Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 28

A man so various, that he seem’d to be

Not one, but all mankind’s epitome;

Stiff in opinions — always in the wrong —

Was everything by starts, but nothing long;

Who, in the course of one revolving moon,

Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon;

Then, all for women, painting, fiddling, drinking;

Besides a thousand freaks that died in thinking.

DRYDEN.

We must now transport the reader to the magnificent hotel in —— Street, inhabited at this time by the celebrated George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, whom Dryden has doomed to a painful immortality by the few lines which we have prefixed to this chapter. Amid the gay and licentious of the laughing Court of Charles, the Duke was the most licentious and most gay; yet, while expending a princely fortune, a strong constitution, and excellent talents, in pursuit of frivolous pleasures, he nevertheless nourished deeper and more extensive designs; in which he only failed from want of that fixed purpose and regulated perseverance essential to all important enterprises, but particularly in politics.

It was long past noon; and the usual hour of the Duke’s levee — if anything could be termed usual where all was irregular — had been long past. His hall was filled with lackeys and footmen, in the most splendid liveries; the interior apartments, with the gentlemen and pages of his household, arrayed as persons of the first quality, and, in that respect, rather exceeding than falling short of the Duke in personal splendour. But his antechamber, in particular, might be compared to a gathering of eagles to the slaughter, were not the simile too dignified to express that vile race, who, by a hundred devices all tending to one common end, live upon the wants of needy greatness, or administer to the pleasures of summer-teeming luxury, or stimulate the wild wishes of lavish and wasteful extravagance, by devising new modes and fresh motives of profusion. There stood the projector, with his mysterious brow, promising unbounded wealth to whomsoever might choose to furnish the small preliminary sum necessary to change egg-shells into the great arcanum. There was Captain Seagull, undertaker for a foreign settlement, with the map under his arm of Indian or American kingdoms, beautiful as the primitive Eden, waiting the bold occupants, for whom a generous patron should equip two brigantines and a fly-boat. Thither came, fast and frequent, the gamesters, in their different forms and calling. This, light, young, gay in appearance, the thoughtless youth of wit and pleasure — the pigeon rather than the rook — but at heart the same sly, shrewd, cold-blooded calculator, as yonder old hard-featured professor of the same science, whose eyes are grown dim with watching of the dice at midnight; and whose fingers are even now assisting his mental computation of chances and of odds. The fine arts, too — I would it were otherwise — have their professors amongst this sordid train. The poor poet, half ashamed, in spite of habit, of the part which he is about to perform, and abashed by consciousness at once of his base motive and his shabby black coat, lurks in yonder corner for the favourable moment to offer his dedication. Much better attired, the architect presents his splendid vision of front and wings, and designs a palace, the expense of which may transfer his employer to a jail. But uppermost of all, the favourite musician, or singer, who waits on my lord to receive, in solid gold, the value of the dulcet sounds which solaced the banquet of the preceding evening.

Such, and many such like, were the morning attendants of the Duke of Buckingham — all genuine descendants of the daughter of the horse-leech, whose cry is “Give, give.”

But the levee of his Grace contained other and very different characters; and was indeed as various as his own opinions and pursuits. Besides many of the young nobility and wealthy gentry of England, who made his Grace the glass at which they dressed themselves for the day, and who learned from him how to travel, with the newest and best grace, the general Road to Ruin; there were others of a graver character — discarded statesmen, political spies, opposition orators, servile tools of administration, men who met not elsewhere, but who regarded the Duke’s mansion as a sort of neutral ground; sure, that if he was not of their opinion today, this very circumstance rendered it most likely he should think with them tomorrow. The Puritans themselves did not shun intercourse with a man whose talents must have rendered him formidable, even if they had not been united with high rank and an immense fortune. Several grave personages, with black suits, short cloaks, and band-strings of a formal cut, were mingled, as we see their portraits in a gallery of paintings, among the gallants who ruffled in silk and embroidery. It is true, they escaped the scandal of being thought intimates of the Duke, by their business being supposed to refer to money matters. Whether these grave and professing citizens mixed politics with money lending, was not known; but it had been long observed, that the Jews, who in general confine themselves to the latter department, had become for some time faithful attendants at the Duke’s levee.

