Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 30

As for John Dryden’s Charles, I own that King

Was never any very mighty thing;

And yet he was a devilish honest fellow —

Enjoy’d his friend and bottle, and got mellow.

DR. WOLOOT.

London, the grand central point of intrigues of every description, had now attracted within its dark and shadowy region the greater number of the personages whom we have had occasion to mention.

Julian Peveril, amongst others of the dramatis personæ, had arrived, and taken up his abode in a remote inn in the suburbs. His business, he conceived, was to remain incognito until he should have communicated in private with the friends who were most likely to lend assistance to his parents, as well as to his patroness, in their present situation of doubt and danger. Amongst these, the most powerful was the Duke of Ormond, whose faithful services, high rank, and acknowledged worth and virtue, still preserved an ascendancy in that very Court, where, in general, he was regarded as out of favour. Indeed, so much consciousness did Charles display in his demeanour towards that celebrated noble, and servant of his father, that Buckingham once took the freedom to ask the King whether the Duke of Ormond had lost his Majesty’s favour, or his Majesty the Duke’s? since, whenever they chanced to meet, the King appeared the more embarrassed of the two. But it was not Peveril’s good fortune to obtain the advice or countenance of this distinguished person. His Grace of Ormond was not at that time in London.

The letter, about the delivery of which the Countess had seemed most anxious after that to the Duke of Ormond, was addressed to Captain Barstow (a Jesuit, whose real name was Fenwicke), to be found, or at least to be heard of, in the house of one Martin Christal in the Savoy. To this place hastened Peveril, upon learning the absence of the Duke of Ormond. He was not ignorant of the danger which he personally incurred, by thus becoming a medium of communication betwixt a Popish priest and a suspected Catholic. But when he undertook the perilous commission of his patroness, he had done so frankly, and with the unreserved resolution of serving her in the manner in which she most desired her affairs to be conducted. Yet he could not forbear some secret apprehension, when he felt himself engaged in the labyrinth of passages and galleries, which led to different obscure sets of apartments in the ancient building termed the Savoy.

This antiquated and almost ruinous pile occupied a part of the site of the public offices in the Strand, commonly called Somerset House. The Savoy had been formerly a palace, and took its name from an Earl of Savoy, by whom it was founded. It had been the habitation of John of Gaunt, and various persons of distinction — had become a convent, an hospital, and finally, in Charles II.‘s time, a waste of dilapidated buildings and ruinous apartments, inhabited chiefly by those who had some connection with, or dependence upon, the neighbouring palace of Somerset House, which, more fortunate than the Savoy, had still retained its royal title, and was the abode of a part of the Court, and occasionally of the King himself, who had apartments there.

It was not without several inquiries, and more than one mistake, that, at the end of a long and dusky passage, composed of boards so wasted by time that they threatened to give way under his feet, Julian at length found the name of Martin Christal, broker and appraiser, upon a shattered door. He was about to knock, when some one pulled his cloak; and looking round, to his great astonishment, which indeed almost amounted to fear, he saw the little mute damsel, who had accompanied him for a part of the way on his voyage from the Isle of Man.

“Fenella!” he exclaimed, forgetting that she could neither hear nor reply — “Fenella! Can this be you?”

Fenella, assuming the air of warning and authority, which she had heretofore endeavoured to adopt towards him, interposed betwixt Julian and the door at which he was about to knock — pointed with her finger towards it in a prohibiting manner, and at the same time bent her brows, and shook her head sternly.

After a moment’s consideration, Julian could place but one interpretation upon Fenella’s appearance and conduct, and that was, by supposing her lady had come up to London, and had despatched this mute attendant, as a confidential person, to apprise him of some change of her intended operations, which might render the delivery of her letters to Barstow, alias Fenwicke, superfluous, or perhaps dangerous. He made signs to Fenella, demanding to know whether she had any commission from the Countess. She nodded. “Had she any letter?” he continued, by the same mode of inquiry. She shook her head impatiently, and, walking hastily along the passage, made a signal to him to follow. He did so, having little doubt that he was about to be conducted into the Countess’s presence; but his surprise, at first excited by Fenella’s appearance, was increased by the rapidity and ease with which she seemed to track the dusky and decayed mazes of the dilapidated Savoy, equal to that with which he had seen her formerly lead the way through the gloomy vaults of Castle Rushin, in the Isle of Man.

