Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 47

High-reaching Buckingham grows circumspect.

RICHARD III.

Before giving the reader an account of the meeting betwixt Buckingham and his injured Sovereign, we may mention a trifling circumstance or two which took place betwixt his Grace and Chiffinch, in the short drive betwixt York Place and Whitehall.

In the outset, the Duke endeavoured to learn from the courtier the special cause of his being summoned so hastily to the Court. Chiffinch answered, cautiously, that he believed there were some gambols going forward, at which the King desired the Duke’s presence.

This did not quite satisfy Buckingham, for, conscious of his own rash purpose, he could not but apprehend discovery. After a moment’s silence, “Chiffinch,” he said abruptly, “did you mention to any one what the King said to me this morning touching the Lady Anne?”

“My Lord Duke,” said Chiffinch, hesitantly, “surely my duty to the King — my respect to your Grace ——”

“You mentioned it to no one, then?” said the Duke sternly.

“To no one,” replied Chiffinch faintly, for he was intimidated by the Duke’s increasing severity of manner.

“Ye lie, like a scoundrel!” said the Duke —“You told Christian!”

“Your Grace,” said Chiffinch —“your Grace — your Grace ought to remember that I told you Christian’s secret; that the Countess of Derby was come up.”

“And you think the one point of treachery may balance for the other? But no. I must have a better atonement. Be assured I will blow your brains out, ere you leave this carriage, unless you tell me the truth of this message from Court.”

As Chiffinch hesitated what reply to make, a man, who, by the blaze of the torches, then always borne, as well by the lackeys who hung behind the carriage, as by the footmen who ran by the side, might easily see who sat in the coach, approached, and sung in a deep manly voice, the burden of an old French song on the battle of Marignan, in which is imitated the German French of the defeated Swiss.

Tout est verlore

La tintelore,

Tout est verlore

Bei Got.”

“I am betrayed,” said the Duke, who instantly conceived that this chorus, expressing “all is lost,” was sung by one of his faithful agents, as a hint to him that their machinations were discovered.

He attempted to throw himself from the carriage, but Chiffinch held him with a firm, though respectful grasp. “Do not destroy yourself, my lord,” he said, in a tone of deep humility —“there are soldiers and officers of the peace around the carriage, to enforce your Grace’s coming to Whitehall, and to prevent your escape. To attempt it would be to confess guilt; and I advise you strongly against that — the King is your friend — be your own.”

The Duke, after a moment’s consideration, said sullenly, “I believe you are right. Why should I fly, when I am guilty of nothing but sending some fireworks to entertain the Court, instead of a concert of music?”

“And the dwarf, who came so unexpectedly out of the bass-viol ——”

“Was a masking device of my own, Chiffinch,” said the Duke, though the circumstance was then first known to him. “Chiffinch, you will bind me for ever, if you will permit me to have a minute’s conversation with Christian.”

“With Christian, my lord? — Where could you find him? — You are aware we must go straight to the Court.”

“True,” said the Duke, “but I think I cannot miss finding him; and you, Master Chiffinch, are no officer, and have no warrant either to detain me prisoner, or prevent my speaking to whom I please.”

Chiffinch replied, “My Lord Duke, your genius is so great, and your escapes so numerous, that it will be from no wish of my own if I am forced to hurt a man so skilful and so popular.”

“Nay, then, there is life in it yet,” said the Duke, and whistled; when, from beside the little cutler’s booth, with which the reader is acquainted, appeared, suddenly, Master Christian, and was in a moment at the side of the coach. “Ganz ist verloren,” said the Duke.

“I know it,” said Christian; “and all our godly friends are dispersed upon the news. Luckily the Colonel and these German rascals gave a hint. All is safe — You go to Court — Hark ye, I will follow.”

“You, Christian? that would be more friendly than wise.”

“Why, what is there against me?” said Christian. “I am innocent as the child unborn — so is your Grace. There is but one creature who can bear witness to our guilt; but I trust to bring her on the stage in our favour — besides, if I were not, I should presently be sent for.”

“The familiar of whom I have heard you speak, I warrant?”

“Hark in your ear again.”