It was high-tide in the antechamber, and had been so for more than an hour, ere the Duke’s gentleman-inordinary ventured into his bedchamber, carefully darkened, so as to make midnight at noonday, to know his Grace’s pleasure. His soft and serene whisper, in which he asked whether it were his Grace’s pleasure to rise, was briefly and sharply answered by the counter questions, “Who waits? — What’s o’clock?”

“It is Jerningham, your Grace,” said the attendant. “It is one, afternoon; and your Grace appointed some of the people without at eleven.”

“Who are they? — What do they want?”

“A message from Whitehall, your Grace.”

“Pshaw! it will keep cold. Those who make all others wait, will be the better of waiting in their turn. Were I to be guilty of ill-breeding, it should rather be to a king than a beggar.”

“The gentlemen from the city.”

“I am tired of them — tired of their all cant, and no religion — all Protestantism, and no charity. Tell them to go to Shaftesbury — to Aldersgate Street with them — that’s the best market for their wares.”

“Jockey, my lord, from Newmarket.”

“Let him ride to the devil — he has horse of mine, and spurs of his own. Any more?”

“The whole antechamber is full, my lord — knights and squires, doctors and dicers.”

“The dicers, with their doctors* in their pockets, I presume.”

* Doctor, a cant name for false dice.

“Counts, captains, and clergymen.”

“You are alliterative, Jerningham,” said the Duke; “and that is a proof you are poetical. Hand me my writing things.”

Getting half out of bed — thrusting one arm into a brocade nightgown, deeply furred with sables, and one foot into a velvet slipper, while the other pressed in primitive nudity the rich carpet — his Grace, without thinking farther on the assembly without, began to pen a few lines of a satirical poem; then suddenly stopped — threw the pen into the chimney — exclaimed that the humour was past — and asked his attendant if there were any letters. Jerningham produced a huge packet.

“What the devil!” said his Grace, “do you think I will read all these? I am like Clarence, who asked a cup of wine, and was soused into a butt of sack. I mean, is there anything which presses?”

“This letter, your Grace,” said Jerningham, “concerning the Yorkshire mortgage.”

“Did I not bid thee carry it to old Gatheral, my steward?”

“I did, my lord,” answered the other; “but Gatheral says there are difficulties.”

“Let the usurers foreclose, then — there is no difficulty in that; and out of a hundred manors I shall scarce miss one,” answered the Duke. “And hark ye, bring me my chocolate.”

“Nay, my lord, Gatheral does not say it is impossible — only difficult.”

“And what is the use of him, if he cannot make it easy? But you are all born to make difficulties,” replied the Duke.

“Nay, if your Grace approves the terms in this schedule, and pleases to sign it, Gatheral will undertake for the matter,” answered Jerningham.

“And could you not have said so at first, you blockhead?” said the Duke, signing the paper without looking at the contents —“What other letters? And remember, I must be plagued with no more business.”

“Billets-doux, my lord — five or six of them. This left at the porter’s lodge by a vizard mask.”

“Pshaw!” answered the Duke, tossing them over, while his attendant assisted in dressing him —“an acquaintance of a quarter’s standing.”

“This given to one of the pages by my Lady ——‘s waiting-woman.”

“Plague on it — a Jeremiade on the subject of perjury and treachery, and not a single new line to the old tune,” said the Duke, glancing over the billet. “Here is the old cant — cruel man — broken vows — Heaven’s just revenge. Why, the woman is thinking of murder — not of love. No one should pretend to write upon so threadbare a topic without having at least some novelty of expression. The despairing Araminta — Lie there, fair desperate. And this — how comes it?”