When he recollected, however, that Fenella had accompanied the Countess on a long visit to London, it appeared not improbable that she might then have acquired this local knowledge which seemed so accurate. Many foreigners, dependent on Queen or Queen Dowager, had apartments in the Savoy. Many Catholic priests also found refuge in its recesses, under various disguises, and in defiance of the severity of the laws against Popery. What was more likely than that the Countess of Derby, a Catholic and a Frenchwoman, should have had secret commissions amongst such people; and that the execution of such should be entrusted, at least occasionally, to Fenella?

Thus reflecting, Julian continued to follow her light and active footsteps as she glided from the Strand to Spring-Garden, and thence into the Park.

It was still early in the morning, and the Mall was untenanted, save by a few walkers, who frequented these shades for the wholesome purposes of air and exercise. Splendour, gaiety, and display, did not come forth, at that period, until noon was approaching. All readers have heard that the whole space where the Horse Guards are now built, made, in the time of Charles II., a part of St. James’s Park; and that the old building, now called the Treasury, was a part of the ancient Palace of Whitehall, which was thus immediately connected with the Park. The canal had been constructed, by the celebrated Le Notre, for the purpose of draining the Park; and it communicated with the Thames by a decoy, stocked with a quantity of the rarer waterfowl. It was towards this decoy that Fenella bent her way with unabated speed; and they were approaching a group of two or three gentlemen, who sauntered by its banks, when, on looking closely at him who appeared to be the chief of the party, Julian felt his heart beat uncommonly thick, as if conscious of approaching some one of the highest consequence.

The person whom he looked upon was past the middle age of life, of a dark complexion, corresponding with the long, black, full-bottomed periwig, which he wore instead of his own hair. His dress was plain black velvet, with a diamond star, however, on his cloak, which hung carelessly over one shoulder. His features, strongly lined, even to harshness, had yet an expression of dignified good-humour; he was well and strongly built, walked upright and yet easily, and had upon the whole the air of a person of the highest consideration. He kept rather in advance of his companions, but turned and spoke to them, from time to time, with much affability, and probably with some liveliness, judging by the smiles, and sometimes the scarce restrained laughter, by which some of his sallies were received by his attendants. They also wore only morning dresses; but their looks and manner were those of men of rank, in presence of one in station still more elevated. They shared the attention of their principal in common with seven or eight little black curly-haired spaniels, or rather, as they are now called, cockers, which attended their master as closely, and perhaps with as deep sentiments of attachment, as the bipeds of the group; and whose gambols, which seemed to afford him much amusement, he sometimes checked, and sometimes encouraged. In addition to this pastime, a lackey, or groom, was also in attendance, with one or two little baskets and bags, from which the gentleman we have described took, from time to time, a handful of seeds, and amused himself with throwing them to the waterfowl.

This the King’s favourite occupation, together with his remarkable countenance, and the deportment of the rest of the company towards him, satisfied Julian Peveril that he was approaching, perhaps indecorously, near the person of Charles Stewart, the second of that unhappy name.

While he hesitated to follow his dumb guide any nearer, and felt the embarrassment of being unable to communicate to her his repugnance to further intrusion, a person in the royal retinue touched a light and lively air on the flageolet, at a signal from the King, who desired to have some tune repeated which had struck him in the theatre on the preceding evening. While the good-natured monarch marked time with his foot, and with the motion of his hand, Fenella continued to approach him, and threw into her manner the appearance of one who was attracted, as it were in spite of herself, by the sounds of the instrument.

Anxious to know how this was to end, and astonished to see the dumb girl imitate so accurately the manner of one who actually heard the musical notes, Peveril also drew near, though at somewhat greater distance.

