interviews permitted by the nurse, Deborah Debbitch, but which, as it appears afterwards, are not without the knowledge of Major Bridgenorth.

The Major, in an interview with Peveril, neither quite discourages nor favours his addresses. Julian is despatched by the countess to the court, with papers to the king, in consequence of the imputation that she has been engaged in the plot. It is now necessary that we should introduce a singular but important personage, the countess's train-bearer :

« PreviousContinue »