Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 46

Here stand I tight and trim,

Quick of eye, though little of limb;

He who denieth the word I have spoken,

Betwixt him and me shall lances be broken.

LAY OF THE LITTLE JOHN DE SAINTRE.

When Charles had reconducted the Countess of Derby into the presence-chamber, before he parted with her, he entreated her, in a whisper, to be governed by good counsel, and to regard her own safety; and then turned easily from her, as if to distribute his attentions equally among the other guests.

These were a good deal circumscribed at the instant, by the arrival of a party of five or six musicians; one of whom, a German, under the patronage of the Duke of Buckingham, was particularly renowned for his performance on the violoncello, but had been detained in inactivity in the antechamber by the non-arrival of his instrument, which had now at length made its appearance.

The domestic who placed it before the owner, shrouded as it was within its wooden case, seemed heartily glad to be rid of his load, and lingered for a moment, as if interested in discovering what sort of instrument was to be produced that could weigh so heavily. His curiosity was satisfied, and in a most extraordinary manner; for, while the musician was fumbling with the key, the case being for his greater convenience placed upright against the wall, the case and instrument itself at once flew open, and out started the dwarf, Geoffrey Hudson — at sight of whose unearthly appearance, thus suddenly introduced, the ladies shrieked, and ran backwards; the gentlemen started, and the poor German, on seeing the portentous delivery of his fiddle-case, tumbled on the floor in an agony, supposing, it might be, that his instrument was metamorphosed into the strange figure which supplied its place. So soon, however, as he recovered, he glided out of the apartment, and was followed by most of his companions.

“Hudson!” said the King —“My little old friend, I am not sorry to see you; though Buckingham, who I suppose is the purveyor of this jest, hath served us up but a stale one.”

“Will your Majesty honour me with one moment’s attention?” said Hudson.

“Assuredly, my good friend,” said the King. “Old acquaintances are springing up in every quarter to-night; and our leisure can hardly be better employed than in listening to them. — It was an idle trick of Buckingham,” he added, in a whisper to Ormond, “to send the poor thing hither, especially as he was today tried for the affair of the plot. At any rate he comes not to ask protection from us, having had the rare fortune to come off Plot-free. He is but fishing, I suppose, for some little present or pension.”

The little man, precise in Court etiquette, yet impatient of the King’s delaying to attend to him, stood in the midst of the floor, most valorously pawing and prancing, like a Scots pony assuming the airs of a war-horse, waving meanwhile his little hat with the tarnished feather, and bowing from time to time, as if impatient to be heard.

“Speak on, then, my friend,” said Charles; “if thou hast some poetical address penned for thee, out with it, that thou mayst have time to repose these flourishing little limbs of thine.”

“No poetical speech have I, most mighty Sovereign,” answered the dwarf; “but, in plain and most loyal prose, I do accuse, before this company, the once noble Duke of Buckingham of high treason!”

“Well spoken, and manfully — Get on, man,” said the King, who never doubted that this was the introduction to something burlesque or witty, not conceiving that the charge was made in solemn earnest.

A great laugh took place among such courtiers as heard, and among many who did not hear, what was uttered by the dwarf; the former entertained by the extravagant emphasis and gesticulation of the little champion, and the others laughing not the less loud that they laughed for example’s sake, and upon trust.

“What matter is there for all this mirth?” said he, very indignantly — “Is it fit subject for laughing, that I, Geoffrey Hudson, Knight, do, before King and nobles, impeach George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, of high treason?”

“No subject of mirth, certainly,” said Charles, composing his features; “but great matter of wonder. — Come, cease this mouthing, and prancing, and mummery. — If there be a jest, come out with it, man; and if not, even get thee to the beaffet, and drink a cup of wine to refresh thee after thy close lodging.”

“I tell you, my liege,” said Hudson impatiently, yet in a whisper, intended only to be audible by the King, “that if you spend overmuch time in trifling, you will be convinced by dire experience of Buckingham’s treason. I tell you — I asseverate to your Majesty — two hundred armed fanatics will be here within the hour, to surprise the guards.”

“Stand back, ladies,” said the King, “or you may hear more than you will care to listen to. My Lord of Buckingham’s jests are not always, you know, quite fitted for female ears; besides, we want a few words in private with our little friend. You, my Lord of Ormond — you, Arlington” (and he named one or two others), “may remain with us.”

The gay crowd bore back, and dispersed through the apartment — the men to conjecture what the end of this mummery, as they supposed it, was likely to prove; and what jest, as Sedley said, the bass-fiddle had been brought to bed of — and the ladies to admire and criticise the antique dress, and richly embroidered ruff and hood of the Countess of Derby, to whom the Queen was showing particular attention.

