Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 44

And some for safety took the dreadful leap;

Some for the voice of Heaven seem’d calling on them;

Some for advancement, or for lucre’s sake —

I leap’d in frolic.

THE DREAM.

After a private conversation with Bridgenorth, Christian hastened to the Duke of Buckingham’s hotel, taking at the same time such a route as to avoid meeting with any acquaintance. He was ushered into the apartment of the Duke, whom he found cracking and eating filberts, with a flask of excellent white wine at his elbow. “Christian,” said his Grace, “come help me to laugh — I have bit Sir Charles Sedley — flung him for a thousand, by the gods!”

“I am glad at your luck, my Lord Duke,” replied Christian; “but I am come here on serious business.”

“Serious? — why, I shall hardly be serious in my life again — ha, ha, ha! — and for luck, it was no such thing — sheer wit, and excellent contrivance; and but that I don’t care to affront Fortune, like the old Greek general, I might tell her to her face — In this thou hadst no share. You have heard, Ned Christian, that Mother Cresswell is dead?”

“Yes, I did hear that the devil hath got his due,” answered Christian.

“Well,” said the Duke, “you are ungrateful; for I know you have been obliged to her, as well as others. Before George, a most benevolent and helpful old lady; and that she might not sleep in an unblest grave, I betted — do you mark me — with Sedley, that I would write her funeral sermon; that it should be every word in praise of her life and conversation, that it should be all true, and yet that the diocesan should be unable to lay his thumb on Quodling, my little chaplain, who should preach it.”

“I perfectly see the difficulty, my lord,” said Christian, who well knew that if he wished to secure attention from this volatile nobleman, he must first suffer, nay, encourage him, to exhaust the topic, whatever it might be, that had got temporary possession of his pineal gland.

“Why,” said the Duke, “I had caused my little Quodling to go through his oration thus —‘That whatever evil reports had passed current during the lifetime of the worthy matron whom they had restored to dust that day, malice herself could not deny that she was born well, married well, lived well, and died well; since she was born in Shadwell, married to Cresswell, lived in Camberwell, and died in Bridewell.’ Here ended the oration, and with it Sedley’s ambitious hopes of overreaching Buckingham — ha, ha, ha! — And now, Master Christian, what are your commands for me today?”

“First, to thank your Grace for being so attentive as to send so formidable a person as Colonel Blood, to wait upon your poor friend and servant. Faith, he took such an interest in my leaving town, that he wanted to compel me to do it at point of fox, so I was obliged to spill a little of his malapert blood. Your Grace’s swordsmen have had ill luck of late; and it is hard, since you always choose the best hands, and such scrupleless knaves too.”

“Come now, Christian,” said the Duke, “do not thus exult over me; a great man, if I may so call myself, is never greater than amid miscarriage. I only played this little trick on you, Christian, to impress on you a wholesome idea of the interest I take in your motions. The scoundrel’s having dared to draw upon you, is a thing not to be forgiven. — What! injure my old friend Christian?”

“And why not,” said Christian coolly, “if your old friend was so stubborn as not to go out of town, like a good boy, when your Grace required him to do so, for the civil purpose of entertaining his niece in his absence?”

“How — what! — how do you mean by my entertaining your niece, Master Christian?” said the Duke. “She was a personage far beyond my poor attentions, being destined, if I recollect aright, to something like royal favour.”

“It was her fate, however, to be the guest of your Grace’s convent for a brace of days, or so. Marry, my lord, the father confessor was not at home, and — for convents have been scaled of late — returned not till the bird was flown.”

“Christian, thou art an old reynard — I see there is no doubling with thee. It was thou, then, that stole away my pretty prize, but left me something so much prettier in my mind, that, had it not made itself wings to fly away with, I would have placed it in a cage of gold. Never be downcast, man; I forgive thee — I forgive thee.”

“Your Grace is of a most merciful disposition, especially considering it is I who have had the wrong; and sages have said, that he who doth the injury is less apt to forgive than he who only sustains it.”

“True, true, Christian,” said the Duke, “which, as you say, is something quite new, and places my clemency in a striking point of view. Well, then, thou forgiven man, when shall I see my Mauritanian Princess again?”

“Wherever I am certain that a quibble, and a carwhichit, for a play or a sermon, will not banish her from your Grace’s memory.”

