Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 40

—— Contentious fierce,

Ardent, and dire, spring from no petty cause.

ALBION.

The quarrels between man and wife are proverbial; but let not these honest folks think that connections of a less permanent nature are free from similar jars. The frolic of the Duke of Buckingham, and the subsequent escape of Alice Bridgenorth, had kindled fierce dissension in Chiffinch’s family, when, on his arrival in town, he learned these two stunning events: “I tell you,” he said to his obliging helpmate, who seemed but little moved by all that he could say on the subject, “that your d — d carelessness has ruined the work of years.”

“I think it is the twentieth time you have said so,” replied the dame; “and without such frequent assurance, I was quite ready to believe that a very trifling matter would overset any scheme of yours, however long thought of.”

“How on earth could you have the folly to let the Duke into the house when you expected the King?” said the irritated courtier.

“Lord, Chiffinch,” answered the lady, “ought not you to ask the porter rather than me, that sort of question? — I was putting on my cap to receive his Majesty.”

“With the address of a madge-howlet,” said Chiffinch, “and in the meanwhile you gave the cat the cream to keep.”

“Indeed, Chiffinch,” said the lady, “these jaunts to the country do render you excessively vulgar! there is a brutality about your very boots! nay, your muslin ruffles, being somewhat soiled, give to your knuckles a sort of rural rusticity, as I may call it.”

“It were a good deed,” muttered Chiffinch, “to make both boots and knuckles bang the folly and affectation out of thee.” Then speaking aloud, he added, like a man who would fain break off an argument, by extorting from his adversary a confession that he has reason on his side, “I am sure, Kate, you must be sensible that our all depends on his Majesty’s pleasure.”

“Leave that to me,” said she; “I know how to pleasure his Majesty better than you can teach me. Do you think his Majesty is booby enough to cry like a schoolboy because his sparrow has flown away? His Majesty has better taste. I am surprised at you, Chiffinch,” she added, drawing herself up, “who were once thought to know the points of a fine woman, that you should have made such a roaring about this country wench. Why, she has not even the country quality of being plump as a barn-door fowl, but is more like a Dunstable lark, that one must crack bones and all if you would make a mouthful of it. What signifies whence she came, or where she goes? There will be those behind that are much more worthy of his Majesty’s condescending attention, even when the Duchess of Portsmouth takes the frumps.”

“You mean your neighbour, Mistress Nelly,” said her worthy helpmate; “but Kate, her date is out. Wit she has, let her keep herself warm with it in worse company, for the cant of a gang of strollers is not language for a prince’s chamber.”*

* In Evelyn’s Memoirs is the following curious passage respecting Nell Gwyn, who is hinted at in the text:—“I walked with him [King Charles II.] through Saint James Park to the garden, where I both saw and heard a very familiar discourse between . . . [the King] and Mrs. Nelly, as they called her, an intimate comedian, she looking out of her garden on a terrace at the top of the wall, and [the King] standing on the green walk under it. I was heartily sorry at this scene.”— EVELYN’S Memoirs, vol. i. p.413.

“It is no matter what I mean, or whom I mean,” said Mrs. Chiffinch; “but I tell you, Tom Chiffinch, that you will find your master quite consoled for loss of the piece of prudish puritanism that you would need saddle him with; as if the good man were not plagued enough with them in Parliament, but you must, forsooth, bring them into his very bedchamber.”

“Well, Kate,” said Chiffinch, “if a man were to speak all the sense of the seven wise masters, a woman would find nonsense enough to overwhelm him with; so I shall say no more, but that I would to Heaven I may find the King in no worse humour than you describe him. I am commanded to attend him down the river to the Tower today, where he is to make some survey of arms and stores. They are clever fellows who contrive to keep Rowley from engaging in business, for, by my word, he has a turn for it.”

“I warrant you,” said Chiffinch the female, nodding, but rather to her own figure, reflected from a mirror, than to her politic husband — “I warrant you we will find means of occupying him that will sufficiently fill up his time.”

“On my honour, Kate,” said the male Chiffinch, “I find you strangely altered, and, to speak truth, grown most extremely opinionative. I shall be happy if you have good reason for your confidence.”

The dame smiled superciliously, but deigned no other answer, unless this were one — “I shall order a boat to go upon the Thames today with the royal party.”

