Parents have flinty hearts! No tears can move them. --OTWAY.
When Alice Bridgenorth at length entered the parlour where her anxious lover had so long expected her, it was with a slow step, and a composed manner. Her dress was arranged with an accurate attention to form, which at once enhanced the appearance of its puritanic simplicity, and struck Julian as a bad omen; for although the time bestowed upon the toilet may, in many cases, intimate the wish to appear advantageously at such an interview, yet a ceremonious arrangement of attire is very much allied with formality, and a preconceived determination to treat a lover with cold politeness.
The sad-coloured gown--the pinched and plaited cap, which carefully obscured the profusion of long dark-brown hair--the small ruff, and the long sleeves, would have appeared to great disadvantage on a shape less graceful than Alice Bridgenorth's; but an exquisite form, though not, as yet, sufficiently rounded in the outlines to produce the perfection of female beauty, was able to sustain and give grace even to this unbecoming dress. Her countenance, fair and delicate, with eyes of hazel, and a brow of alabaster, had, notwithstanding, less regular beauty than her form, and might have been justly subjected to criticism. There was, however, a life and spirit in her gaiety, and a depth of sentiment in her gravity, which made Alice, in conversation with the very few persons with whom she associated, so fascinating in her manners and expression, whether of language or countenance--so touching, also, in her simplicity and purity of thought, that brighter beauties might have been overlooked in her company. It was no wonder, therefore, that an ardent character like Julian, influenced by these charms, as well as by the secrecy and mystery attending his intercourse with Alice, should prefer the recluse of the Black Fort to all others with whom he had become acquainted in general society.
His heart beat high as she came into the apartment, and it was almost without an attempt to speak that his profound obeisance acknowledged her entrance.
"This is a mockery, Master Peveril," said Alice, with an effort to speak firmly, which yet was disconcerted by a slightly tremulous inflection of voice--"a mockery, and a cruel one. You come to this lone place, inhabited only by two women, too simple to command your absence--too weak to enforce it--you come, in spite of my earnest request--to the neglect of your own time--to the prejudice, I may fear, of my character--you abuse the influence you possess over the simple person to whom I am entrusted--All this you do, and think to make up by low reverences and constrained courtesy! Is this honourable, or is it fair?--Is it," she added, after a moment's hesitation--"is it kind?"
The tremulous accent fell especially on the last word she uttered, and it was spoken in a low tone of gentle reproach, which went to Julian's heart.
"If," said he, "there was a mode by which, at the peril of my life, Alice, I could show my regard--my respect--my devoted tenderness--the danger would be dearer to me than ever was pleasure."
"You have said such things often," said Alice, "and they are such as I ought not to hear, and do not desire to hear. I have no tasks to impose on you--no enemies to be destroyed--no need or desire of protection--no wish, Heaven knows, to expose you to danger--It is your visits here alone to which danger attaches. You have but to rule your own wilful temper--to turn your thoughts and your cares elsewhere, and I can have nothing to ask--nothing to wish for. Use your own reason-- consider the injury you do yourself--the injustice you do us--and let me, once more, in fair terms, entreat you to absent yourself from this place--till--till----"
She paused, and Julian eagerly interrupted her.--"Till when, Alice?-- till when?--impose on me any length of absence which your severity can inflict, short of a final separation--Say, Begone for years, but return when these years are over; and, slow and wearily as they must pass away, still the thought that they must at length have their period, will enable me to live through them. Let me, then, conjure thee, Alice, to name a date--to fix a term--to say till /when!/"
"Till you can bear to think of me only as a friend and sister."
"That is a sentence of eternal banishment indeed!" said Julian; "it is seeming, no doubt, to fix a term of exile, but attaching to it an impossible condition."
"And why impossible, Julian?" said Alice, in a tone of persuasion; "were we not happier ere you threw the mask from your own countenance, and tore the veil from my foolish eyes? Did we not meet with joy, spend our time happily, and part cheerily, because we transgressed no duty, and incurred no self-reproach? Bring back that state of happy ignorance, and you shall have no reason to call me unkind. But while you form schemes which I know to be visionary, and use language of such violence and passion, you shall excuse me if I now, and once for all, declare, that since Deborah shows herself unfit for the trust reposed in her, and must needs expose me to persecutions of this nature, I will write to my father, that he may fix me another place of residence; and in the meanwhile I will take shelter with my aunt at Kirk-Truagh."
