Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 37

Henceforth ’tis done — Fortune and I are friends;

And I must live, for Buckingham commends.

POPE.

The spacious mansion of the Duke of Buckingham, with the demesne belonging to it, originally bore the name of York House and occupied a large portion of the ground adjacent to the Savoy.

This had been laid out by the munificence of his father, the favourite of Charles the First, in a most splendid manner, so as almost to rival Whitehall itself. But during the increasing rage for building new streets, and the creating of almost an additional town, in order to connect London and Westminster, this ground had become of very great value; and the second Duke of Buckingham, who was at once fond of scheming, and needy of money, had agreed to a plan laid before him by some adventurous architect, for converting the extensive grounds around his palace into those streets, lanes, and courts, which still perpetuate his name and titles; though those who live in Buckingham Street, Duke Street, Villiers Street, or in Of-alley (for even that connecting particle is locally commemorated), probably think seldom of the memory of the witty, eccentric, and licentious George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, whose titles are preserved in the names of their residence and its neighbourhood.

This building-plan the Duke had entered upon with all the eagerness which he usually attached to novelty. His gardens were destroyed — his pavilions levelled — his splendid stables demolished — the whole pomp of his suburban demesne laid waste, cumbered with ruins, and intersected with the foundations of new buildings and cellars, and the process of levelling different lines for the intended streets. But the undertaking, although it proved afterwards both lucrative and successful, met with a check at the outset, partly from want of the necessary funds, partly from the impatient and mercurial temper of the Duke, which soon carried him off in pursuit of some more new object. So that, though much was demolished, very little, in comparison, was reared up in the stead, and nothing was completed. The principal part of the ducal mansion still remained uninjured; but the demesne in which it stood bore a strange analogy to the irregular mind of its noble owner. Here stood a beautiful group of exotic trees and shrubs, the remnant of the garden, amid yawning common-sewers, and heaps of rubbish. In one place an old tower threatened to fall upon the spectator; and in another he ran the risk of being swallowed up by a modern vault. Grandeur of conception could be discovered in the undertaking, but was almost everywhere marred by poverty or negligence of execution. In short, the whole place was the true emblem of an understanding and talents run to waste, and become more dangerous than advantageous to society, by the want of steady principle, and the improvidence of the possessor.

There were men who took a different view of the Duke’s purpose in permitting his mansion to be thus surrounded, and his demesne occupied by modern buildings which were incomplete, and ancient which were but half demolished. They alleged, that, engaged as he was in so many mysteries of love and of politics, and having the character of the most daring and dangerous intriguer of his time, his Grace found it convenient to surround himself with this ruinous arena, into which officers of justice could not penetrate without some difficulty and hazard; and which might afford, upon occasion, a safe and secret shelter for such tools as were fit for desperate enterprises, and a private and unobserved mode of access to those whom he might have any special reason for receiving in secret.

Leaving Peveril in the Tower, we must once more convey our readers to the Levee of the Duke, who, on the morning of Julian’s transference to that fortress, thus addressed his minister-inchief, and principal attendant: “I have been so pleased with your conduct in this matter, Jerningham, that if Old Nick were to arise in our presence, and offer me his best imp as a familiar in thy room, I would hold it but a poor compliment.”

“A legion of imps,” said Jerningham, bowing, “could not have been more busy than I in your Grace’s service; but if your Grace will permit me to say so, your whole plan was well-nigh marred by your not returning home till last night, or rather this morning.”

“And why, I pray you, sage Master Jerningham,” said his Grace, “should I have returned home an instant sooner than my pleasure and convenience served?”

“Nay, my Lord Duke,” replied the attendant, “I know not; only, when you sent us word by Empson, in Chiffinch’s apartment, to command us to make sure of the girl at any rate, and at all risks, you said you would be here so soon as you could get freed of the King.”

“Freed of the King, you rascal! What sort of phrase is that?” demanded the Duke.

“It was Empson who used it, my lord, as coming from your Grace.”

“There is much very fit for my Grace to say, that misbecomes such mouths as Empson’s or yours to repeat,” answered the Duke haughtily, but instantly resumed his tone of familiarity, for his humour was as capricious as his pursuits. “But I know what thou wouldst have; first, your wisdom would know what became of me since thou hadst my commands at Chiffinch’s; and next, your valour would fain sound another flourish of trumpets on thine own most artificial retreat, leaving thy comrade in the hands of the Philistines.”

“May it please your Grace,” said Jerningham, “I did but retreat for the preservation of the baggage.”

“What! do you play at crambo with me?” said the Duke. “I would have you to know that the common parish fool should be whipt, were he to attempt to pass pun or quodlibet as a genuine jest, even amongst ticket-porters and hackney chairmen.”

“And yet I have heard your Grace indulge in the jeu de mots,” answered the attendant.