The King looked good-humouredly at both, as if he admitted their musical enthusiasm as an excuse for their intrusion; but his eyes became riveted on Fenella, whose face and appearance, although rather singular than beautiful, had something in them wild, fantastic, and, as being so, even captivating, to an eye which had been gratified perhaps to satiety with the ordinary forms of female beauty. She did not appear to notice how closely she was observed; but, as if acting under an irresistible impulse, derived from the sounds to which she seemed to listen, she undid the bodkin round which her long tresses were winded, and flinging them suddenly over her slender person, as if using them as a natural veil, she began to dance, with infinite grace and agility, to the tune which the flageolet played.

Peveril lost almost his sense of the King’s presence, when he observed with what wonderful grace and agility Fenella kept time to notes, which could only be known to her by the motions of the musician’s fingers. He had heard, indeed, among other prodigies, of a person in Fenella’s unhappy situation acquiring, by some unaccountable and mysterious tact, the power of acting as an instrumental musician, nay, becoming so accurate a performer as to be capable of leading a musical band; and he also heard of deaf and dumb persons dancing with sufficient accuracy, by observing the motions of their partner. But Fenella’s performance seemed more wonderful than either, since the musician was guided by his written notes, and the dancer by the motions of the others; whereas Fenella had no intimation, save what she seemed to gather, with infinite accuracy, by observing the motion of the artist’s fingers on his small instrument.

As for the King, who was ignorant of the particular circumstances which rendered Fenella’s performance almost marvellous, he was contented, at her first commencement, to authorise what seemed to him the frolic of this singular-looking damsel, by a good-natured smile, but when he perceived the exquisite truth and justice, as well as the wonderful combination of grace and agility, with which she executed to this favourite air a dance which was perfectly new to him, Charles turned his mere acquiescence into something like enthusiastic applause. He bore time to her motions with the movement of his foot — applauded with head and with hand — and seemed, like herself, carried away by the enthusiasm of the gestic art.

After a rapid yet graceful succession of entrechats, Fenella introduced a slow movement, which terminated the dance; then dropping a profound courtesy, she continued to stand motionless before the King, her arms folded on her bosom, her head stooped, and her eyes cast down, after the manner of an Oriental slave; while through the misty veil of her shadowy locks, it might be observed, that the colour which exercise had called to her cheeks was dying fast away, and resigning them to their native dusky hue.

“By my honour,” exclaimed the King, “she is like a fairy who trips it in moonlight. There must be more of air and fire than of earth in her composition. It is well poor Nelly Gwyn saw her not, or she would have died of grief and envy. Come, gentlemen, which of you contrived this pretty piece of morning pastime?”

The courtiers looked at each other, but none of them felt authorised to claim the merit of a service so agreeable.

“We must ask the quick-eyed nymph herself then,” said the King; and, looking at Fenella, he added, “Tell us, my pretty one, to whom we owe the pleasure of seeing you? — I suspect the Duke of Buckingham; for this is exactly a tour de son métier.”

Fenella, on observing that the King addressed her, bowed low, and shook her head, in signal that she did not understand what he said. “Oddsfish, that is true,” said the King; “she must perforce be a foreigner — her complexion and agility speak it. France or Italy has had the moulding of those elastic limbs, dark cheek, and eye of fire.” He then put to her in French, and again in Italian, the question, “By whom she had been sent hither?”

At the second repetition, Fenella threw back her veiling tresses, so as to show the melancholy which sat on her brow; while she sadly shook her head, and intimated by imperfect muttering, but of the softest and most plaintive kind, her organic deficiency.

“Is it possible Nature can have made such a fault?” said Charles. “Can she have left so curious a piece as thou art without the melody of voice, whilst she has made thee so exquisitely sensible to the beauty of sound? — Stay: what means this? and what young fellow are you bringing up there? Oh, the master of the show, I suppose. — Friend,” he added, addressing himself to Peveril, who, on the signal of Fenella, stepped forward almost instinctively, and kneeled down, “we thank thee for the pleasure of this morning. — My Lord Marquis, you rooked me at piquet last night; for which disloyal deed thou shalt now atone, by giving a couple of pieces to this honest youth, and five to the girl.”