"Hear me, unpitying girl," said Peveril, "hear me, and you shall see how devoted I am to obedience, in all that I can do to oblige you! You say you were happy when we spoke not on such topics--well--at all expense of my own suppressed feelings, that happy period shall return. I will meet you--walk with you--read with you--but only as a brother would with his sister, or a friend with his friend; the thoughts I may nourish, be they of hope or of despair, my tongue shall not give birth to, and therefore I cannot offend; Deborah shall be ever by your side, and her presence shall prevent my even hinting at what might displease you--only do not make a crime to me of those thoughts which are the dearest part of my existence; for believe me it were better and kinder to rob me of existence itself."
"This is the mere ecstasy of passion, Julian," answered Alice Bridgenorth; "that which is unpleasant, our selfish and stubborn will represents as impossible. I have no confidence in the plan you propose--no confidence in your resolution, and less than none in the protection of Deborah. Till you can renounce, honestly and explicitly, the wishes you have lately expressed, we must be strangers;--and could you renounce them even at this moment, it were better that we should part for a long time; and, for Heaven's sake, let it be as soon as possible--perhaps it is even now too late to prevent some unpleasant accident--I thought I heard a noise."
"It was Deborah," answered Julian. "Be not afraid, Alice; we are secure against surprise."
"I know not," said Alice, "what you mean by such security--I have nothing to hide. I sought not this interview; on the contrary, averted it as long as I could--and am now most desirous to break it off."
"And wherefore, Alice, since you say it must be our last? Why should you shake the sand which is passing so fast? the very executioner hurries not the prayers of the wretches upon the scaffold.--And see you not--I will argue as coldly as you can desire--see you not that you are breaking your own word, and recalling the hope which yourself held out to me?"
"What hope have I suggested? What word have I given, Julian?" answered Alice. "You yourself build wild hopes in the air, and accuse me of destroying what had never any earthly foundation. 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; "it is you, Alice, who will deprive me altogether of reason. Did you not say, that if our parents could be brought to consent to our union, you would no longer oppose my suit?"
"No--no--no," said Alice eagerly, and blushing deeply,--"I did not say so, Julian--it was your own wild imagination which put construction on my silence and my confusion."
"You do /not/ say so, then?" answered Julian; "and if all other obstacles were removed, I should find one in the cold flinty bosom of her who repays the most devoted and sincere affection with contempt and dislike?--Is that," he added, in a deep tone of feeling--"is that what Alice Bridgenorth says to Julian Peveril?"
"Indeed--indeed, Julian," said the almost weeping girl, "I do not say so--I say nothing, and I ought not to say anything concerning what I might do, in a state of things which can never take place. Indeed, Julian, you ought not thus to press me. Unprotected as I am--wishing you well--very well--why should you urge me to say or do what would lessen me in my own eyes? to own affection for one from whom fate has separated me for ever? It is ungenerous--it is cruel--it is seeking a momentary and selfish gratification to yourself, at the expense of every feeling which I ought to entertain."
"You have said enough, Alice," said Julian, with sparkling eyes; "you have said enough in deprecating my urgency, and I will press you no farther. But you overrate the impediments which lie betwixt us--they must and shall give way."
"So you said before," answered Alice, "and with what probability, your own account may show. You dared not to mention the subject to your own father--how should you venture to mention it to mine?"
"That I will soon enable you to decide upon. Major Bridgenorth, by my mother's account, is a worthy and an estimable man. I will remind him, that to my mother's care he owes the dearest treasure and comfort of his life; and I will ask him if it is a just retribution to make that mother childless. Let me but know where to find him, Alice, and you shall soon hear if I have feared to plead my cause with him."
"Alas!" answered Alice, "you well know my uncertainty as to my dear father's residence. How often has it been my earnest request to him that he would let me share his solitary abode, or his obscure wanderings! But the short and infrequent visits which he makes to this house are all that he permits me of his society. Something I might surely do, however little, to alleviate the melancholy by which he is oppressed."