“Not all the wit of South, or of Etherege,” said Buckingham hastily, “to say nothing of my own, shall in future make me oblivious of what I owe the Morisco Princess.”

“Yet, to leave the fair lady out of thought for a little while — a very little while,” said Christian, “since I swear that in due time your Grace shall see her, and know in her the most extraordinary woman that the age has produced — to leave her, I say out of sight for a little while, has your Grace had late notice of your Duchess’s health?”

“Health,” said the Duke. “Umph — no — nothing particular. She has been ill — but ——”

“She is no longer so,” subjoined Christian; “she died in Yorkshire forty-eight hours since.”

“Thou must deal with the devil,” said the Duke.

“It would ill become one of my name to do so,” replied Christian. “But in the brief interval, since your Grace hath known of an event which hath not yet reached the public ear, you have, I believe, made proposals to the King for the hand of the Lady Anne, second daughter of the Duke of York, and your Grace’s proposals have been rejected.”

“Fiends and firebrands, villain!” said the Duke, starting up and seizing Christian by the collar; “who hath told thee that?”

“Take your hand from my cloak, my Lord Duke, and I may answer you,” said Christian. “I have a scurvy touch of old puritanical humour about me. I abide not the imposition of hands — take off your grasp from my cloak, or I will find means to make you unloose it.”

The Duke, who had kept his right hand on his dagger-hilt while he held Christian’s collar with his left, unloosed it as he spoke, but slowly, and as one who rather suspends than abandons the execution of some hasty impulse; while Christian, adjusting his cloak with perfect composure, said, “Soh — my cloak being at liberty, we speak on equal terms. I come not to insult your Grace, but to offer you vengeance for the insult you have received.”

“Vengeance!” said the Duke —“It is the dearest proffer man can present to me in my present mood. I hunger for vengeance — thirst for vengeance — could die to ensure vengeance! ——‘Sdeath!” he continued, walking up and down the large apartment with the most unrestrained and violent agitation; “I have chased this repulse out of my brain with ten thousand trifles, because I thought no one knew it. But it is known, and to thee, the very common-sewer of Court-secrets — the honour of Villiers is in thy keeping, Ned Christian! Speak, thou man of wiles and of intrigue — on whom dost thou promise the vengeance? Speak! and if thy answers meet my desires, I will make a bargain with thee as willingly as with thy master, Satan himself.”

“I will not be,” said Christian, “so unreasonable in my terms as stories tell of the old apostate; I will offer your Grace, as he might do, temporal prosperity and revenge, which is his frequent recruiting money, but I leave it to yourself to provide, as you may be pleased, for your future salvation.”

The Duke, gazing upon him fixedly and sadly, replied, “I would to God, Christian, that I could read what purpose of damnable villainy thou hast to propose to me in thy countenance, without the necessity of thy using words!”

“Your Grace can but try a guess,” said Christian, calmly smiling.

“No,” replied the Duke, after gazing at him again for the space of a minute; “thou art so deeply dyed a hypocrite, that thy mean features, and clear grey eye, are as likely to conceal treason, as any petty scheme of theft or larceny more corresponding to your degree.”

“Treason, my lord!” echoed Christian; “you may have guessed more nearly than you were aware of. I honour your Grace’s penetration.”

“Treason?” echoed the Duke. “Who dare name such a crime to me?”

“If a name startles your Grace, you may call it vengeance — vengeance on the cabal of councillors, who have ever countermined you, in spite of your wit and your interest with the King. — Vengeance on Arlington, Ormond — on Charles himself.”

“No, by Heaven,” said the Duke, resuming his disordered walk through the apartment —“Vengeance on these rats of the Privy Council — come at it as you will. But the King! — never — never. I have provoked him a hundred times, where he has stirred me once. I have crossed his path in state intrigue — rivalled him in love — had the advantage in both — and, d — n it, he has forgiven me! If treason would put me in his throne, I have no apology for it — it were worse than bestial ingratitude.”

“Nobly spoken, my lord,” said Christian; “and consistent alike with the obligations under which your Grace lies to Charles Stewart, and the sense you have ever shown of them. — But it signifies not. If your Grace patronise not our enterprise, there is Shaftesbury — there is Monmouth ——”

“Scoundrel!” exclaimed the Duke, even more vehemently agitated than before, “think you that you shall carry on with others an enterprise which I have refused? — No, by every heathen and every Christian god! — Hark ye, Christian, I will arrest you on the spot — I will, by gods and devils, and carry you to unravel your plot at Whitehall.”