“Take care what you do, Kate; there are none dare presume so far but women of the first rank. Duchess of Bolton — of Buckingham — of ——”

“Who cares for a list of names? why may not I be as forward as the greatest B. amongst your string of them?”

“Nay, faith, thou mayest match the greatest B. in Court already,” answered Chiffinch; “so e’en take thy own course of it. But do not let Chaubert forget to get some collation ready, and a souper au petit couvert, in case it should be commanded for the evening.”

“Ay, there your boasted knowledge of Court matters begins and ends. — Chiffinch, Chaubert, and Company; — dissolve that partnership, and you break Tom Chiffinch for a courtier.”

“Amen, Kate,” replied Chiffinch; “and let me tell you it is as safe to rely on another person’s fingers as on our own wit. But I must give orders for the water. — If you will take the pinnace, there are the cloth-of-gold cushions in the chapel may serve to cover the benches for the day. They are never wanted where they lie, so you may make free with them too.”

Madam Chiffinch accordingly mingled with the flotilla which attended the King on his voyage down the Thames, amongst whom was the Queen, attended by some of the principal ladies of the Court. The little plump Cleopatra, dressed to as much advantage as her taste could devise, and seated upon her embroidered cushions like Venus in her shell, neglected nothing that effrontery and minauderie could perform to draw upon herself some portion of the King’s observation; but Charles was not in the vein, and did not even pay her the slightest passing attention of any kind, until her boatmen having ventured to approach nearer to the Queen’s barge than etiquette permitted, received a peremptory order to back their oars, and fall out of the royal procession. Madam Chiffinch cried for spite, and transgressed Solomon’s warning, by cursing the King in her heart; but had no better course than to return to Westminster, and direct Chaubert’s preparations for the evening.

In the meantime the royal barge paused at the Tower; and, accompanied by a laughing train of ladies and of courtiers, the gay Monarch made the echoes of the old prison-towers ring with the unwonted sounds of mirth and revelry. As they ascended from the river-side to the centre of the building, where the fine old keep of William the Conqueror, called the White Tower, predominates over the exterior defences, Heaven only knows how many gallant jests, good or bad, were run on the comparison of his Majesty’s state-prison to that of Cupid, and what killing similes were drawn between the ladies’ eyes and the guns of the fortress, which, spoken with a fashionable congée, and listened to with a smile from a fair lady, formed the fine conversations of the day.

This gay swarm of flutterers did not, however, attend close on the King’s person, though they had accompanied him upon his party on the river. Charles, who often formed manly and sensible resolutions, though he was too easily diverted from them by indolence or pleasure, had some desire to make himself personally acquainted with the state of the military stores, arms, &c. of which the Tower was then, as now, the magazine; and, although he had brought with him the usual number of his courtiers, only three or four attended him on the scrutiny which he intended. Whilst, therefore, the rest of the train amused themselves as they might in other parts of the Tower, the King, accompanied by the Dukes of Buckingham, Ormond, and one or two others, walked through the well-known hall, in which is preserved the most splendid magazine of arms in the world, and which, though far from exhibiting its present extraordinary state of perfection, was even then an arsenal worthy of the great nation to which it belonged.

The Duke of Ormond, well known for his services during the Great Civil War, was, as we have elsewhere noticed, at present rather on cold terms with his Sovereign, who nevertheless asked his advice on many occasions, and who required it on the present amongst others, when it was not a little feared that the Parliament, in their zeal for the Protestant religion, might desire to take the magazines of arms and ammunition under their own exclusive orders. While Charles sadly hinted at such a termination of the popular jealousies of the period, and discussed with Ormond the means of resisting, or evading it, Buckingham, falling a little behind, amused himself with ridiculing the antiquated appearance and embarrassed demeanour of the old warder who attended on the occasion, and who chanced to be the very same who escorted Julian Peveril to his present place of confinement. The Duke prosecuted his raillery with the greater activity, that he found the old man, though restrained by the place and presence, was rather upon the whole testy, and disposed to afford what sportsmen call play to his persecutor. The various pieces of ancient armour, with which the wall was covered, afforded the principal source of the Duke’s wit, as he insisted upon knowing from the old man, who, he said, could best remember matters from the days of King Arthur downwards at the least, the history of the different warlike weapons, and anecdotes of the battles in which they had been wielded. The old man obviously suffered, when he was obliged, by repeated questions, to tell the legends (often sufficiently absurd) which the tradition of the place had assigned to particular relics. Far from flourishing his partisan, and augmenting the emphasis of his voice, as was and is the prevailing fashion of these warlike Ciceroni, it was scarcely possible to extort from him a single word concerning those topics on which their information is usually overflowing.