"Something we might both do," said Peveril. "How willingly would I aid you in so pleasing a task! All old griefs should be forgotten--all old friendships revived. My father's prejudices are those of an Englishman --strong, indeed, but not insurmountable by reason. Tell me, then, where Major Bridgenorth is, and leave the rest to me; or let me but know by what address your letters reach him, and I will forthwith essay to discover his dwelling."
"Do not attempt it, I charge you," said Alice. "He is already a man of sorrows; and what would he think were I capable of entertaining a suit so likely to add to them? 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 in this house; and ere he has locked thee in his arms, he shall answer to me on the subject of my suit."
"Then demand that answer now," said a voice from without the door, which was at the same time slowly opened--"Demand that answer now, for here stands Ralph Bridgenorth."
As he spoke, he entered the apartment with his usual slow and sedate step--raised his flapp'd and steeple-crowned hat from his brows, and, standing in the midst of the room, eyed alternately his daughter and Julian Peveril with a fixed and penetrating glance.
"Father!" said Alice, utterly astonished, and terrified besides, by his sudden appearance at such a conjuncture,--"Father, I am not to blame."
"Of that anon, Alice," said Bridgenorth; "meantime retire to your apartment--I have that to say to this youth which will not endure your presence."
"Indeed--indeed, father," said Alice, alarmed at what she supposed these words indicated, "Julian is as little to be blamed as I! It was chance, it was fortune, which caused our meeting together." Then suddenly rushing forward, she threw her arms around her father, saying, "Oh, do him no injury--he meant no wrong! Father, you were wont to be a man of reason and religious peace."
"And wherefore should I not be so now, Alice?" said Bridgenorth, raising his daughter from the ground, on which she had almost sunk in the earnestness of her supplication. "Dost thou know aught, maiden, which should inflame my anger against this young man, more than reason or religion may bridle? Go--go to thy chamber. Compose thine own passions--learn to rule these--and leave it to me to deal with this stubborn young man."
Alice arose, and, with her eyes fixed on the ground, retired slowly from the apartment. Julian followed her steps with his eyes till the last wave of her garment was visible at the closing door; then turned his looks to Major Bridgenorth, and then sunk them on the ground. The Major continued to regard him in profound silence; his looks were melancholy and even austere; but there was nothing which indicated either agitation or keen resentment. He motioned to Julian to take a seat, and assumed one himself. After which he opened the conversation in the following manner:--
"You seemed but now, young gentleman, anxious to learn where I was to be found. Such I at least conjectured, from the few expressions which I chanced to overhear; for I made bold, though it may be contrary to the code of modern courtesy, to listen a moment or two, in order to gather upon what subject so young a man as you entertained so young a woman as Alice, in a private interview."
"I trust, sir," said Julian, rallying spirits in what he felt to be a case of extremity, "you have heard nothing on my part which has given offence to a gentleman, whom, though unknown, I am bound to respect so highly."
"On the contrary," said Bridgenorth, with the same formal gravity, "I am pleased to find that your business is, or appears to be, with me, rather than with my daughter. I only think you had done better to have entrusted it to me in the first instance, as my sole concern."
The utmost sharpness of attention which Julian applied, could not discover if Bridgenorth spoke seriously or ironically to the above purpose. He was, however, quick-witted beyond his experience, and was internally determined to endeavour to discover something of the character and the temper of him with whom he spoke. For that purpose, regulating his reply in the same tone with Bridgenorth's observation, he said, that not having the advantage to know his place of residence, he had applied for information to his daughter.
"Who is now known to you for the first time?" said Bridgenorth. "Am I so to understand you?"
"By no means," answered Julian, looking down; "I have been known to your daughter for many years; and what I wished to say, respects both her happiness and my own."
"I must understand you," said Bridgenorth, "even as carnal men understand each other on the matters of this world. You are attached to my daughter by the cords of love; I have long known this."
"You, Master Bridgenorth?" exclaimed Peveril--"/You/ have long known it?"
"Yes, young man. Think you, that as the father of an only child, I could have suffered Alice Bridgenorth--the only living pledge of her who is now an angel in heaven--to have remained in this seclusion without the surest knowledge of all her material actions? I have, in person, seen more, both of her and of you, than you could be aware of; and when absent in the body, I had the means of maintaining the same superintendence. Young man, they say that such love as you entertain for my daughter teaches much subtilty; but believe not that it can overreach the affection which a widowed father bears to an only child."