“I understand,” said the Duke, “and will delay Master Chiffinch — for he, you must know, is my conductor — no longer. — Well, Chiffinch, let them drive on. — Vogue la Galère!” he exclaimed, as the carriage went onward; “I have sailed through worse perils than this yet.”

“It is not for me to judge,” said Chiffinch; “your Grace is a bold commander; and Christian hath the cunning of the devil for a pilot; but —— However, I remain your Grace’s poor friend, and will heartily rejoice in your extrication.”

“Give me a proof of your friendship,” said the Duke. “Tell me what you know of Christian’s familiar, as he calls her.”

“I believe it to be the same dancing wench who came with Empson to my house on the morning that Mistress Alice made her escape from us. But you have seen her, my lord?”

“I?” said the Duke; “when did I see her?”

“She was employed by Christian, I believe, to set his niece at liberty, when he found himself obliged to gratify his fanatical brother-inlaw, by restoring his child; besides being prompted by a private desire, as I think, of bantering your Grace.”

“Umph! I suspected so much. I will repay it,” said the Duke. “But first to get out of this dilemma. — That little Numidian witch, then, was his familiar; and she joined in the plot to tantalise me? — But here we reach Whitehall. — Now, Chiffinch, be no worse than thy word, and — now, Buckingham, be thyself!”

But ere we follow Buckingham into the presence, where he had so difficult a part to sustain, it may not be amiss to follow Christian after his brief conversation with him. On re-entering the house, which he did by a circuitous passage, leading from a distant alley, and through several courts, Christian hastened to a low matted apartment, in which Bridgenorth sat alone, reading the Bible by the light of a small brazen lamp, with the utmost serenity of countenance.

“Have you dismissed the Peverils?” said Christian hastily.

“I have,” said the Major.

“And upon what pledge — that they will not carry information against you to Whitehall?”

“They gave me their promise voluntarily, when I showed them our armed friends were dismissed. To-morrow, I believe, it is their purpose to lodge informations.”

“And why not to-night, I pray you?” said Christian.

“Because they allow us that time for escape.”

“Why, then, do you not avail yourself of it? Wherefore are you here?” said Christian.

“Nay, rather, why do you not fly?” said Bridgenorth. “Of a surety, you are as deeply engaged as I.”

“Brother Bridgenorth, I am the fox, who knows a hundred modes of deceiving the hounds; you are the deer, whose sole resource is in hasty flight. Therefore lose no time — begone to the country — or rather, Zedekiah Fish’s vessel, the Good Hope, lies in the river, bound for Massachusetts — take the wings of the morning, and begone — she can fall down to Gravesend with the tide.”

“And leave to thee, brother Christian,” said Bridgenorth, “the charge of my fortune and my daughter? No, brother; my opinion of your good faith must be re-established ere I again trust thee.”

“Go thy ways, then, for a suspicious fool,” said Christian, suppressing his strong desire to use language more offensive; “or rather stay where thou art, and take thy chance of the gallows!”

“It is appointed to all men to die once,” said Bridgenorth; “my life hath been a living death. My fairest boughs have been stripped by the axe of the forester — that which survives must, if it shall blossom, be grafted elsewhere, and at a distance from my aged trunk. The sooner, then, the root feels the axe, the stroke is more welcome. I had been pleased, indeed, had I been called to bringing yonder licentious Court to a purer character, and relieving the yoke of the suffering people of God. That youth too — son to that precious woman, to whom I owe the last tie that feebly links my wearied spirit to humanity — could I have travailed with him in the good cause! — But that, with all my other hopes is broken for ever; and since I am not worthy to be an instrument in so great a work, I have little desire to abide longer in this vale of sorrow.”

“Farewell, then, desponding fool!” said Christian, unable, with all his calmness, any longer to suppress his contempt for the resigned and hopeless predestinarian. “That fate should have clogged me with such confederates!” he muttered, as he left the apartment —“this bigoted fool is now nearly irreclaimable — I must to Zarah; for she, or no one, must carry us through these straits. If I can but soothe her sullen temper, and excite her vanity to action — betwixt her address, the King’s partiality for the Duke, Buckingham’s matchless effrontery, and my own hand upon the helm, we may yet weather the tempest that darkens around us. But what we do must be hastily done.”