“Do you know, my friend,” said the Duke to him at last, “I begin to change my mind respecting you. I supposed you must have served as a Yeoman of the Guard since bluff King Henry’s time, and expected to hear something from you about the Field of the Cloth of Gold — and I thought of asking you the colour of Anne Bullen’s breastknot, which cost the Pope three kingdoms; but I am afraid you are but a novice in such recollections of love and chivalry. Art sure thou didst not creep into thy warlike office from some dark shop in Tower-Hamlets, and that thou hast not converted an unlawful measuring-yard into that glorious halberd? — I warrant thou canst not even tell you whom this piece of antique panoply pertained to?”

The Duke pointed at random to a cuirass which hung amongst others, but was rather remarkable from being better cleansed.

“I should know that piece of iron,” said the warder bluntly, yet with some change in his voice; “for I have known a man within side of it who would not have endured half the impertinence I have heard spoken today.”

The tone of the old man, as well as the words, attracted the attention of Charles and the Duke of Ormond, who were only two steps before the speaker. They both stopped, and turned round; the former saying at the same time — “how now, sirrah! — what answers are these? — What man do you speak of?”

“Of one who is none now,” said the warder, “whatever he may have been.”

“The old man surely speaks of himself,” said the Duke of Ormond, closely examining the countenance of the warder, which he in vain endeavoured to turn away. “I am sure I remember these features — Are not you my old friend, Major Coleby?”

“I wish your Grace’s memory had been less accurate,” said the old man, colouring deeply, and fixing his eyes on the ground.

The King was greatly shocked. —“Good God!” he said, “the gallant Major Coleby, who joined us with his four sons and a hundred and fifty men at Warrington! — And is this all we could do for an old Worcester friend?”

The tears rushed thick into the old man’s eyes as he said in broken accents, “Never mind me, sire; I am well enough here — a worn-out soldier rusting among old armour. Where one old Cavalier is better, there are twenty worse. — I am sorry your Majesty should know anything of it, since it grieves you.”

With that kindness, which was a redeeming point of his character, Charles, while the old man was speaking, took the partisan from him with his own hand, and put it into that of Buckingham, saying, “What Coleby’s hand has borne, can disgrace neither yours nor mine — and you owe him this atonement. Time has been with him, that, for less provocation, he would have laid it about your ears.”

The Duke bowed deeply, but coloured with resentment, and took an immediate opportunity to place the weapon carelessly against a pile of arms. The King did not observe a contemptuous motion, which, perhaps, would not have pleased him, being at the moment occupied with the veteran, whom he exhorted to lean upon him, as he conveyed him to a seat, permitting no other person to assist him. “Rest there,” he said, “my brave old friend; and Charles Stewart must be poor indeed, if you wear that dress an hour longer. — You look very pale, my good Coleby, to have had so much colour a few minutes since. Be not vexed at what Buckingham says; no one minds his folly. — You look worse and worse. Come, come, you are too much hurried by this meeting. Sit still — do not rise — do not attempt to kneel. I command you to repose yourself till I have made the round of these apartments.”

The old Cavalier stooped his head in token of acquiescence in the command of his Sovereign, but he raised it not again. The tumultuous agitation of the moment had been too much for spirits which had been long in a state of depression, and health which was much decayed. When the King and his attendants, after half-an-hour’s absence, returned to the spot where they had left the veteran, they found him dead, and already cold, in the attitude of one who has fallen easily asleep. The King was dreadfully shocked; and it was with a low and faltering voice that he directed the body, in due time, to be honourably buried in the chapel of the Tower.* He was then silent, until he attained the steps in front of the arsenal, where the party in attendance upon his person began to assemble at his approach, along with some other persons of respectable appearance, whom curiosity had attracted.

* A story of this nature is current in the legends of the Tower. The affecting circumstances are, I believe, recorded in one of the little manuals which are put into the hands of visitors, but are not to be found in the later editions.