“Where the first words I speak,” answered the imperturbable Christian, “will be to inform the Privy Council in what place they may find certain letters, wherewith your Grace has honoured your poor vassal, containing, as I think, particulars which his Majesty will read with more surprise than pleasure.”

“‘Sdeath, villain!” said the Duke, once more laying his hand on his poniard-hilt, “thou hast me again at advantage. I know not why I forbear to poniard you where you stand!”

“I might fall, my Lord Duke,” said Christian, slightly colouring, and putting his right hand into his bosom, “though not, I think, unavenged — for I have not put my person into this peril altogether without means of defence. I might fall, but, alas! your Grace’s correspondence is in hands, which, by that very act, would be rendered sufficiently active in handing them to the King and the Privy Council. What say you to the Moorish Princess, my Lord Duke? What if I have left her executrix of my will, with certain instructions how to proceed if I return not unharmed from York Place? Oh, my lord, though my head is in the wolf’s mouth, I was not goose enough to place it there without settling how many carabines should be fired on the wolf, so soon as my dying cackle was heard. — Pshaw, my Lord Duke! you deal with a man of sense and courage, yet you speak to him as a child and a coward.”

The Duke threw himself into a chair, fixed his eyes on the ground, and spoke without raising them. “I am about to call Jerningham,” he said; “but fear nothing — it is only for a draught of wine — That stuff on the table may be a vehicle of filberts, and walnuts, but not for such communications as yours. — Bring me champagne,” he said to the attendant who answered to his summons.

The domestic returned, and brought a flask of champagne, with two large silver cups. One of them he filled for Buckingham, who, contrary to the usual etiquette, was always served first at home, and then offered the other to Christian, who declined to receive it.

The Duke drank off the large goblet which was presented to him, and for a moment covered his forehead with the palm of his hand; then instantly withdrew it, and said, “Christian, speak your errand plainly. We know each other. If my reputation be in some degree in your hands, you are well aware that your life is in mine. Sit down,” he said, taking a pistol from his bosom and laying it on the table — “Sit down, and let me hear your proposal.”

“My lord,” said Christian, smiling, “I shall produce no such ultimate argument on my part, though possibly, in time of need, I may not be found destitute of them. But my defence is in the situation of things, and in the composed view which, doubtless, your Majesty will take of them.”

“Majesty!” repeated the Duke —“My good friend Christian, you have kept company with the Puritans so long, that you confuse the ordinary titles of the Court.”

“I know not how to apologise,” said Christian, “unless your Grace will suppose that I spoke by prophecy.”

“Such as the devil delivered to Macbeth,” said the Duke — again paced the chamber, and again seated himself, and said, “Be plain, Christian — speak out at once, and manfully, what is it you intend?”

I,” said Christian —“What should I do? — I can do nothing in such a matter; but I thought it right that your Grace should know that the godly of this city”—(he spoke the word with a kind of ironical grin) —“are impatient of inactivity, and must needs be up and doing. My brother Bridgenorth is at the head of all old Weiver’s congregation; for you must know, that, after floundering from one faith to another, he hath now got beyond ordinances, and is become a Fifth-Monarchy man. He has nigh two hundred of Weiver’s people, fully equipped, and ready to fall on; and, with slight aid from your Grace’s people, they must carry Whitehall, and make prisoners of all within it.”

“Rascal!” said the Duke, “and is it to a Peer of England you make this communication?”

“Nay,” answered Christian, “I admit it would be extreme folly in your Grace to appear until all is over. But let me give Blood and the others a hint on your part. There are the four Germans also — right Knipperdolings and Anabaptists — will be specially useful. You are wise, my lord, and know the value of a corps of domestic gladiators, as well as did Octavius, Lepidus, and Anthony, when, by such family forces, they divided the world by indenture tripartite.”

“Stay, stay,” said the Duke. “Even if these bloodhounds were to join with you — not that I would permit it without the most positive assurances for the King’s personal safety — but say the villains were to join, what hope have you of carrying the Court?”

“Bully Tom Armstrong,* my lord, hath promised his interest with the Life Guards. Then there are my Lord Shaftesbury’s brisk boys in the city — thirty thousand on the holding up a finger.”

