There were men who took a different view of the Duke's purpose in permitting his mansion to be thus surrounded, and his demesne occupied by modern buildings which were incomplete, and ancient which were but half demolished. They alleged, that, engaged as he was in so many mysteries of love and of politics, and having the character of the most daring and dangerous intriguer of his time, his Grace found it convenient to surround himself with this ruinous arena, into which officers of justice could not penetrate without some difficulty and hazard; and which might afford, upon occasion, a safe and secret shelter for such tools as were fit for desperate enterprises, and a private and unobserved mode of access to those whom he might have any special reason for receiving in secret.
Leaving Peveril in the Tower, we must once more convey our readers to the Levee of the Duke, who, on the morning of Julian's transference to that fortress, thus addressed his minister-in-chief, and principal attendant: "I have been so pleased with your conduct in this matter, Jerningham, that if Old Nick were to arise in our presence, and offer me his best imp as a familiar in thy room, I would hold it but a poor compliment."
"A legion of imps," said Jerningham, bowing, "could not have been more busy than I in your Grace's service; but if your Grace will permit me to say so, your whole plan was well-nigh marred by your not returning home till last night, or rather this morning."
"And why, I pray you, sage Master Jerningham," said his Grace, "should I have returned home an instant sooner than my pleasure and convenience served?"
"Nay, my Lord Duke," replied the attendant, "I know not; only, when you sent us word by Empson, in Chiffinch's apartment, to command us to make sure of the girl at any rate, and at all risks, you said you would be here so soon as you could get freed of the King."
"Freed of the King, you rascal! What sort of phrase is that?" demanded the Duke.
"It was Empson who used it, my lord, as coming from your Grace."
"There is much very fit for my Grace to say, that misbecomes such mouths as Empson's or yours to repeat," answered the Duke haughtily, but instantly resumed his tone of familiarity, for his humour was as capricious as his pursuits. "But I know what thou wouldst have; first, your wisdom would know what became of me since thou hadst my commands at Chiffinch's; and next, your valour would fain sound another flourish of trumpets on thine own most artificial retreat, leaving thy comrade in the hands of the Philistines."
"May it please your Grace," said Jerningham, "I did but retreat for the preservation of the baggage."
"What! do you play at crambo with me?" said the Duke. "I would have you to know that the common parish fool should be whipt, were he to attempt to pass pun or quodlibet as a genuine jest, even amongst ticket-porters and hackney chairmen."
"And yet I have heard your Grace indulge in the jeu de mots," answered the attendant.
"Sirrah Jerningham," answered the patron, "discard they memory, or keep it under correction, else it will hamper thy rise in the world. Thou mayst perchance have seen me also have a fancy to play at trap-ball, or to kiss a serving wench, or to guzzle ale and eat toasted cheese in a porterly whimsy; but is it fitting thou shouldst remember such follies? No more on't.—Hark you; how came the long lubberly fool, Jenkins, being a master of the noble science of defence, to suffer himself to be run through the body so simply by a rustic swain like this same Peveril?"
"Please your Grace, this same Corydon is no such novice. I saw the onset; and, except in one hand, I never saw a sword managed with such life, grace, and facility."
"Ay, indeed?" said the Duke, taking his own sheathed rapier in his hand, "I could not have thought that. I am somewhat rusted, and have need of breathing. Peveril is a name of note. As well go to the Barns-elms, or behind Montagu House, with him as with another. His father a rumoured plotter, too. The public would have noted it in me as becoming a zealous Protestant. Needful I do something to maintain my good name in the city, to atone for non-attendance on prayer and preaching. But your Laertes is fast in the Fleet; and I suppose his blundering blockhead of an antagonist is dead or dying."
"Recovering, my lord, on the contrary," replied Jerningham; "the blade fortunately avoided his vitals."
"D—n his vitals!" answered the Duke. "Tell him to postpone his recovery, or I will put him to death in earnest."
"I will caution his surgeon," said Jerningham, "which will answer equally well."
"Do so; and tell him he had better be on his own deathbed as cure his patient till I send him notice.—That young fellow must be let loose again at no rate."
"There is little danger," said the attendant. "I hear some of the witnesses have got their net flung over him on account of some matters down in the north; and that he is to be translated to the Tower for that, and for some letters of the Countess of Derby, as rumour goes."