“This is dreadful,” said the King. “We must find some means of relieving the distresses, and rewarding the fidelity of our suffering followers, or posterity will cry fie upon our memory.”

“Your Majesty has had often such plans agitated in your Council,” said Buckingham.

“True, George,” said the King. “I can safely say it is not my fault. I have thought of it for years.”

“It cannot be too well considered,” said Buckingham; “besides, every year makes the task of relief easier.”

“True,” said the Duke of Ormond, “by diminishing the number of sufferers. Here is poor old Coleby will no longer be a burden to the Crown.”

“You are too severe, my Lord of Ormond,” said the King, “and should respect the feelings you trespass on. You cannot suppose that we would have permitted this poor man to hold such a situation, had we known of the circumstances?”

“For God’s sake, then, sire,” said the Duke of Ormond, “turn your eyes, which have just rested on the corpse of one old friend, upon the distresses of others. Here is the valiant old Sir Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak, who fought through the whole war, wherever blows were going, and was the last man, I believe, in England, who laid down his arms — Here is his son, of whom I have the highest accounts, as a gallant of spirit, accomplishments, and courage — Here is the unfortunate House of Derby — for pity’s sake, interfere in behalf of these victims, whom the folds of this hydra-plot have entangled, in order to crush them to death — rebuke the fiends that are seeking to devour their lives, and disappoint the harpies that are gaping for their property. This very day seven-night the unfortunate family, father and son, are to be brought upon trial for crimes of which they are as guiltless, I boldly pronounce, as any who stand in this presence. For God’s sake, sire, let us hope that, should the prejudices of the people condemn them, as it has done others, you will at last step in between the blood-hunters and their prey.”

The King looked, as he really was, exceedingly perplexed.

Buckingham, between whom and Ormond there existed a constant and almost mortal quarrel, interfered to effect a diversion in Charles’s favour. “Your Majesty’s royal benevolence,” he said, “needs never want exercise, while the Duke of Ormond is near your person. He has his sleeve cut in the old and ample fashion, that he may always have store of ruined cavaliers stowed in it to produce at demand, rare old raw-boned boys, with Malmsey noses, bald heads, spindle shanks, and merciless histories of Edgehill and Naseby.”

“My sleeve is, I dare say, of an antique cut,” said Ormond, looking full at the Duke; “but I pin neither bravoes nor ruffians upon it, my Lord of Buckingham, as I see fastened to coats of the new mode.”

“That is a little too sharp for our presence, my lord,” said the King.

“Not if I make my words good,” said Ormond. —“My Lord of Buckingham, will you name the man you spoke to as you left the boat?”

“I spoke to no one,” said the Duke hastily —“nay, I mistake, I remember a fellow whispered in my ear, that one, who I thought had left London was still lingering in town. A person whom I had business with.”

“Was yon the messenger?” said Ormond, singling out from the crowd who stood in the court-yard a tall dark-looking man, muffled in a large cloak, wearing a broad shadowy black beaver hat, with a long sword of the Spanish fashion — the very Colonel, in short, whom Buckingham had despatched in quest of Christian, with the intention of detaining him in the country.

When Buckingham’s eyes had followed the direction of Ormond’s finger, he could not help blushing so deeply as to attract the King’s attention.

“What new frolic is this, George?” he said. “Gentlemen, bring that fellow forward. On my life, a truculent-looking caitiff — Hark ye, friend, who are you? If an honest man, Nature has forgot to label it upon your countenance. — Does none here know him?

‘With every symptom of a knave complete,

If he be honest, he’s a devilish cheat.’”

“He is well known to many, sire,” replied Ormond; “and that he walks in this area with his neck safe, and his limbs unshackled, is an instance, amongst many, that we live under the sway of the most merciful Prince of Europe.”

“Oddsfish! who is the man, my Lord Duke?” said the King. “Your Grace talks mysteries — Buckingham blushes — and the rogue himself is dumb.”

“That honest gentleman, please your Majesty,” replied the Duke of Ormond, “whose modesty makes him mute, though it cannot make him blush, is the notorious Colonel Blood, as he calls himself, whose attempt to possess himself of your Majesty’s royal crown took place at no very distant date, in this very Tower of London.”

“That exploit is not easily forgotten,” said the King; “but that the fellow lives, shows your Grace’s clemency as well as mine.”