* Thomas, or Sir Thomas Armstrong, a person who had distinguished himself in youth by duels and drunken exploits. He was particularly connected with the Duke of Monmouth, and was said to be concerned in the Rye-House Plot, for which he suffered capital punishment, 20th June 1684.

“Let him hold up both hands, and if he count a hundred for each finger,” said the Duke, “it will be more than I expect. You have not spoken to him?”

“Surely not till your Grace’s pleasure was known. But, if he is not applied to, there is the Dutch train, Hans Snorehout’s congregation, in the Strand — there are the French Protestants in Piccadilly — there are the family of Levi in Lewkenor’s Lane — the Muggletonians in Thames Street ——”

“Ah, faugh! — Out upon them — out upon them! — How the knaves will stink of cheese and tobacco when they come upon action! — they will drown all the perfumes in Whitehall. Spare me the detail; and let me know, my dearest Ned, the sum total of thy most odoriferous forces.”

“Fifteen hundred men, well armed,” said Christian, “besides the rabble that will rise to a certainty — they have already nearly torn to pieces the prisoners who were this day acquitted on account of the Plot.”

“All, then, I understand. — And now, hark ye, most Christian Christian,” said he, wheeling his chair full in front of that on which his agent was seated, “you have told me many things today — Shall I be equally communicative? Shall I show you that my accuracy of information matches yours? Shall I tell you, in a word, why you have at once resolved to push every one, from the Puritan to the free-thinker, upon a general attack of the Palace of Whitehall, without allowing me, a peer of the realm, time either to pause upon or to prepare for a step so desperate? Shall I tell you why you would lead or drive, seduce or compel me, into countenancing your measures?”

“My lord, if you please to form a guess,” said Christian, “I will answer with all sincerity, if you have assigned the right cause.”

“The Countess of Derby is this day arrived, and attends the Court this evening, with hopes of the kindest reception. She may be surprised amid the mêlée? — Ha! said I not right, Master Christian? You, who pretend to offer me revenge, know yourself its exquisite sweetness.”

“I would not presume,” said Christian, half smiling, “to offer your Grace a dish without acting as your taster as well as purveyor.”

“That’s honestly said,” said the Duke. “Away then, my friend. Give Blood this ring — he knows it, and knows how to obey him who bears it. Let him assemble my gladiators, as thou dost most wittily term my coup jarrets. The old scheme of the German music may be resorted to, for I think thou hast the instruments ready. But take notice, I know nothing on’t; and Rowley’s person must be safe — I will hang and burn on all hands if a hair of his black periwig* be but singed. — Then what is to follow — a Lord Protector of the realm — or stay — Cromwell has made the word somewhat slovenly and unpopular — a Lord Lieutenant of the Kingdom? — The patriots who take it on themselves to avenge the injustice done to the country, and to remove evil counsellors from before the King’s throne, that it may be henceforward established in righteousness — so I think the rubric runs — cannot fail to make a fitting choice.”

* Charles, to suit his dark complexion, always wore a black peruke. He used to say of the players, that if they wished to represent a villain on the stage, “Oddsfish, they always clapp’d on him a black periwig, whereas the greatest rogue in England [meaning, probably, Dr. Oates] wears a white one.”— See CIBBER’s Apology.

“They cannot, my Lord Duke,” said Christian, “since there is but one man in the three kingdoms on whom that choice can possibly fall.”

“I thank you Christian,” said his Grace; “and I trust you. Away, and make all ready. Be assured your services shall not be forgot. We will have you near to us.”

“My Lord Duke,” said Christian, “you bind me doubly to you. But remember that as your Grace is spared any obnoxious proceedings which may befall in the way of military execution, or otherwise, so it will be advisable that you hold yourself in preparation, upon a moment’s notice, to put yourself at the head of a band of honourable friends and allies, and come presently to the palace, where you will be received by the victors as a commander, and by the vanquished as a preserver.”

“I conceive you — I conceive you. I will be in prompt readiness,” said the Duke.

“Ay, my lord,” continued Christian; “and for Heaven’s sake, let none of those toys, which are the very Delilahs of your imagination, come across your Grace this evening, and interfere with the execution of this sublime scheme.”

“Why, Christian, dost think me mad?” was his Grace’s emphatic reply. “It is you who linger, when all should be ordered for a deed so daring. Go then. — But hark ye, Ned; ere you go, tell me when I shall again see yonder thing of fire and air — yon Eastern Peri, that glides into apartments by the keyhole, and leaves them through the casement — yon black-eyed houri of the Mahometan paradise — when, I say, shall I see her once more?”