“And now, in the name of Heaven, and amongst friends,” said the King to the dwarf, “what means all this?”

“Treason, my lord the King! — Treason to his Majesty of England! — When I was chambered in yonder instrument, my lord, the High-Dutch fellows who bore me, carried me into a certain chapel, to see, as they said to each other, that all was ready. Sire, I went where bass-fiddle never went before, even into a conventicle of Fifth-Monarchists; and when they brought me away, the preacher was concluding his sermon, and was within a ‘Now to apply’ of setting off like the bell-wether at the head of his flock, to surprise your Majesty in your royal Court! I heard him through the sound-holes of my instrument, when the fellow set me down for a moment to profit by this precious doctrine.”

“It would be singular,” said Lord Arlington, “were there some reality at the bottom of this buffoonery; for we know these wild men have been consulting together today, and five conventicles have held a solemn fast.”

“Nay,” said the King, “if that be the case, they are certainly determined on some villainy.”

“Might I advise,” said the Duke of Ormond, “I would summon the Duke of Buckingham to this presence. His connections with the fanatics are well known, though he affects to conceal them.”

“You would not, my lord, do his Grace the injustice to treat him as a criminal on such a charge as this?” said the King. “However,” he added, after a moment’s consideration, “Buckingham is accessible to every sort of temptation, from the flightiness of his genius. I should not be surprised if he nourished hopes of an aspiring kind — I think we had some proof of it lately. — Hark ye, Chiffinch; go to him instantly, and bring him here on any fair pretext thou canst devise. I would fain save him from what lawyers call an overt act. The Court would be dull as a dead horse were Buckingham to miscarry.”

“Will not your Majesty order the Horse Guards to turn out?” said young Selby, who was present, and an officer.

“No, Selby,” said the King, “I like not horse-play. But let them be prepared; and let the High Bailiff collect his civil officers, and command the Sheriffs to summon their worshipful attendants from javelin-men to hangmen, and have them in readiness, in case of any sudden tumult — double the sentinels on the doors of the palace — and see no strangers get in.”

“Or out,” said the Duke of Ormond. “Where are the foreign fellows who brought in the dwarf?”

They were sought for, but they were not to be found. They had retreated, leaving their instruments — a circumstance which seemed to bear hard on the Duke of Buckingham, their patron.

Hasty preparations were made to provide resistance to any effort of despair which the supposed conspirators might be driven to; and in the meanwhile, the King, withdrawing with Arlington, Ormond, and a few other counsellors, into the cabinet where the Countess of Derby had had her audience, resumed the examination of the little discoverer. His declaration, though singular, was quite coherent; the strain of romance intermingled with it, being in fact a part of his character, which often gained him the fate of being laughed at, when he would otherwise have been pitied, or even esteemed.

He commenced with a flourish about his sufferings for the Plot, which the impatience of Ormond would have cut short, had not the King reminded his Grace, that a top, when it is not flogged, must needs go down of itself at the end of a definite time, while the application of the whip may keep it up for hours.

Geoffrey Hudson was, therefore, allowed to exhaust himself on the subject of his prison-house, which he informed the King was not without a beam of light — an emanation of loveliness — a mortal angel — quick of step and beautiful of eye, who had more than once visited his confinement with words of cheering and comfort.

“By my faith,” said the King, “they fare better in Newgate than I was aware of. Who would have thought of the little gentleman being solaced with female society in such a place?”

“I pray your Majesty,” said the dwarf, after the manner of a solemn protest, “to understand nothing amiss. My devotion to this fair creature is rather like what we poor Catholics pay to the blessed saints, than mixed with any grosser quality. Indeed, she seems rather a sylphid of the Rosicrucian system, than aught more carnal; being slighter, lighter, and less than the females of common life, who have something of that coarseness of make which is doubtless derived from the sinful and gigantic race of the antediluvians.”

“Well, say on, man,” quoth Charles. “Didst thou not discover this sylph to be a mere mortal wench after all?”

“Who? — I, my liege? — Oh, fie!”

“Nay, little gentleman, do not be so particularly scandalised,” said the King; “I promise you I suspect you of no audacity of gallantry.”

“Time wears fast,” said the Duke of Ormond impatiently, and looking at his watch. “Chiffinch hath been gone ten minutes, and ten minutes will bring him back.”

“True,” said Charles gravely. “Come to the point, Hudson; and tell us what this female has to do with your coming hither in this extraordinary manner.”