As the nobleman drew out his purse and came forward to perform the King’s generous commission, Julian felt some embarrassment ere he was able to explain, that he had not title to be benefited by the young person’s performance, and that his Majesty had mistaken his character.

“And who art thou, then, my friend?” said Charles; “but, above all, and particularly, who is this dancing nymph, whom thou standest waiting on like an attendant fawn?”

“The young person is a retainer of the Countess-Dowager of Derby, so please your Majesty,” said Peveril, in a low tone of voice; “and I am ——”

“Hold, hold,” said the King; “this is a dance to another tune, and not fit for a place so public. Hark thee, friend; do thou and the young woman follow Empson where he will conduct thee. — Empson, carry them — hark in thy ear.”

“May it please your Majesty, I ought to say,” said Peveril, “that I am guiltless of any purpose of intrusion ——”

“Now a plague on him who can take no hint,” said the King, cutting short his apology. “Oddsfish, man, there are times when civility is the greatest impertinence in the world. Do thou follow Empson, and amuse thyself for a half-hour’s space with the fairy’s company, till we shall send for you.”

Charles spoke this not without casting an anxious eye around, and in a tone which intimated apprehension of being overheard. Julian could only bow obedience, and follow Empson, who was the same person that played so rarely on the flageolet.

When they were out of sight of the King and his party, the musician wished to enter into conversation with his companions, and addressed himself first to Fenella with a broad compliment of, “By the mass, ye dance rarely — ne’er a slut on the boards shows such a shank! I would be content to play to you till my throat were as dry as my whistle. Come, be a little free — old Rowley will not quit the Park till nine. I will carry you to Spring-Garden, and bestow sweet-cakes and a quart of Rhenish on both of you; and we’ll be cameradoes — What the devil? no answer? — How’s this, brother? — Is this neat wench of yours deaf or dumb or both? I should laugh at that, and she trip it so well to the flageolet.”

To rid himself of this fellow’s discourse, Peveril answered him in French, that he was a foreigner, and spoke no English; glad to escape, though at the expense of a fiction, from the additional embarrassment of a fool, who was likely to ask more questions than his own wisdom might have enabled him to answer.

“Étranger — that means stranger,” muttered their guide; “more French dogs and jades come to lick the good English butter of our bread, or perhaps an Italian puppet-show. Well if it were not that they have a mortal enmity to the whole gamut, this were enough to make any honest fellow turn Puritan. But if I am to play to her at the Duchess’s, I’ll be d — d but I put her out in the tune, just to teach her to have the impudence to come to England, and to speak no English.”

Having muttered to himself this truly British resolution, the musician walked briskly on towards a large house near the bottom of St. James’s Street, and entered the court, by a grated door from the Park, of which the mansion commanded an extensive prospect.

Peveril finding himself in front of a handsome portico, under which opened a stately pair of folding-doors, was about to ascend the steps that led to the main entrance, when his guide seized him by the arm, exclaiming. “Hold, Mounseer! What! you’ll lose nothing, I see, for want of courage; but you must keep the back way, for all your fine doublet. Here it is not, knock, and it shall be opened; but may be instead, knock and you shall be knocked.”

Suffering himself to be guided by Empson, Julian deviated from the principal door, to one which opened, with less ostentation, in an angle of the courtyard. On a modest tap from the flute-player, admittance was afforded him and his companions by a footman, who conducted them through a variety of stone passages, to a very handsome summer parlour, where a lady, or something resembling one, dressed in a style of extra elegance, was trifling with a play-book while she finished her chocolate. It would not be easy to describe her, but by weighing her natural good qualities against the affectations which counterbalanced them. She would have been handsome, but for rouge and minauderie — would have been civil, but for overstrained airs of patronage and condescension — would have had an agreeable voice, had she spoken in her natural tone — and fine eyes, had she not made such desperate hard use of them. She could only spoil a pretty ankle by too liberal display; but her shape, though she could not yet be thirty years old, had the embon-point which might have suited better with ten years more advanced. She pointed Empson to a seat with the air of a Duchess, and asked him, languidly, how he did this age, that she had not seen him? and what folks these were he had brought with him?