"To the Tower let him go, and get out as he can," replied the Duke; "and when you hear he is fast there, let the fencing fellow recover as fast as the surgeon and he can mutually settle it."
The Duke, having said this, took two or three turns in the apartment, and appeared to be in deep thought. His attendant waited the issue of his meditations with patience, being well aware that such moods, during which his mind was strongly directed in one point, were never of so long duration with his patron as to prove a severe burden to his own patience.
Accordingly, after the silence of seven or eight minutes, the Duke broke through it, taking from the toilette a large silk purse, which seemed full of gold. "Jerningham," he said, "thou art a faithful fellow, and it would be sin not to cherish thee. I beat the King at Mall on his bold defiance. The honour is enough for me; and thou, my boy, shalt have the winnings."
Jerningham pocketed the purse with due acknowledgements.
"Jerningham," his Grace continued, "I know you blame me for changing my plans too often; and on my soul I have heard you so learned on the subject, that I have become of your opinion, and have been vexed at myself for two or three hours together, for not sticking as constantly to one object, as doubtless I shall, when age (touching his forehead) shall make this same weathercock too rusty to turn with the changing breeze. But as yet, while I have spirit and action, let it whirl like the vane at the mast-head, which teaches the pilot how to steer his course; and when I shift mine, think I am bound to follow Fortune, and not to control her."
"I can understand nothing from all this, please your Grace," replied Jerningham, "save that you have been pleased to change some purposed measures, and think that you have profited by doing so."
"You shall judge yourself," replied the Duke. "I have seen the Duchess of Portsmouth.—You start. It is true, by Heaven! I have seen her, and from sworn enemies we have become sworn friends. The treaty between such high and mighty powers had some weighty articles; besides, I had a French negotiator to deal with; so that you will allow a few hours' absence was but a necessary interval to make up our matters of diplomacy."
"Your Grace astonishes me," said Jerningham. "Christian's plan of supplanting the great lady is then entirely abandoned? I thought you had but desired to have the fair successor here, in order to carry it on under your own management."
"I forgot what I meant at the time," said the Duke; "unless that I was resolved she should not jilt me as she did the good-natured man of royalty; and so I am still determined, since you put me in mind of the fair Dowsabelle. But I had a contrite note from the Duchess while we were at the Mall. I went to see her, and found her a perfect Niobe.—On my soul, in spite of red eyes and swelled features, and dishevelled hair, there are, after all, Jerningham, some women who do, as the poets say, look lovely in affliction. Out came the cause; and with such humility, such penitence, such throwing herself on my mercy (she the proudest devil, too, in the whole Court), that I must have had heart of steel to resist it all. In short, Chiffinch in a drunken fit had played the babbler, and let young Saville into our intrigue. Saville plays the rogue, and informs the Duchess by a messenger, who luckily came a little late into the market. She learned, too, being a very devil for intelligence, that there had been some jarring between the master and me about this new Phillis; and that I was most likely to catch the bird,—as any one may see who looks on us both. It must have been Empson who fluted all this into her Grace's ear; and thinking she saw how her ladyship and I could hunt in couples, she entreats me to break Christian's scheme, and keep the wench out of the King's sight, especially if she were such a rare piece of perfection as fame has reported her."
"And your Grace has promised her your hand to uphold the influence which you have so often threatened to ruin?" said Jerningham.
"Ay, Jerningham; my turn was as much served when she seemed to own herself in my power, and cry me mercy.—And observe, it is all one to me by which ladder I climb into the King's cabinet. That of Portsmouth is ready fixed—better ascend by it than fling it down to put up another—I hate all unnecessary trouble."
"And Christian?" said Jerningham.
"May go to the devil for a self-conceited ass. One pleasure of this twist of intrigue is, to revenge me of that villain, who thought himself so essential, that, by Heaven! he forced himself on my privacy, and lectured me like a schoolboy. Hang the cold-blooded hypocritical vermin! If he mutters, I will have his nose slit as wide as Coventry's.[*]—Hark ye, is the Colonel come?"
"I expect him every moment, your Grace."
[*] The ill-usage of Sir John Coventry by some of the Life Guardsmen, in revenge of something said in Parliament concerning the King's theatrical amours, gave rise to what was called Coventry's Act, against cutting and maiming the person.
"Send him up when he arrives," said the Duke.——"Why do you stand looking at me? What would you have?"