“Flung into the window of the hall, by a fellow who ran off at full speed,” answered Jerningham.

“This is a better text,” said the Duke; “and yet it is an old one too — three weeks old at least — The little Countess with the jealous lord — I should not care a farthing for her, save for that same jealous lord — Plague on’t, and he’s gone down to the country — this evening — in silence and safety — written with a quill pulled from the wing of Cupid — Your ladyship has left him pen-feathers enough to fly away with — better clipped his wings when you had caught him, my lady — And so confident of her Buckingham’s faith — I hate confidence in a young person. She must be taught better — I will not go.”

“You Grace will not be so cruel!” said Jerningham.

“Thou art a compassionate fellow, Jerningham; but conceit must be punished.”

“But if your lordship should resume your fancy for her?”

“Why, then, you must swear the billet-doux miscarried,” answered the Duke. “And stay, a thought strikes me — it shall miscarry in great style. Hark ye — Is — what is the fellow’s name — the poet — is he yonder?”

“There are six gentlemen, sir, who, from the reams of paper in their pocket, and the threadbare seams at their elbows, appear to wear the livery of the Muses.”

“Poetical once more, Jerningham. He, I mean, who wrote the last lampoon,” said the Duke.

“To whom your Grace said you owed five pieces and a beating!” replied Jerningham.

“The money for his satire, and the cudgel for his praise — Good — find him — give him the five pieces, and thrust the Countess’s billet-doux — Hold — take Araminta’s and the rest of them — thrust them all into his portfolio — All will come out at the Wit’s Coffee-house; and if the promulgator be not cudgelled into all the colours of the rainbow, there is no spite in woman, no faith in crabtree, or pith in heart of oak — Araminta’s wrath alone would overburden one pair of mortal shoulders.”

“But, my Lord Duke,” said his attendant, “this Settle* is so dull a rascal, that nothing he can write will take.”

* Elkana Settle, the unworthy scribbler whom the envy of Rochester and others tried to raise to public estimation, as a rival to Dryden; a circumstance which has been the means of elevating him to a very painful species of immortality.

“Then as we have given him steel to head the arrow,” said the Duke, “we will give him wings to waft it with — wood, he has enough of his own to make a shaft or bolt of. Hand me my own unfinished lampoon — give it to him with the letters — let him make what he can of them all.”

“My Lord Duke — I crave pardon — but your Grace’s style will be discovered; and though the ladies’ names are not at the letters, yet they will be traced.”

“I would have it so, you blockhead. Have you lived with me so long, and cannot discover that the éclat of an intrigue is, with me, worth all the rest of it?”

“But the danger, my Lord Duke?” replied Jerningham. “There are husbands, brothers, friends, whose revenge may be awakened.”

“And beaten to sleep again,” said Buckingham haughtily. “I have Black Will and his cudgel for plebeian grumblers; and those of quality I can deal with myself. I lack breathing and exercise of late.”

“But yet your Grace ——”

“Hold your peace, fool! I tell you that your poor dwarfish spirit cannot measure the scope of mine. I tell thee I would have the course of my life a torrent — I am weary of easy achievements, and wish for obstacles, that I can sweep before my irresistible course.”

Another gentleman now entered the apartment. “I humbly crave your Grace’s pardon,” he said; “but Master Christian is so importunate for admission instantly, that I am obliged to take your Grace’s pleasure.”

“Tell him to call three hours hence. Damn his politic pate, that would make all men dance after his pipe!”

“I thank thee for the compliment, my Lord Duke,” said Christian, entering the apartment in somewhat a more courtly garb, but with the same unpretending and undistinguished mien, and in the same placid and indifferent manner with which he had accosted Julian Peveril upon different occasions during his journey to London. “It is precisely my present object to pipe to you; and you may dance to your own profit, if you will.”