“Everything, my lord,” said little Hudson. “I saw her twice during my confinement in Newgate, and, in my thought, she is the very angel who guards my life and welfare; for, after my acquittal, as I walked towards the city with two tall gentlemen, who had been in trouble along with me, and just while we stood to our defence against a rascally mob, and just as I had taken possession of an elevated situation, to have some vantage against the great odds of numbers, I heard a heavenly voice sound, as it were, from a window behind me, counselling me to take refuge in a certain house; to which measure I readily persuaded my gallant friends the Peverils, who have always shown themselves willing to be counselled by me.”

“Showing therein their wisdom at once and modesty,” said the King. “But what chanced next? Be brief — be like thyself, man.”

“For a time, sire,” said the dwarf, “it seemed as if I were not the principal object of attention. First, the younger Peveril was withdrawn from us by a gentleman of venerable appearance, though something smacking of a Puritan, having boots of neat’s leather, and wearing his weapon without a sword-knot. When Master Julian returned, he informed us, for the first time, that we were in the power of a body of armed fanatics who were, as the poet says, prompt for direful act. And your Majesty will remark, that both father and son were in some measure desperate, and disregardful from that moment of the assurances which I gave them, that the star which I was bound to worship, would, in her own time, shine forth in signal of our safety. May it please your Majesty, in answer to my hilarious exhortations to confidence, the father did but say tush, and the son pshaw, which showed how men’s prudence and manners are disturbed by affliction. Nevertheless, these two gentlemen, the Peverils, forming a strong opinion of the necessity there was to break forth, were it only to convey a knowledge of these dangerous passages to your Majesty, commenced an assault on the door of the apartment, I also assisting with the strength which Heaven hath given, and some threescore years have left me. We could not, as it unhappily proved, manage our attempt so silently, but that our guards overheard us, and, entering in numbers, separated us from each other, and compelled my companions, at point of pike and poniard, to go to some other and more distant apartment, thus separating our fair society. I was again enclosed in the now solitary chamber, and I will own that I felt a certain depression of soul. But when bale is at highest, as the poet singeth, boot is at nighest, for a door of hope was suddenly opened ——”

“In the name of God, my liege,” said the Duke of Ormond, “let this poor creature’s story be translated into the language of common sense by some of the scribblers of romances about Court, and we may be able to make meaning of it.”

Geoffrey Hudson looked with a frowning countenance of reproof upon the impatient old Irish nobleman, and said, with a very dignified air, “That one Duke upon a poor gentleman’s hand was enough at a time, and that, but for his present engagement and dependency with the Duke of Buckingham, he would have endured no such terms from the Duke of Ormond.”

“Abate your valour, and diminish your choler, at our request, most puissant Sir Geoffrey Hudson,” said the King; “and forgive the Duke of Ormond for my sake; but at all events go on with your story.”

Geoffrey Hudson laid his hand on his bosom, and bowed in proud and dignified submission to his Sovereign; then waved his forgiveness gracefully to Ormond, accompanied with a horrible grin, which he designed for a smile of gracious forgiveness and conciliation. “Under the Duke’s favour, then,” he proceeded, “when I said a door of hope was opened to me, I meant a door behind the tapestry, from whence issued that fair vision — yet not so fair as lustrously dark, like the beauty of a continental night, where the cloudless azure sky shrouds us in a veil more lovely than that of day! — but I note your Majesty’s impatience; — enough. I followed my beautiful guide into an apartment, where there lay, strangely intermingled, warlike arms and musical instruments. Amongst these I saw my own late place of temporary obscurity — a violoncello. To my astonishment, she turned around the instrument, and opening it behind the pressure of a spring, showed that it was filled with pistols, daggers, and ammunition made up in bandoleers. ‘These,’ she said, ‘are this night destined to surprise the Court of the unwary Charles’— your Majesty must pardon my using her own words; ‘but if thou darest go in their stead, thou mayst be the saviour of king and kingdoms; if thou art afraid, keep secret, I will myself try the adventure.’ Now may Heaven forbid, that Geoffrey Hudson were craven enough, said I, to let thee run such a risk! You know not — you cannot know, what belongs to such ambuscades and concealments — I am accustomed to them — have lurked in the pocket of a giant, and have formed the contents of a pasty. ‘Get in then,’ she said, ‘and lose no time.’ Nevertheless, while I prepared to obey, I will not deny that some cold apprehensions came over my hot valour, and I confessed to her, if it might be so, I would rather find my way to the palace on my own feet. But she would not listen to me, saying hastily, ‘I would be intercepted, or refused admittance, and that I must embrace the means she offered me of introduction into the presence, and when there, tell the King to be on his guard — little more is necessary; for once the scheme is known, it becomes desperate.’ Rashly and boldly, I bid adieu to the daylight which was then fading away. She withdrew the contents of the instrument destined for my concealment, and having put them behind the chimney-board, introduced me in their room. As she clasped me in, I implored her to warn the men who were to be entrusted with me, to take heed and keep the neck of the violoncello uppermost; but ere I had completed my request, I found I was left alone, and in darkness, Presently, two or three fellows entered, whom, by their language, which I in some sort understood, I perceived to be Germans, and under the influence of the Duke of Buckingham. I heard them receive from the leader a charge how they were to deport themselves, when they should assume the concealed arms — and — for I will do the Duke no wrong — I understood their orders were precise, not only to spare the person of the King, but also those of the courtiers, and to protect all who might be in the presence against an irruption of the fanatics. In other respects, they had charge to disarm the Gentlemen-pensioners in the guard-room, and, in fine, to obtain the command of the Court.”