"Your Grace's direction respecting the young lady," said Jerningham.
"Odd zooks," said the Duke, "I had totally forgotten her.—Is she very tearful?—Exceedingly afflicted?"
"She does not take on so violently as I have seen some do," said Jerningham; "but for a strong, firm, concentrated indignation, I have seen none to match her."
"Well, we will permit her to cool. I will not face the affliction of a second fair one immediately. I am tired of snivelling, and swelled eyes, and blubbered cheeks for some time; and, moreover, must husband my powers of consolation. Begone, and send the Colonel."
"Will your Grace permit me one other question?" demanded his confidant.
"Ask what thou wilt, Jerningham, and then begone."
"Your Grace has determined to give up Christian," said the attendant. "May I ask what becomes of the kingdom of Man?"
"Forgotten, as I have a Christian soul!" said the Duke; "as much forgotten as if I had never nourished that scheme of royal ambition.—D—n it, we must knit up the ravelled skein of that intrigue.—Yet it is but a miserable rock, not worth the trouble I have been bestowing on it; and for a kingdom—it has a sound indeed; but, in reality, I might as well stick a cock-chicken's feather into my hat, and call it a plume. Besides, now I think upon it, it would scarce be honourable to sweep that petty royalty out of Derby's possession. I won a thousand pieces of the young Earl when he was last here, and suffered him to hang about me at Court. I question if the whole revenue of his kingdom is worth twice as much. Easily I could win it of him, were he here, with less trouble than it would cost me to carry on these troublesome intrigues of Christian's."
"If I may be permitted to say so, please your Grace," answered Jerningham, "although your Grace is perhaps somewhat liable to change your mind, no man in England can afford better reasons for doing so."
"I think so myself, Jerningham," said the Duke; "and it may be it is one reason for my changing. One likes to vindicate his own conduct, and to find out fine reasons for doing what one has a mind to.—And now, once again, begone. Or, hark ye—hark ye—I shall need some loose gold. You may leave the purse I gave you; and I will give you an order for as much, and two years' interest, on old Jacob Doublefee."
"As your Grace pleases," said Jerningham, his whole stock of complaisance scarcely able to conceal his mortification at exchanging for a distant order, of a kind which of late had not been very regularly honoured, the sunny contents of the purse which had actually been in his pocket. Secretly, but solemnly did he make a vow, that two years' interest alone should not be the compensation for this involuntary exchange in the form of his remuneration.
As the discontented dependant left the apartment, he met, at the head of the grand staircase, Christian himself, who, exercising the freedom of an ancient friend of the house, was making his way, unannounced, to the Duke's dressing apartment. Jerningham, conjecturing that his visit at this crisis would be anything but well timed, or well taken, endeavoured to avert his purpose by asserting that the Duke was indisposed, and in his bedchamber; and this he said so loud that his master might hear him, and, if he pleased, realise the apology which he offered in his name, by retreating into the bedroom as his last sanctuary, and drawing the bolt against intrusion.
But, far from adopting a stratagem to which he had had recourse on former occasions, in order to avoid those who came upon him, though at an appointed hour, and upon business of importance, Buckingham called, in a loud voice, from his dressing apartment, commanding his chamberlain instantly to introduce his good friend Master Christian, and censuring him for hesitating for an instant to do so.
"Now," thought Jerningham within himself, "if Christian knew the Duke as well as I do, he would sooner stand the leap of a lion, like the London 'prentice bold, than venture on my master at this moment, who is even now in a humour nearly as dangerous as the animal."
He then ushered Christian into his master's presence, taking care to post himself within earshot of the door.
"Speak not of niceness, when there's chance of wreck," The captain said, as ladies writhed their neck To see the dying dolphin flap the deck: "If we go down, on us these gentry sup; We dine upon them, if we haul them up. Wise men applaud us when we eat the eaters, As the devil laughs when keen folks cheat the cheaters." —THE SEA VOYAGE.
There was nothing in Duke's manner towards Christian which could have conveyed to that latter personage, experienced as he was in the worst possible ways of the world, that Buckingham would, at that particular moment, rather have seen the devil than himself; unless it was that Buckingham's reception of him, being rather extraordinarily courteous towards so old an acquaintance, might have excited some degree of suspicion.