In another apartment he found the person he sought — the same who visited the Duke of Buckingham’s harem, and, having relieved Alice Bridgenorth from her confinement there, had occupied her place as has been already narrated, or rather intimated. She was now much more plainly attired than when she had tantalised the Duke with her presence; but her dress had still something of the Oriental character, which corresponded with the dark complexion and quick eye of the wearer. She had the kerchief at her eyes as Christian entered the apartment, but suddenly withdrew it, and, flashing on him a glance of scorn and indignation, asked him what he meant by intruding where his company was alike unsought for and undesired.

“A proper question,” said Christian, “from a slave to her master!”

“Rather, say, a proper question, and of all questions the most proper, from a mistress to her slave! Know you not, that from the hour in which you discovered your ineffable baseness, you have made me mistress of your lot? While you seemed but a demon of vengeance, you commanded terror, and to good purpose; but such a foul fiend as thou hast of late shown thyself — such a very worthless, base trickster of the devil — such a sordid grovelling imp of perdition, can gain nothing but scorn from a soul like mine.”

“Gallantly mouthed,” said Christian, “and with good emphasis.”

“Yes,” answered Zarah, “I can speak — sometimes — I can also be mute; and that no one knows better than thou.”

“Thou art a spoiled child, Zarah, and dost but abuse the indulgence I entertain for your freakish humour,” replied Christian; “thy wits have been disturbed since ever you landed in England, and all for the sake of one who cares for thee no more than for the most worthless object who walks the streets, amongst whom he left you to engage in a brawl for one he loved better.”

“It is no matter,” said Zarah, obviously repressing very bitter emotion; “it signifies not that he loves another better; there is none — no, none — that ever did, or can, love him so well.”

“I pity you, Zarah!” said Christian, with some scorn.

“I deserve your pity,” she replied, “were your pity worth my accepting. Whom have I to thank for my wretchedness but you? — You bred me up in thirst of vengeance, ere I knew that good and evil were anything better than names; — to gain your applause, and to gratify the vanity you had excited, I have for years undergone a penance, from which a thousand would have shrunk.”

“A thousand, Zarah!” answered Christian; “ay, a hundred thousand, and a million to boot; the creature is not on earth, being mere mortal woman, that would have undergone the thirtieth part of thy self-denial.”

“I believe it,” said Zarah, drawing up her slight but elegant figure; “I believe it — I have gone through a trial that few indeed could have sustained. I have renounced the dear intercourse of my kind; compelled my tongue only to utter, like that of a spy, the knowledge which my ear had only collected as a base eavesdropper. This I have done for years — for years — and all for the sake of your private applause — and the hope of vengeance on a woman, who, if she did ill in murdering my father, has been bitterly repaid by nourishing a serpent in her bosom, that had the tooth, but not the deafened ear, of the adder.”

“Well — well — well,” reiterated Christian; “and had you not your reward in my approbation — in the consequences of your own unequalled dexterity — by which, superior to anything of thy sex that history has ever known, you endured what woman never before endured, insolence without notice, admiration without answer, and sarcasm without reply?”

“Not without reply!” said Zarah fiercely. “Gave not Nature to my feelings a course of expression more impressive than words? and did not those tremble at my shrieks, who would have little minded my entreaties or my complaints? And my proud lady, who sauced her charities with the taunts she thought I heard not — she was justly paid by the passing her dearest and most secret concerns into the hands of her mortal enemy; and the vain Earl — yet he was a thing as insignificant as the plume that nodded in his cap; — and the maidens and ladies who taunted me — I had, or can easily have, my revenge upon them. But there is one,” she added, looking upward, “who never taunted me; one whose generous feelings could treat the poor dumb girl even as his sister; who never spoke word of her but was to excuse or defend — and you tell me I must not love him, and that it is madness to love him! — I will be mad then, for I will love till the latest breath of my life!”

“Think but an instant, silly girl — silly but in one respect, since in all others thou mayest brave the world of women. Think what I have proposed to thee, for the loss of this hopeless affection, a career so brilliant! — Think only that it rests with thyself to be the wife — the wedded wife — of the princely Buckingham! With my talents — with thy wit and beauty — with his passionate love of these attributes — a short space might rank you among England’s princesses. — Be but guided by me — he is now at deadly pass — needs every assistance to retrieve his fortunes — above all, that which we alone can render him. Put yourself under my conduct, and not fate itself shall prevent your wearing a Duchess’s coronet.”