The King looked disconcerted and thoughtful at this communication, and bade Lord Arlington see that Selby quietly made search into the contents of the other cases which had been brought as containing musical instruments. He then signed to the dwarf to proceed in his story, asking him again and again, and very solemnly, whether he was sure that he heard the Duke’s name mentioned, as commanding or approving this action.

The dwarf answered in the affirmative.

“This,” said the King, “is carrying the frolic somewhat far.”

The dwarf proceeded to state, that he was carried after his metamorphosis into the chapel, where he heard the preacher seemingly about the close of his harangue, the tenor of which he also mentioned. Words, he said, could not express the agony which he felt when he found that his bearer, in placing the instrument in a corner, was about to invert its position, in which case, he said, human frailty might have proved too great for love, for loyalty, for true obedience, nay, for the fear of death, which was like to ensue on discovery; and he concluded, that he greatly doubted he could not have stood on his head for many minutes without screaming aloud.

“I could not have blamed you,” said the King; “placed in such a posture in the royal oak, I must needs have roared myself. — Is this all you have to tell us of this strange conspiracy?” Sir Geoffrey Hudson replied in the affirmative, and the King presently subjoined — “Go, my little friend, your services shall not be forgotten. Since thou hast crept into the bowels of a fiddle for our service, we are bound, in duty and conscience, to find you a more roomy dwelling in future.”

“It was a violoncello, if your Majesty is pleased to remember,” said the little jealous man, “not a common fiddle; though, for your Majesty’s service, I would have crept even into a kit.”

“Whatever of that nature could have been performed by any subject of ours, thou wouldst have enacted in our behalf — of that we hold ourselves certain. Withdraw for a little; and hark ye, for the present, beware what you say about this matter. Let your appearance be considered — do you mark me — as a frolic of the Duke of Buckingham; and not a word of conspiracy.”

“Were it not better to put him under some restraint, sire?” said the Duke of Ormond, when Hudson had left the room.

“It is unnecessary,” said the King. “I remember the little wretch of old. Fortune, to make him the model of absurdity, has closed a most lofty soul within that little miserable carcass. For wielding his sword and keeping his word, he is a perfect Don Quixote in decimo-octavo. He shall be taken care of. — But, oddsfish, my lords, is not this freak of Buckingham too villainous and ungrateful?”

“He had not had the means of being so, had your Majesty,” said the Duke of Ormond, “been less lenient on other occasions.”

“My lord, my lord,” said Charles hastily —“your lordship is Buckingham’s known enemy — we will take other and more impartial counsel — Arlington, what think you of all this?”

“May it please your Majesty,” said Arlington, “I think the thing is absolutely impossible, unless the Duke has had some quarrel with your Majesty, of which we know nothing. His Grace is very flighty, doubtless, but this seems actual insanity.”

“Why, faith,” said the King, “some words passed betwixt us this morning — his Duchess it seems is dead — and to lose no time, his Grace had cast his eyes about for means of repairing the loss, and had the assurance to ask our consent to woo my niece Lady Anne.”

“Which your Majesty of course rejected?” said the statesman.

“And not without rebuking his assurance,” added the King.

“In private, sire, or before any witnesses?” said the Duke of Ormond.

“Before no one,” said the King — “excepting, indeed, little Chiffinch; and he, you know, is no one.”

Hinc illæ lachrymæ,” said Ormond. “I know his Grace well. While the rebuke of his aspiring petulance was a matter betwixt your Majesty and him, he might have let it pass by; but a check before a fellow from whom it was likely enough to travel through the Court, was a matter to be revenged.”

Here Selby came hastily from the other room, to say, that his Grace of Buckingham had just entered the presence-chamber.

The King rose. “Let a boat be in readiness, with a party of the yeomen,” said he. “It may be necessary to attach him of treason, and send him to the Tower.”

“Should not a Secretary of State’s warrant be prepared?” said Ormond.

“No, my Lord Duke,” said the King sharply. “I still hope that the necessity may be avoided.”

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