“Sirrah Jerningham,” answered the patron, “discard they memory, or keep it under correction, else it will hamper thy rise in the world. Thou mayst perchance have seen me also have a fancy to play at trap-ball, or to kiss a serving wench, or to guzzle ale and eat toasted cheese in a porterly whimsy; but is it fitting thou shouldst remember such follies? No more on’t. — Hark you; how came the long lubberly fool, Jenkins, being a master of the noble science of defence, to suffer himself to be run through the body so simply by a rustic swain like this same Peveril?”

“Please your Grace, this same Corydon is no such novice. I saw the onset; and, except in one hand, I never saw a sword managed with such life, grace, and facility.”

“Ay, indeed?” said the Duke, taking his own sheathed rapier in his hand, “I could not have thought that. I am somewhat rusted, and have need of breathing. Peveril is a name of note. As well go to the Barns-elms, or behind Montagu House, with him as with another. His father a rumoured plotter, too. The public would have noted it in me as becoming a zealous Protestant. Needful I do something to maintain my good name in the city, to atone for non-attendance on prayer and preaching. But your Laertes is fast in the Fleet; and I suppose his blundering blockhead of an antagonist is dead or dying.”

“Recovering, my lord, on the contrary,” replied Jerningham; “the blade fortunately avoided his vitals.”

“D— n his vitals!” answered the Duke. “Tell him to postpone his recovery, or I will put him to death in earnest.”

“I will caution his surgeon,” said Jerningham, “which will answer equally well.”

“Do so; and tell him he had better be on his own deathbed as cure his patient till I send him notice. — That young fellow must be let loose again at no rate.”

“There is little danger,” said the attendant. “I hear some of the witnesses have got their net flung over him on account of some matters down in the north; and that he is to be translated to the Tower for that, and for some letters of the Countess of Derby, as rumour goes.”

“To the Tower let him go, and get out as he can,” replied the Duke; “and when you hear he is fast there, let the fencing fellow recover as fast as the surgeon and he can mutually settle it.”

The Duke, having said this, took two or three turns in the apartment, and appeared to be in deep thought. His attendant waited the issue of his meditations with patience, being well aware that such moods, during which his mind was strongly directed in one point, were never of so long duration with his patron as to prove a severe burden to his own patience.

Accordingly, after the silence of seven or eight minutes, the Duke broke through it, taking from the toilette a large silk purse, which seemed full of gold. “Jerningham,” he said, “thou art a faithful fellow, and it would be sin not to cherish thee. I beat the King at Mall on his bold defiance. The honour is enough for me; and thou, my boy, shalt have the winnings.”

Jerningham pocketed the purse with due acknowledgements.

“Jerningham,” his Grace continued, “I know you blame me for changing my plans too often; and on my soul I have heard you so learned on the subject, that I have become of your opinion, and have been vexed at myself for two or three hours together, for not sticking as constantly to one object, as doubtless I shall, when age (touching his forehead) shall make this same weathercock too rusty to turn with the changing breeze. But as yet, while I have spirit and action, let it whirl like the vane at the mast-head, which teaches the pilot how to steer his course; and when I shift mine, think I am bound to follow Fortune, and not to control her.”

“I can understand nothing from all this, please your Grace,” replied Jerningham, “save that you have been pleased to change some purposed measures, and think that you have profited by doing so.”

“You shall judge yourself,” replied the Duke. “I have seen the Duchess of Portsmouth. — You start. It is true, by Heaven! I have seen her, and from sworn enemies we have become sworn friends. The treaty between such high and mighty powers had some weighty articles; besides, I had a French negotiator to deal with; so that you will allow a few hours’ absence was but a necessary interval to make up our matters of diplomacy.”

“Your Grace astonishes me,” said Jerningham. “Christian’s plan of supplanting the great lady is then entirely abandoned? I thought you had but desired to have the fair successor here, in order to carry it on under your own management.”

“I forgot what I meant at the time,” said the Duke; “unless that I was resolved she should not jilt me as she did the good-natured man of royalty; and so I am still determined, since you put me in mind of the fair Dowsabelle. But I had a contrite note from the Duchess while we were at the Mall. I went to see her, and found her a perfect Niobe. — On my soul, in spite of red eyes and swelled features, and dishevelled hair, there are, after all, Jerningham, some women who do, as the poets say, look lovely in affliction. Out came the cause; and with such humility, such penitence, such throwing herself on my mercy (she the proudest devil, too, in the whole Court), that I must have had heart of steel to resist it all. In short, Chiffinch in a drunken fit had played the babbler, and let young Saville into our intrigue. Saville plays the rogue, and informs the Duchess by a messenger, who luckily came a little late into the market. She learned, too, being a very devil for intelligence, that there had been some jarring between the master and me about this new Phillis; and that I was most likely to catch the bird — as any one may see who looks on us both. It must have been Empson who fluted all this into her Grace’s ear; and thinking she saw how her ladyship and I could hunt in couples, she entreats me to break Christian’s scheme, and keep the wench out of the King’s sight, especially if she were such a rare piece of perfection as fame has reported her.”