“On my word, Master Christian,” said the Duke haughtily, “the affair should be weighty, that removes ceremony so entirely from betwixt us. If it relates to the subject of our last conversation, I must request our interview be postponed to some farther opportunity. I am engaged in an affair of some weight.” Then turning his back on Christian, he went on with his conversation with Jerningham. “Find the person you wot of, and give him the papers; and hark ye, give him this gold to pay for the shaft of his arrow — the steel-head and peacock’s wing we have already provided.”

“This is all well, my lord,” said Christian calmly, and taking his seat at the same time in an easy-chair at some distance; “but your Grace’s levity is no match for my equanimity. It is necessary I should speak with you; and I will await your Grace’s leisure in the apartment.”

Very well, sir,” said the Duke peevishly; “if an evil is to be undergone, the sooner it is over the better — I can take measures to prevent its being renewed. So let me hear your errand without farther delay.”

“I will wait till your Grace’s toilette is completed,” said Christian, with the indifferent tone which was natural to him. “What I have to say must be between ourselves.”

“Begone, Jerningham; and remain without till I call. Leave my doublet on the couch. — How now, I have worn this cloth of silver a hundred times.”

“Only twice, if it please your Grace,” replied Jerningham.

“As well twenty times — keep it for yourself, or give it to my valet, if you are too proud of your gentility.”

“Your Grace has made better men than me wear your cast clothes,” said Jerningham submissively.

“Thou art sharp, Jerningham,” said the Duke —“in one sense I have, and I may again. So now, that pearl-coloured will do with the ribbon and George. Get away with thee. — And now that he is gone, Master Christian, may I once more crave your pleasure?”

“My Lord Duke,” said Christian, “you are a worshipper of difficulties in state affairs, as in love matters.”

“I trust you have been no eavesdropper, Master Christian,” replied the Duke; “it scarce argues the respect due to me, or to my roof.”

“I know not what you mean, my lord,” replied Christian.

“Nay, I care not if the whole world heard what I said but now to Jerningham. But to the matter,” replied the Duke of Buckingham.

“Your Grace is so much occupied with conquests over the fair and over the witty, that you have perhaps forgotten what a stake you have in the little Island of Man.”

“Not a whit, Master Christian. I remember well enough that my roundheaded father-inlaw, Fairfax, had the island from the Long Parliament; and was ass enough to quit hold of it at the Restoration, when, if he had closed his clutches, and held fast, like a true bird of prey, as he should have done, he might have kept it for him and his. It had been a rare thing to have had a little kingdom — made laws of my own — had my Chamberlain with his white staff — I would have taught Jerningham, in half a day, to look as wise, walk as stiffly, and speak as silly, as Harry Bennet.”

“You might have done this, and more, if it had pleased your Grace.”

“Ay, and if it had pleased my Grace, thou, Ned Christian, shouldst have been the Jack Ketch of my dominions.”

I your Jack Ketch, my lord?” said Christian, more in a tone of surprise than of displeasure.

“Why, ay; thou hast been perpetually intriguing against the life of yonder poor old woman. It were a kingdom to thee to gratify thy spleen with thy own hands.”

“I only seek justice against the Countess,” said Christian.

“And the end of justice is always a gibbet,” said the Duke.

“Be it so,” answered Christian. “Well, the Countess is in the Plot.”

“The devil confound the Plot, as I believe he first invented it!” said the Duke of Buckingham; “I have heard of nothing else for months. If one must go to hell, I would it were by some new road, and in gentlemen’s company. I should not like to travel with Oates, Bedloe, and the rest of that famous cloud of witnesses.”

“Your Grace is then resolved to forego all the advantages which may arise? If the House of Derby fall under forfeiture, the grant to Fairfax, now worthily represented by your Duchess, revives, and you become the Lord and Sovereign of Man.”

“In right of a woman,” said the Duke; “but, in troth, my godly dame owes me some advantage for having lived the first year of our marriage with her and old Black Tom, her grim, fighting, puritanic father. A man might as well have married the Devil’s daughter, and set up housekeeping with his father-inlaw.”*

* Mary, daughter of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was wedded to the Duke of Buckingham, whose versatility made him capable of rendering himself for a time as agreeable to his father-inlaw, though a rigid Presbyterian, as to the gay Charles II.