Having escaped with some difficulty from the vague region of general compliments, which bears the same relation to that of business that Milton informs us the Limbo Patrum has to the sensible and material earth, Christian asked his Grace of Buckingham, with the same blunt plainness with which he usually veiled a very deep and artificial character, whether he had lately seen Chiffinch or his helpmate?
"Neither of them lately," answered Buckingham. "Have not you waited on them yourself?—I thought you would have been more anxious about the great scheme."
"I have called once and again," said Christian, "but I can gain no access to the sight of that important couple. I begin to be afraid they are paltering with me."
"Which, by the welkin and its stars, you would not be slow in avenging, Master Christian. I know your puritanical principles on that point well," said the Duke. "Revenge may be well said to be sweet, when so many grave and wise men are ready to exchange for it all the sugar-plums which pleasures offer to the poor sinful people of the world, besides the reversion of those which they talk of expecting in the way of post obit."
"You may jest, my lord," said Christian, "but still——"
"But still you will be revenged on Chiffinch, and his little commodious companion. And yet the task may be difficult—Chiffinch has so many ways of obliging his master—his little woman is such a convenient pretty sort of a screen, and has such winning little ways of her own, that, in faith, in your case, I would not meddle with them. What is this refusing their door, man? We all do it to our best friends now and then, as well as to duns and dull company."
"If your Grace is in a humour of rambling thus wildly in your talk," said Christian, "you know my old faculty of patience—I can wait till it be your pleasure to talk more seriously."
"Seriously!" said his Grace—"Wherefore not?—I only wait to know what your serious business may be."
"In a word, my lord, from Chiffinch's refusal to see me, and some vain calls which I have made at your Grace's mansion, I am afraid either that our plan has miscarried, or that there is some intention to exclude me from the farther conduct of the matter." Christian pronounced these words with considerable emphasis.
"That were folly as well as treachery," returned the Duke, "to exclude from the spoil the very engineer who conducted the attack. But hark ye, Christian—I am sorry to tell bad news without preparation; but as you insist on knowing the worst, and are not ashamed to suspect your best friends, out it must come—Your niece left Chiffinch's house the morning before yesterday."
Christian staggered, as if he had received a severe blow; and the blood ran to his face in such a current of passion, that the Duke concluded he was struck with an apoplexy. But, exerting the extraordinary command which he could maintain under the most trying circumstances, he said, with a voice, the composure of which had an unnatural contrast with the alteration of his countenance, "Am I to conclude, that in leaving the protection of the roof in which I placed her, the girl has found shelter under that of your Grace?"
"Sir," replied Buckingham gravely, "the supposition does my gallantry more credit than it deserves."
"Oh, my Lord Duke," answered Christian, "I am not one whom you can impose on by this species of courtly jargon. I know of what your Grace is capable; and that to gratify the caprice of a moment you would not hesitate to disappoint even the schemes at which you yourself have laboured most busily.—Suppose this jest played off. Take your laugh at those simple precautions by which I intended to protect your Grace's interest, as well as that of others. Let us know the extent of your frolic, and consider how far its consequences can be repaired."
"On my word, Christian," said the Duke, laughing, "you are the most obliging of uncles and of guardians. Let your niece pass through as many adventures as Boccaccio's bride of the King of Garba, you care not. Pure or soiled, she will still make the footstool of your fortune."
An Indian proverb says, that the dart of contempt will even pierce through the shell of the tortoise; but this is more peculiarly the case when conscience tells the subject of the sarcasm that it is justly merited. Christian, stung with Buckingham's reproach, at once assumed a haughty and threatening mien, totally inconsistent with that in which sufferance seemed to be as much his badge as that of Shylock. "You are a foul-mouthed and most unworthy lord," he said; "and as such I will proclaim you, unless you make reparation for the injury you have done me."
"And what," said the Duke of Buckingham, "shall I proclaim you, that can give you the least title to notice from such as I am? What name shall I bestow on the little transaction which has given rise to such unexpected misunderstanding?"
Christian was silent, either from rage or from mental conviction.
"Come, come, Christian," said the Duke, smiling, "we know too much of each other to make a quarrel safe. Hate each other we may—circumvent each other—it is the way of Courts—but proclaim!—a fico for the phrase."
"I used it not," said Christian, "till your Grace drove me to extremity. You know, my lord, I have fought both at home and abroad; and you should not rashly think that I will endure any indignity which blood can wipe away."