“A coronet of thistle-down, entwined with thistle-leaves,” said Zarah. —“I know not a slighter thing than your Buckingham! I saw him at your request — saw him when, as a man, he should have shown himself generous and noble — I stood the proof at your desire, for I laugh at those dangers from which the poor blushing wailers of my sex shrink and withdraw themselves. What did I find him? — a poor wavering voluptuary — his nearest attempt to passion like the fire on a wretched stubble-field, that may singe, indeed, or smoke, but can neither warm nor devour. Christian! were his coronet at my feet this moment, I would sooner take up a crown of gilded gingerbread, than extend my hand to raise it.”

“You are mad, Zarah — with all your taste and talent, you are utterly mad! But let Buckingham pass — Do you owe me nothing on this emergency? — Nothing to one who rescued you from the cruelty of your owner, the posture-master, to place you in ease and affluence?”

“Christian,” she replied, “I owe you much. Had I not felt I did so, I would, as I have been often tempted to do, have denounced thee to the fierce Countess, who would have gibbeted you on her feudal walls of Castle Rushin, and bid your family seek redress from the eagles, that would long since have thatched their nest with your hair, and fed their young ospreys with your flesh.”

“I am truly glad you have had so much forbearance for me,” answered Christian.

“I have it, in truth and in sincerity,” replied Zarah —“Not for your benefits to me — such as they were, they were every one interested, and conferred from the most selfish considerations. I have overpaid them a thousand times by the devotion to your will, which I have displayed at the greatest personal risk. But till of late I respected your powers of mind — your inimitable command of passion — the force of intellect which I have ever seen you exercise over all others, from the bigot Bridgenorth to the debauched Buckingham — in that, indeed, I have recognised my master.”

“And those powers,” said Christian, “are unlimited as ever; and with thy assistance, thou shalt see the strongest meshes that the laws of civil society ever wove to limit the natural dignity of man, broke asunder like a spider’s web.”

She paused and answered, “While a noble motive fired thee — ay, a noble motive, though irregular — for I was born to gaze on the sun which the pale daughters of Europe shrink from — I could serve thee — I could have followed, while revenge or ambition had guided thee — but love of wealth, and by what means acquired! — What sympathy can I hold with that? — Wouldst thou not have pandered to the lust of the King, though the object was thine own orphan niece? — You smile? — Smile again when I ask you whether you meant not my own prostitution, when you charged me to remain in the house of that wretched Buckingham? — Smile at that question, and by Heaven, I stab you to the heart!” And she thrust her hand into her bosom, and partly showed the hilt of a small poniard.

“And if I smile,” said Christian, “it is but in scorn of so odious an accusation. Girl, I will not tell thee the reason, but there exists not on earth the living thing over whose safety and honour I would keep watch as over thine. Buckingham’s wife, indeed, I wished thee; and through thy own beauty and thy wit, I doubted not to bring the match to pass.”

“Vain flatterer,” said Zarah, yet seeming soothed even by the flattery which she scoffed at, “you would persuade me that it was honourable love which you expected the Duke was to have offered me. How durst you urge a gross a deception, to which time, place, and circumstance gave the lie? — How dare you now again mention it, when you well know, that at the time you mention, the Duchess was still in life?”

“In life, but on her deathbed,” said Christian; “and for time, place, and circumstance, had your virtue, my Zarah, depended on these, how couldst thou have been the creature thou art? I knew thee all-sufficient to bid him defiance — else — for thou art dearer to me than thou thinkest — I had not risked thee to win the Duke of Buckingham; ay, and the kingdom of England to boot. So now, wilt thou be ruled and go on with me?”