“I understand you are willing, then, to join your interest for a heave at the House of Derby, my Lord Duke?”

“As they are unlawfully possessed of my wife’s kingdom, they certainly can expect no favour at my hand. But thou knowest there is an interest at Whitehall predominant over mine.”

“That is only by your Grace’s sufferance,” said Christian.

“No, no; I tell thee a hundred times, no,” said the Duke, rousing himself to anger at the recollection. “I tell thee that base courtezan, the Duchess of Portsmouth, hath impudently set herself to thwart and contradict me; and Charles has given me both cloudy looks and hard words before the Court. I would he could but guess what is the offence between her and me! I would he knew but that! But I will have her plumes picked, or my name is not Villiers. A worthless French fille-dejoie to brave me thus! — Christian, thou art right; there is no passion so spirit-stirring as revenge. I will patronise the Plot, if it be but to spite her, and make it impossible for the King to uphold her.”

As the Duke spoke, he gradually wrought himself into a passion, and traversed the apartment with as much vehemence as if the only object he had on earth was to deprive the Duchess of her power and favour with the King. Christian smiled internally to see him approach the state of mind in which he was most easily worked upon, and judiciously kept silence, until the Duke called out to him, in a pet, “Well, Sir Oracle, you that have laid so many schemes to supplant this she-wolf of Gaul, where are all your contrivances now? — Where is the exquisite beauty who was to catch the Sovereign’s eye at the first glance? — Chiffinch, hath he seen her? — and what does he say, that exquisite critic in beauty and blank-mange, women and wine?”

“He has seen and approves, but has not yet heard her; and her speech answers to all the rest. We came here yesterday; and today I intend to introduce Chiffinch to her, the instant he arrives from the country; and I expect him every hour. I am but afraid of the damsel’s peevish virtue, for she hath been brought up after the fashion of our grandmothers — our mothers had better sense.”

“What! so fair, so young, so quick-witted, and so difficult?” said the Duke. “By your leave, you shall introduce me as well as Chiffinch.”

“That your Grace may cure her of her intractable modesty?” said Christian.

“Why,” replied the Duke, “it will but teach her to stand in her own light. Kings do not love to court and sue; they should have their game run down for them.”

“Under your Grace’s favour,” said Christian, “this cannot be — Non omnibus dormio — Your Grace knows the classic allusion. If this maiden become a Prince’s favourite, rank gilds the shame and the sin. But to any under Majesty, she must not vail topsail.”

“Why, thou suspicious fool, I was but in jest,” said the Duke. “Do you think I would interfere to spoil a plan so much to my own advantage as that which you have laid before me?”

Christian smiled and shook his head. “My lord,” he said, “I know your Grace as well, or better, perhaps, than you know yourself. To spoil a well-concerted intrigue by some cross stroke of your own, would give you more pleasure, than to bring it to a successful termination according to the plans of others. But Shaftesbury, and all concerned, have determined that our scheme shall at least have fair play. We reckon, therefore, on your help; and — forgive me when I say so — we will not permit ourselves to be impeded by your levity and fickleness of purpose.”

“Who? — I light and fickle of purpose?” said the Duke. “You see me here as resolved as any of you, to dispossess the mistress, and to carry on the plot; these are the only two things I live for in this world. No one can play the man of business like me, when I please, to the very filing and labelling of my letters. I am regular as a scrivener.”

“You have Chiffinch’s letter from the country; he told me he had written to you about some passages betwixt him and the young Lord Saville.”

“He did so — he did so,” said the Duke, looking among his letters; “but I see not his letter just now — I scarcely noted the contents — I was busy when it came — but I have it safely.”