“When your Grace has the truncheon of Lord Lieutenant of the Kingdom,” said Christian, and left the apartment.

Buckingham stood fixed in contemplation for a moment after he was gone. “Should I have done this?” he said, arguing the matter with himself; “or had I the choice rather of doing aught else? Should I not hasten to the Court, and make Charles aware of the treason which besets him? I will, by Heaven? — Here, Jerningham, my coach, with the despatch of light! — I will throw myself at his feet, and tell him of all the follies which I have dreamed of with this Christian. — And then he will laugh at me, and spurn me. — No, I have kneeled to him today already, and my repulse was nothing gentle. To be spurned once in the sun’s daily round is enough for Buckingham.”

Having made this reflection, he seated himself, and began hastily to mark down the young nobles and gentlemen of quality, and others, their very ignoble companions, who he supposed might be likely to assume him for their leader in any popular disturbance. He had nearly completed it, when Jerningham entered, to say the coach would be ready in an instant, and to bring his master’s sword, hat, and cloak.

“Let the coachman draw off,” said the Duke, “but be in readiness. And send to the gentlemen thou wilt find named in this list; say I am but ill at ease, and wish their company to a light collation. Let instant expedition be made, and care not for expense; you will find most of them at the Club House in Fuller’s Rents.”*

* The place of meeting of the Green Ribbon Club. “Their place of meeting,” says Roger North, “was in a sort of Carrefour at Chancery Lance, in a centre of business and company most proper for such anglers of fools. The house was double balconied in front, as may yet be seen, for the clubbers to issue forth in fresco, with hats and no perukes, pipes in their mouths, merry faces, and dilated throats for vocal encouragement of the canaglia below on usual and unusual occasions.”

The preparations for festivity were speedily made, and the intended guests, most of them persons who were at leisure for any call that promised pleasure, though sometimes more deaf to those of duty, began speedily to assemble. There were many youths of the highest rank, and with them, as is usual in those circles, many of a different class, whom talents, or impudence, or wit, or a turn for gambling, had reared up into companions for the great and the gay. The Duke of Buckingham was a general patron of persons of this description; and a numerous attendance took place on the present occasion.

The festivity was pursued with the usual appliances of wine, music, and games of hazard; with which, however, there mingled in that period much more wit, and a good deal more gross profligacy of conversation, than the talents of the present generation can supply, or their taste would permit.

The Duke himself proved the complete command which he possessed over his versatile character, by maintaining the frolic, the laugh, and the jest, while his ear caught up, and with eagerness, the most distant sounds, as intimating the commencement of Christian’s revolutionary project. Such sounds were heard from time to time, and from time to time they died away, without any of those consequences which Buckingham expected.

At length, and when it was late in the evening, Jerningham announced Master Chiffinch from the Court; and that worthy personage followed the annunciation.

“Strange things have happened, my Lord Duke,” he said; “your presence at Court is instantly required by his Majesty.”

“You alarm me,” said Buckingham, standing up. “I hope nothing has happened — I hope there is nothing wrong — I hope his Majesty is well?”

“Perfectly well,” said Chiffinch; “and desirous to see your Grace without a moment’s delay.”

“This is sudden,” said the Duke. “You see I have had merry fellows about me, and am scarce in case to appear, Chiffinch.”

“Your Grace seems to be in very handsome plight,” said Chiffinch; “and you know his Majesty is gracious enough to make allowances.”

“True,” said the Duke, not a little anxious in his mind, touching the cause of this unexpected summons —“True — his Majesty is most gracious — I will order my coach.”

“Mine is below,” replied the royal messenger; “it will save time, if your Grace will condescend to use it.”

Forced from every evasion, Buckingham took a goblet from the table, and requested his friends to remain at his palace so long as they could find the means of amusement there. He expected, he said, to return almost immediately; if not, he would take farewell of them with his usual toast, “May all of us that are not hanged in the interval, meet together again here on the first Monday of next month.”

This standing toast of the Duke bore reference to the character of several of his guests; but he did not drink it on the present occasion without some anticipation concerning his own fate, in case Christian had betrayed him. He hastily made some addition to his dress, and attended Chiffinch in the chariot to Whitehall.

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