Zarah, or Fenella, for our readers must have been long aware of the identity of these two personages, cast down her eyes, and was silent for a long time. “Christian,” she said at last, in a solemn voice, “if my ideas of right and of wrong be wild and incoherent, I owe it, first, to the wild fever which my native sun communicated to my veins; next, to my childhood, trained amidst the shifts, tricks, and feats of jugglers and mountebanks; and then, to a youth of fraud and deception, through the course thou didst prescribe me, in which I might, indeed, hear everything, but communicate with no one. The last cause of my wild errors, if such they are, originates, O Christian, with you alone; by whose intrigues I was placed with yonder lady, and who taught me, that to revenge my father’s death, was my first great duty on earth, and that I was bound by nature to hate and injure her by whom I was fed and fostered, though as she would have fed and caressed a dog, or any other mute animal. I also think — for I will deal fairly with you — that you had not so easily detected your niece, in the child whose surprising agility was making yonder brutal mountebank’s fortune; nor so readily induced him to part with his bond-slave, had you not, for your own purposes, placed me under his charge, and reserved the privilege of claiming me when you pleased. I could not, under any other tuition, have identified myself with the personage of a mute, which it has been your desire that I should perform through life.”

“You do me injustice, Zarah,” said Christian —“I found you capable of the avenging of your father’s death — I consecrated you to it, as I consecrated my own life and hopes; and you held the duty sacred, till these mad feeling towards a youth who loves your cousin ——”

“Who — loves — my — cousin,” repeated Zarah (for we will continue to call her by her real name) slowly, and as if the words dropped unconsciously from her lips. “Well — be it so! — Man of many wiles, I will follow thy course for a little, a very little farther; but take heed — tease me not with remonstrances against the treasure of my secret thoughts — I mean my most hopeless affection to Julian Peveril — and bring me not as an assistant to any snare which you may design to cast around him. You and your Duke shall rue the hour most bitterly, in which you provoke me. You may suppose you have me in your power; but remember, the snakes of my burning climate are never so fatal as when you grasp them.”

“I care not for these Peverils,” said Christian —“I care not for their fate a poor straw, unless where it bears on that of the destined woman, whose hands are red in your father’s blood. Believe me, I can divide her fate and theirs. I will explain to you how. And for the Duke, he may pass among men of the town for wit, and among soldiers for valour, among courtiers for manners and for form; and why, with his high rank and immense fortune, you should throw away an opportunity, which, as I could now improve it ——”

“Speak not of it,” said Zarah, “if thou wouldst have our truce — remember it is no peace — if, I say, thou wouldst have our truce grow to be an hour old!”

“This, then,” said Christian, with a last effort to work upon the vanity of this singular being, “is she who pretended such superiority to human passion, that she could walk indifferently and unmoved through the halls of the prosperous, and the prison cells of the captive, unknowing and unknown, sympathising neither with the pleasures of the one, nor the woes of the other, but advancing with sure, though silent steps, her own plans, in despite and regardless of either!”

“My own plans!” said Zarah —"Thy plans, Christian — thy plans of extorting from the surprised prisoners, means whereby to convict them — thine own plans, formed with those more powerful than thyself, to sound men’s secrets, and, by using them as a matter of accusation, to keep up the great delusion of the nation.”

“Such access was indeed given you as my agent,” said Christian, “and for advancing a great national change. But how did you use it? — to advance your insane passion.”

“Insane!” said Zarah —“Had he been less than insane whom I addressed, he and I had ere now been far from the toils which you have pitched for us both. I had means prepared for everything; and ere this, the shores of Britain had been lost to our sight for ever.”

“The dwarf, too,” said Christian —“Was it worthy of you to delude that poor creature with flattering visions — lull him asleep with drugs! Was that my doing?”

“He was my destined tool,” said Zarah haughtily. “I remembered your lessons too well not to use him as such. Yet scorn him not too much. I tell you, that yon very miserable dwarf, whom I made my sport in the prison — yon wretched abortion of nature, I would select for a husband, ere I would marry your Buckingham; — the vain and imbecile pigmy has yet the warm heart and noble feelings, that a man should hold his highest honour.”

“In God’s name, then, take your own way,” said Christian; “and, for my sake, let never man hereafter limit a woman in the use of her tongue, since he must make it amply up to her, in allowing her the privilege of her own will. Who would have thought it? But the colt has slipped the bridle, and I must needs follow, since I cannot guide her.”

Our narrative returns to the Court of King Charles at Whitehall.

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