“You should have acted on it,” answered Christian. “The fool suffered himself to be choused out of his secret, and prayed you to see that my lord’s messenger got not to the Duchess with some despatches which he sent up from Derbyshire, betraying our mystery.”

The Duke was now alarmed, and rang the bell hastily. Jerningham appeared. “Where is the letter I had from Master Chiffinch some hours since?”

“If it be not amongst those your Grace has before you, I know nothing of it,” said Jerningham. “I saw none such arrive.”

“You lie, you rascal,” said Buckingham; “have you a right to remember better than I do?”

“If your Grace will forgive me reminding you, you have scarce opened a letter this week,” said his gentleman.

“Did you ever hear such a provoking rascal?” said the Duke. “He might be a witness in the Plot. He has knocked my character for regularity entirely on the head with his damned counter-evidence.”

“Your Grace’s talent and capacity will at least remain unimpeached,” said Christian; “and it is those that must serve yourself and your friends. If I might advise, you will hasten to Court, and lay some foundation for the impression we wish to make. If your Grace can take the first word, and throw out a hint to crossbite Saville, it will be well. But above all, keep the King’s ear employed, which no one can do so well as you. Leave Chiffinch to fill his heart with a proper object. Another thing is, there is a blockhead of an old Cavalier, who must needs be a bustler in the Countess of Derby’s behalf — he is fast in hold, with the whole tribe of witnesses at his haunches.”

“Nay, then, take him, Topham.”

“Topham has taken him already, my lord,” said Christian; “and there is, besides, a young gallant, a son of the said Knight, who was bred in the household of the Countess of Derby, and who has brought letters from her to the Provincial of the Jesuits, and others in London.”

“What are their names?” said the Duke dryly.

“Sir Geoffrey Peveril of Martindale Castle, in Derbyshire, and his son Julian.”

“What! Peveril of the Peak?” said the Duke — “a stout old Cavalier as ever swore an oath. — A Worcester-man, too — and, in truth, a man of all work, when blows were going. I will not consent to his ruin, Christian. These fellows must be flogged of such false scents — flogged in every sense, they must, and will be, when the nation comes to its eyesight again.”

“It is of more than the last importance, in the meantime, to the furtherance of our plan,” said Christian, “that your Grace should stand for a space between them and the King’s favour. The youth hath influence with the maiden, which we should find scarce favourable to our views; besides, her father holds him as high as he can any one who is no such puritanic fool as himself.”

“Well, most Christian Christian,” said the Duke, “I have heard your commands at length. I will endeavour to stop the earths under the throne, that neither the lord, knight, nor squire in question, shall find it possible to burrow there. For the fair one, I must leave Chiffinch and you to manage her introduction to her high destinies, since I am not to be trusted. Adieu, most Christian Christian.”

He fixed his eyes on him, and then exclaimed, as he shut the door of the apartment — “Most profligate and damnable villain! And what provokes me most of all, is the knave’s composed insolence. Your Grace will do this — and your Grace will condescend to do that — A pretty puppet I should be, to play the second part, or rather the third, in such a scheme! No, they shall all walk according to my purpose, or I will cross them. I will find this girl out in spite of them, and judge if their scheme is likely to be successful. If so, she shall be mine — mine entirely, before she becomes the King’s; and I will command her who is to guide Charles. — Jerningham” (his gentleman entered), “cause Christian to be dogged where-ever he goes, for the next four-and-twenty hours, and find out where he visits a female newly come to town. — You smile, you knave?”

“I did but suspect a fresh rival to Araminta and the little Countess,” said Jerningham.

“Away to your business, knave,” said the Duke, “and let me think of mine. — To subdue a Puritan in Esse — a King’s favourite in Posse — the very muster of western beauties — that is point first. The impudence of this Manx mongrel to be corrected — the pride of Madame la Duchesse to be pulled down — and important state intrigue to be farthered, or baffled, as circumstances render most to my own honour and glory — I wished for business but now, and I have got enough of it. But Buckingham will keep his own steerage-way through shoal and through weather.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29