“Foreigners, madam; d — d foreigners,” answered Empson; “starving beggars, that our old friend has picked up in the Park this morning — the wench dances, and the fellow plays on the Jew’s trump, I believe. On my life, madam, I begin to be ashamed of old Rowley; I must discard him, unless he keeps better company in future.”

“Fie, Empson,” said the lady; “consider it is our duty to countenance him, and keep him afloat; and indeed I always make a principle of it. Hark ye, he comes not hither this morning?”

“He will be here,” answered Empson, “in the walking of a minuet.”

“My God!” exclaimed the lady, with unaffected alarm; and starting up with utter neglect of her usual and graceful languor, she tripped as swiftly as a milk-maid into an adjoining apartment, where they heard presently a few words of eager and animated discussion.

“Something to be put out of the way, I suppose,” said Empson. “Well for madam I gave her the hint. There he goes, the happy swain.”

Julian was so situated, that he could, from the same casement through which Empson was peeping, observe a man in a laced roquelaure, and carrying his rapier under his arm, glide from the door by which he had himself entered, and out of the court, keeping as much as possible under the shade of the buildings.

The lady re-entered at this moment, and observing how Empson’s eyes were directed, said with a slight appearance of hurry, “A gentleman of the Duchess of Portsmouth’s with a billet; and so tiresomely pressing for an answer, that I was obliged to write without my diamond pen. I have daubed my fingers, I dare say,” she added, looking at a very pretty hand, and presently after dipping her fingers in a little silver vase of rose-water. “But that little exotic monster of yours, Empson, I hope she really understands no English? — On my life she coloured. — Is she such a rare dancer? — I must see her dance, and hear him play on the Jew’s harp.”

“Dance!” replied Empson; “she danced well enough when I played to her. I can make anything dance. Old Counsellor Clubfoot danced when he had a fit of the gout; you have seen no such pas seul in the theatre. I would engage to make the Archbishop of Canterbury dance the hays like a Frenchman. There is nothing in dancing; it all lies in the music. Rowley does not know that now. He saw this poor wench dance; and thought so much on’t, when it was all along of me. I would have defied her to sit still. And Rowley gives her the credit of it, and five pieces to boot; and I have only two for my morning’s work!”

“True, Master Empson,” said the lady; “but you are of the family, though in a lower station; and you ought to consider ——”

“By G — madam,” answered Empson, “all I consider is, that I play the best flageolet in England; and that they can no more supply my place, if they were to discard me, than they could fill Thames from Fleet-Ditch.”

“Well, Master Empson, I do not dispute but you are a man of talents,” replied the lady; “still, I say, mind the main chance — you please the ear today — another has the advantage of you tomorrow.”

“Never, mistress, while ears have the heavenly power of distinguishing one note from another.”

“Heavenly power, say you, Master Empson?” said the lady.

“Ay, madam, heavenly; for some very neat verses which we had at our festival say,

‘What know we of the blest above,

But that they sing and that they love?’

It is Master Waller wrote them, as I think; who, upon my word, ought to be encouraged.”

“And so should you, my dear Empson,” said the dame, yawning, “were it only for the honour you do to your own profession. But in the meantime, will you ask these people to have some refreshment? — and will you take some yourself? — the chocolate is that which the Ambassador Portuguese fellow brought over to the Queen.”

“If it be genuine,” said the musician.

“How, sir?” said the fair one, half rising from her pile of cushions — “Not genuine, and in this house! — Let me understand you, Master Empson — I think, when I first saw you, you scarce knew chocolate from coffee.”

“By G — madam,” answered the flageolet-player, “you are perfectly right. And how can I show better how much I have profited by your ladyship’s excellent cheer, except by being critical?”