"If," said Julian, his heart beating thick and joyfully, "if you have known this intercourse so long, may I not hope that it has not met your disapprobation?"
The Major paused for an instant, and then answered, "In some respects, certainly not. Had it done so--had there seemed aught on your side, or on my daughter's, to have rendered your visits here dangerous to her, or displeasing to me, she had not been long the inhabitant of this solitude, or of this island. But be not so hasty as to presume, that all which you may desire in this matter can be either easily or speedily accomplished."
"I foresee, indeed, difficulties," answered Julian; "but with your kind acquiescence, they are such as I trust to remove. My father is generous--my mother is candid and liberal. They loved you once; I trust they will love you again. I will be the mediator betwixt you-- peace and harmony shall once more inhabit our neighbourhood, and----"
Bridgenorth interrupted him with a grim smile; for such it seemed, as it passed over a face of deep melancholy. "My daughter well said, but short while past, that you were a dreamer of dreams--an architect of plans and hopes fantastic as the visions of the night. It is a great thing you ask of me;--the hand of my only child--the sum of my worldly substance, though that is but dross in comparison. You ask the key of the only fountain from which I may yet hope to drink one pleasant draught; you ask to be the sole and absolute keeper of my earthly happiness--and what have you offered, or what have you to offer in return, for the surrender you require of me?"
"I am but too sensible," said Peveril, abashed at his own hasty conclusions, "how difficult it may be."
"Nay, but interrupt me not," replied Bridgenorth, "till I show you the amount of what you offer me in exchange for a boon, which, whatever may be its intrinsic value, is earnestly desired by you, and comprehends all that is valuable on earth which I have it in my power to bestow. You may have heard that in the late times I was the antagonist of your father's principles and his profane faction, but not the enemy of his person."
"I have ever heard," replied Julian, "much the contrary; and it was but now that I reminded you that you had been his friend."
"Ay. When he was in affliction and I in prosperity, I was neither unwilling, nor altogether unable, to show myself such. Well, the tables are turned--the times are changed. A peaceful and unoffending man might have expected from a neighbour, now powerful in his turn, such protection, when walking in the paths of the law, as all men, subjects of the same realm, have a right to expect even from perfect strangers. What chances? I pursue, with the warrant of the King and law, a murderess, bearing on her hand the blood of my near connection, and I had, in such a case, a right to call on every liege subject to render assistance to the execution. My late friendly neighbour, bound, as a man and a magistrate, to give ready assistance to a legal action --bound, as a grateful and obliged friend, to respect my rights and my person--thrusts himself betwixt me--me, the avenger of blood--and my lawful captive; beats me to the earth, at once endangering my life, and, in mere human eyes, sullying mine honour; and under his protection, the Midianitish woman reaches, like a sea-eagle, the nest which she hath made in the wave-surrounded rocks, and remains there till gold, duly administered at Court, wipes out all memory of her crime, and baffles the vengeance due to the memory of the best and bravest of men.--But," he added, apostrophising the portrait of Christian, "thou art not yet forgotten, my fair-haired William! The vengeance which dogs thy murderess is slow,--but it is sure!"
There was a pause of some moments, which Julian Peveril, willing to hear to what conclusion Major Bridgenorth was finally to arrive, did not care to interrupt. Accordingly, in a few minutes, the latter proceeded.--"These things," he said, "I recall not in bitterness, so far as they are personal to me--I recall them not in spite of heart, though they have been the means of banishing me from my place of residence, where my fathers dwelt, and where my earthly comforts lie interred. But the public cause sets further strife betwixt your father and me. Who so active as he to execute the fatal edict of black St. Bartholomew's day, when so many hundreds of gospel-preachers were expelled from house and home--from hearth and altar--from church and parish, to make room for belly-gods and thieves? Who, when a devoted few of the Lord's people were united to lift the fallen standard, and once more advance the good cause, was the readiest to break their purpose--to search for, persecute, and apprehend them? Whose breath did I feel warm on my neck--whose naked sword was thrust within a foot of my body, whilst I lurked darkling, like a thief in concealment, in the house of my fathers?--It was Geoffrey Peveril's--it was your father's!--What can you answer to all this, or how can you reconcile it with your present wishes?