“I cannot deny that I was in his hands, sire,” said Ormond, “and had certainly been murdered by him, had he chosen to take my life on the spot, instead of destining me — I thank him for the honour — to be hanged at Tyburn. I had certainly been sped, if he had thought me worth knife or pistol, or anything short of the cord. — Look at him sire! If the rascal dared, he would say at this moment, like Caliban in the play, ‘Ho, ho, I would I had done it!’”

“Why, oddsfish!” answered the King, “he hath a villainous sneer, my lord, which seems to say as much; but, my Lord Duke, we have pardoned him, and so has your Grace.”

“It would ill have become me,” said the Duke of Ormond, “to have been severe in prosecuting an attempt on my poor life, when your Majesty was pleased to remit his more outrageous and insolent attempt upon your royal crown. But I must conceive it as a piece of supreme insolence on the part of this bloodthirsty bully, by whomsoever he may be now backed, to appear in the Tower, which was the theatre of one of his villainies, or before me, who was well-nigh the victim of another.”

“It shall be amended in future,” said the King. —“Hark ye, sirrah Blood, if you again presume to thrust yourself in the way you have done but now, I will have the hangman’s knife and your knavish ears made acquainted.”

Blood bowed, and with a coolness of impudence which did his nerves great honour, he said he had only come to the Tower accidentally, to communicate with a particular friend on business of importance. “My Lord Duke of Buckingham,” he said, “knew he had no other intentions.”

“Get you gone, you scoundrelly cut-throat,” said the Duke, as much impatient of Colonel Blood’s claim of acquaintance, as a town-rake of the low and blackguard companions of his midnight rambles, when they accost him in daylight amidst better company; “if you dare to quote my name again, I will have you thrown into the Thames.”

Blood, thus repulsed, turned round with the most insolent composure, and walked away down from the parade, all men looking at him, as at some strange and monstrous prodigy, so much was he renowned for daring and desperate villainy. Some even followed him, to have a better survey of the notorious Colonel Blood, like the smaller tribe of birds which keep fluttering round an owl when he appears in the light of the sun. But as, in the latter case, these thoughtless flutterers are careful to keep out of reach of the beak and claws of the bird of Minerva, so none of those who followed and gazed on Blood as something ominous, cared to bandy looks with him, or to endure and return the lowering and deadly glances, which he shot from time to time on those who pressed nearest to him. He stalked on in this manner, like a daunted, yet sullen wolf, afraid to stop, yet unwilling to fly, until he reached the Traitor’s Gate, and getting on board a sculler which waited for him, he disappeared from their eyes.

Charles would fain have obliterated all recollection of his appearance, by the observation, “It were a shame that such a reprobate scoundrel should be the subject of discord between two noblemen of distinction;” and he recommended to the Dukes of Buckingham and Ormond to join hands, and forget a misunderstanding which rose on so unworthy a subject.

Buckingham answered carelessly, “That the Duke of Ormond’s honoured white hairs were a sufficient apology for his making the first overtures to a reconciliation,” and he held out his hand accordingly. But Ormond only bowed in return, and said, “The King had no cause to expect that the Court would be disturbed by his personal resentments, since time would not yield him back twenty years, nor the grave restore his gallant son Ossory. As to the ruffian who had intruded himself there, he was obliged to him, since, by showing that his Majesty’s clemency extended even to the very worst of criminals, he strengthened his hopes of obtaining the King’s favour for such of his innocent friends as were now in prison, and in danger, from the odious charges brought against them on the score of the Popish Plot.”

The King made no other answer to this insinuation, than by directing that the company should embark for their return to Whitehall; and thus took leave of the officers of the Tower who were in attendance, with one of those well-turned compliments to their discharge of duty, which no man knew better how to express; and issued at the same time strict and anxious orders for protection and defence of the important fortress confided to them, and all which it contained.

Before he parted with Ormond on their arrival at Whitehall, he turned round to him, as one who has made up his resolution, and said, “Be satisfied, my Lord Duke — our friends’ case shall be looked to.”

In the same evening the Attorney-General, and North, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, had orders with all secrecy, to meet his Majesty that evening on especial matters of state, at the apartments of Chiffinch, the centre of all affairs, whether of gallantry or business.

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