“And your Grace has promised her your hand to uphold the influence which you have so often threatened to ruin?” said Jerningham.

“Ay, Jerningham; my turn was as much served when she seemed to own herself in my power, and cry me mercy. — And observe, it is all one to me by which ladder I climb into the King’s cabinet. That of Portsmouth is ready fixed — better ascend by it than fling it down to put up another — I hate all unnecessary trouble.”

“And Christian?” said Jerningham.

“May go to the devil for a self-conceited ass. One pleasure of this twist of intrigue is, to revenge me of that villain, who thought himself so essential, that, by Heaven! he forced himself on my privacy, and lectured me like a schoolboy. Hang the cold-blooded hypocritical vermin! If he mutters, I will have his nose slit as wide as Coventry’s.*— Hark ye, is the Colonel come?”

“I expect him every moment, your Grace,”

* The ill-usage of Sir John Coventry by some of the Life Guardsmen, in revenge of something said in Parliament concerning the King’s theatrical amours, gave rise to what was called Coventry’s Act, against cutting and maiming the person.

“Send him up when he arrives,” said the Duke. ——“Why do you stand looking at me? What would you have?”

“Your Grace’s direction respecting the young lady,” said Jerningham.

“Odd zooks,” said the Duke, “I had totally forgotten her. — Is she very tearful? — Exceedingly afflicted?”

“She does not take on so violently as I have seen some do,” said Jerningham; “but for a strong, firm, concentrated indignation, I have seen none to match her.”

“Well, we will permit her to cool. I will not face the affliction of a second fair one immediately. I am tired of snivelling, and swelled eyes, and blubbered cheeks for some time; and, moreover, must husband my powers of consolation. Begone, and send the Colonel.”

“Will your Grace permit me one other question?” demanded his confidant.

“Ask what thou wilt, Jerningham, and then begone.”

“Your Grace has determined to give up Christian,” said the attendant. “May I ask what becomes of the kingdom of Man?”

“Forgotten, as I have a Christian soul!” said the Duke; “as much forgotten as if I had never nourished that scheme of royal ambition. — D— n it, we must knit up the ravelled skein of that intrigue. — Yet it is but a miserable rock, not worth the trouble I have been bestowing on it; and for a kingdom — it has a sound indeed; but, in reality, I might as well stick a cock-chicken’s feather into my hat, and call it a plume. Besides, now I think upon it, it would scarce be honourable to sweep that petty royalty out of Derby’s possession. I won a thousand pieces of the young Earl when he was last here, and suffered him to hang about me at Court. I question if the whole revenue of his kingdom is worth twice as much. Easily I could win it of him, were he here, with less trouble than it would cost me to carry on these troublesome intrigues of Christian’s.”

“If I may be permitted to say so, please your Grace,” answered Jerningham, “although your Grace is perhaps somewhat liable to change your mind, no man in England can afford better reasons for doing so.”

“I think so myself, Jerningham,” said the Duke; “and it may be it is one reason for my changing. One likes to vindicate his own conduct, and to find out fine reasons for doing what one has a mind to. — And now, once again, begone. Or, hark ye — hark ye — I shall need some loose gold. You may leave the purse I gave you; and I will give you an order for as much, and two years’ interest, on old Jacob Doublefee.”

“As your Grace pleases,” said Jerningham, his whole stock of complaisance scarcely able to conceal his mortification at exchanging for a distant order, of a kind which of late had not been very regularly honoured, the sunny contents of the purse which had actually been in his pocket. Secretly, but solemnly did he make a vow, that two years’ interest alone should not be the compensation for this involuntary exchange in the form of his remuneration.

As the discontented dependant left the apartment, he met, at the head of the grand staircase, Christian himself, who, exercising the freedom of an ancient friend of the house, was making his way, unannounced, to the Duke’s dressing apartment. Jerningham, conjecturing that his visit at this crisis would be anything but well timed, or well taken, endeavoured to avert his purpose by asserting that the Duke was indisposed, and in his bedchamber; and this he said so loud that his master might hear him, and, if he pleased, realise the apology which he offered in his name, by retreating into the bedroom as his last sanctuary, and drawing the bolt against intrusion.

But, far from adopting a stratagem to which he had had recourse on former occasions, in order to avoid those who came upon him, though at an appointed hour, and upon business of importance, Buckingham called, in a loud voice, from his dressing apartment, commanding his chamberlain instantly to introduce his good friend Master Christian, and censuring him for hesitating for an instant to do so.

“Now,” thought Jerningham within himself, “if Christian knew the Duke as well as I do, he would sooner stand the leap of a lion, like the London ‘prentice bold, than venture on my master at this moment, who is even now in a humour nearly as dangerous as the animal.”

He then ushered Christian into his master’s presence, taking care to post himself within earshot of the door.

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