“You stand excused, Master Empson,” said the petite maitresse, sinking gently back on the downy couch, from which a momentary irritation had startled her —“I think the chocolate will please you, though scarce equal to what we had from the Spanish resident Mendoza. — But we must offer these strange people something. Will you ask them if they would have coffee and chocolate, or cold wild-fowl, fruit, and wine? They must be treated, so as to show them where they are, since here they are.”

“Unquestionably, madam,” said Empson; “but I have just at this instant forgot the French for chocolate, hot bread, coffee, game, and drinkables.”

“It is odd,” said the lady; “and I have forgot my French and Italian at the same moment. But it signifies little — I will order the things to be brought, and they will remember the names of them themselves.”

Empson laughed loudly at this jest, and pawned his soul that the cold sirloin which entered immediately after, was the best emblem of roast-beef all the world over. Plentiful refreshments were offered to all the party, of which both Fenella and Peveril partook.

In the meanwhile, the flageolet-player drew closer to the side of the lady of the mansion — their intimacy was cemented, and their spirits set afloat, by a glass of liqueur, which gave them additional confidence in discussing the characters, as well of the superior attendants of the Court, as of the inferior rank, to which they themselves might be supposed to belong.

The lady, indeed, during this conversation, frequently exerted her complete and absolute superiority over Master Empson; in which that musical gentleman humbly acquiesced whenever the circumstance was recalled to his attention, whether in the way of blunt contradiction, sarcastic insinuation, downright assumption of higher importance, or in any of the other various modes by which such superiority is usually asserted and maintained. But the lady’s obvious love of scandal was the lure which very soon brought her again down from the dignified part which for a moment she assumed, and placed her once more on a gossiping level with her companion.

Their conversation was too trivial, and too much allied to petty Court intrigues, with which he was totally unacquainted, to be in the least interesting to Julian. As it continued for more than an hour, he soon ceased to pay the least attention to a discourse consisting of nicknames, patchwork, and innuendo; and employed himself in reflecting on his own complicated affairs, and the probable issue of his approaching audience with the King, which had been brought about by so singular an agent, and by means so unexpected. He often looked to his guide, Fenella; and observed that she was, for the greater part of the time, drowned in deep and abstracted meditation. But three or four times — and it was when the assumed airs and affected importance of the musician and their hostess rose to the most extravagant excess — he observed that Fenella dealt askance on them some of those bitter and almost blighting elfin looks, which in the Isle of Man were held to imply contemptuous execration. There was something in all her manner so extraordinary, joined to her sudden appearance, and her demeanour in the King’s presence, so oddly, yet so well contrived to procure him a private audience — which he might, by graver means, have sought in vain — that it almost justified the idea, though he smiled at it internally, that the little mute agent was aided in her machinations by the kindred imps, to whom, according to Manx superstition, her genealogy was to be traced.

Another idea sometimes occurred to Julian, though he rejected the question, as being equally wild with those doubts which referred Fenella to a race different from that of mortals —“Was she really afflicted with those organical imperfections which had always seemed to sever her from humanity? — If not, what could be the motives of so young a creature practising so dreadful a penance for such an unremitted term of years? And how formidable must be the strength of mind which could condemn itself to so terrific a sacrifice — How deep and strong the purpose for which it was undertaken!”

But a brief recollection of past events enabled him to dismiss this conjecture as altogether wild and visionary. He had but to call to memory the various stratagems practised by his light-hearted companion, the young Earl of Derby, upon this forlorn girl — the conversations held in her presence, in which the character of a creature so irritable and sensitive upon all occasions, was freely, and sometimes satirically discussed, without her expressing the least acquaintance with what was going forward, to convince him that so deep a deception could never have been practised for so many years, by a being of a turn of mind so peculiarly jealous and irascible.

He renounced, therefore, the idea, and turned his thoughts to his own affairs, and his approaching interview with his Sovereign; in which meditation we propose to leave him, until we briefly review the changes which had taken place in the situation of Alice Bridgenorth.

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