"These things I point out to you, Julian, that I may show you how impossible, in the eyes of a merely worldly man, would be the union which you are desirous of. But Heaven hath at times opened a door, where man beholds no means of issue. Julian, your mother, for one to whom the truth is unknown, is, after the fashion of the world, one of the best, and one of the wisest of women; and Providence, which gave her so fair a form, and tenanted that form with a mind as pure as the original frailty of our vile nature will permit, means not, I trust, that she shall continue to the end to be a vessel of wrath and perdition. Of your father I say nothing--he is what the times and example of others, and the counsels of his lordly priest, have made him; and of him, once more, I say nothing, save that I have power over him, which ere now he might have felt, but that there is one within his chambers, who might have suffered in his suffering. Nor do I wish to root up your ancient family. If I prize not your boast of family honours and pedigree, I would not willingly destroy them; more than I would pull down a moss-grown tower, or hew to the ground an ancient oak, save for the straightening of the common path, and advantage of the public. I have, therefore, no resentment against the humbled House of Peveril--nay, I have regard to it in its depression."
He here made a second pause, as if he expected Julian to say something. But notwithstanding the ardour with which the young man had pressed his suit, he was too much trained in ideas of the importance of his family, and in the better habit of respect for his parents, to hear, without displeasure, some part of Bridgenorth's discourse.
"The House of Peveril," he replied, "was never humbled."
"Had you said the sons of that House had never been /humble/," answered Bridgenorth, "you would have come nearer the truth.--Are /you/ not humbled? Live you not here, the lackey of a haughty woman, the play-companion of an empty youth? If you leave this Isle, and go to the Court of England, see what regard will there be paid to the old pedigree that deduces your descent from kings and conquerors. A scurril or obscene jest, an impudent carriage, a laced cloak, a handful of gold, and the readiness to wager it on a card, or a die, will better advance you at the Court of Charles, than your father's ancient name, and slavish devotion of blood and fortune to the cause of /his/ father."
"That is, indeed, but too probable," said Peveril; "but the Court shall be no element of mine. I will live like my fathers, among my people, care for their comforts, decide their differences----"
"Build Maypoles, and dance around them," said Bridgenorth, with another of those grim smiles which passed over his features like the light of a sexton's torch, as it glares and is reflected by the window of the church, when he comes from locking a funeral vault. "No, Julian, these are not times in which, by the dreaming drudgery of a country magistrate, and the petty cares of a country proprietor, a man can serve his unhappy country. There are mighty designs afloat, and men are called to make their choice betwixt God and Baal. The ancient superstition--the abomination of our fathers--is raising its head, and flinging abroad its snares, under the protection of the princes of the earth; but she raises not her head unmarked or unwatched; the true English hearts are as thousands, which wait but a signal to arise as one man, and show the kings of the earth that they have combined in vain! We will cast their cords from us--the cup of their abominations we will not taste."
"You speak in darkness, Master Bridgenorth," said Peveril. "Knowing so much of me, you may, perhaps, also be aware, that I at least have seen too much of the delusions of Rome, to desire that they should be propagated at home."
"Else, wherefore do I speak to thee friendly and so free?" said Bridgenorth. "Do I not know, with what readiness of early wit you baffled the wily attempts of the woman's priest, to seduce thee from the Protestant faith? Do I not know, how thou wast beset when abroad, and that thou didst both hold thine own faith, and secure the wavering belief of thy friend? Said I not, this was done like the son of Margaret Peveril? Said I not, he holdeth, as yet, but the dead letter --but the seed which is sown shall one day sprout and quicken?-- Enough, however, of this. For to-day this is thy habitation. I will see in thee neither the servant of the daughter of Eshbaal, nor the son of him who pursued my life, and blemished my honours; but thou shalt be to me, for this day, as the child of her, without whom my house had been extinct."
So saying, he stretched out his thin, bony hand, and grasped that of Julian Peveril; but there was such a look of mourning in his welcome, that whatever delight the youth anticipated, spending so long a time in the neighbourhood of Alice Bridgenorth, perhaps in her society, or however strongly he felt the prudence of conciliating her father's good-will, he could not help feeling as if his heart was chilled in his company.
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