"On the contrary," said the Duke, with the same civil and sneering manner, "I can confidently assert, that the life of half a score of your friends would seem very light to you, Christian, if their existence interfered, I do not say with your character, as being a thing of much less consequence, but with any advantage which their existence might intercept. Fie upon it, man, we have known each other long. I never thought you a coward; and am only glad to see I could strike a few sparkles of heat out of your cold and constant disposition. I will now, if you please, tell you at once the fate of the young lady, in which I pray you to believe that I am truly interested."
"I hear you, my Lord Duke," said Christian. "The curl of your upper lip, and your eyebrow, does not escape me. Your Grace knows the French proverb, 'He laughs best who laughs last.' But I hear you."
"Thank Heaven you do," said Buckingham; "for your case requires haste, I promise you, and involves no laughing matter. Well then, hear a simple truth, on which (if it became me to offer any pledge for what I assert to be such) I could pledge life, fortune, and honour. It was the morning before last, when meeting with the King at Chiffinch's unexpectedly—in fact I had looked in to fool an hour away, and to learn how your scheme advanced—I saw a singular scene. Your niece terrified little Chiffinch—(the hen Chiffinch, I mean)—bid the King defiance to his teeth, and walked out of the presence triumphantly, under the guardianship of a young fellow of little mark or likelihood, excepting a tolerable personal presence, and the advantage of a most unconquerable impudence. Egad, I can hardly help laughing to think how the King and I were both baffled; for I will not deny, that I had tried to trifle for a moment with the fair Indamora. But, egad, the young fellow swooped her off from under our noses, like my own Drawcansir clearing off the banquet from the two Kings of Brentford. There was a dignity in the gallant's swaggering retreat which I must try to teach Mohun;[*] it will suit his part admirably."
[*] Then a noted actor.
"This is incomprehensible, my Lord Duke," said Christian, who by this time had recovered all his usual coolness; "you cannot expect me to believe this. Who dared be so bold as to carry of my niece in such a manner, and from so august a presence? And with whom, a stranger as he must have been, would she, wise and cautious as I know her, have consented to depart in such a manner?—My lord, I cannot believe this."
"One of your priests, my most devoted Christian," replied the Duke, "would only answer, Die, infidel, in thine unbelief; but I am only a poor worldling sinner, and I will add what mite of information I can. The young fellow's name, as I am given to understand, is Julian, son of Sir Geoffrey, whom men call Peveril of the Peak."
"Peveril of the Devil, who hath his cavern there!" said Christian warmly; "for I know that gallant, and believe him capable of anything bold and desperate. But how could he intrude himself into the royal presence? Either Hell aids him, or Heaven looks nearer into mortal dealings than I have yet believed. If so, may God forgive us, who deemed he thought not on us at all!"
"Amen, most Christian Christian," replied the Duke. "I am glad to see thou hast yet some touch of grace that leads thee to augur so. But Empson, the hen Chiffinch, and half-a-dozen more, saw the swain's entrance and departure. Please examine these witnesses with your own wisdom, if you think your time may not be better employed in tracing the fugitives. I believe he gained entrance as one of some dancing or masking party. Rowley, you know, is accessible to all who will come forth to make him sport. So in stole this termagant tearing gallant, like Samson among the Philistines, to pull down our fine scheme about our ears."
"I believe you, my lord," said Christian; "I cannot but believe you; and I forgive you, since it is your nature, for making sport of what is ruin and destruction. But which way did they take?"
"To Derbyshire, I should presume, to seek her father," said the Duke. "She spoke of going into paternal protection, instead of yours, Master Christian. Something had chanced at Chiffinch's, to give her cause to suspect that you had not altogether provided for his daughter in the manner which her father was likely to approve of."
"Now, Heaven be praised," said Christian, "she knows not her father is come to London! and they must be gone down either to Martindale Castle, or to Moultrassie Hall; in either case they are in my power—I must follow them close. I will return instantly to Derbyshire—I am undone if she meet her father until these errors are amended. Adieu, my lord. I forgive the part which I fear your Grace must have had in baulking our enterprise—it is no time for mutual reproaches."
"You speak truth, Master Christian," said the Duke, "and I wish you all success. Can I help you with men, or horses, or money?"
"I thank your Grace," said Christian, and hastily left the apartment.
The Duke watched his descending footsteps on the staircase, until they could be heard no longer, and then exclaimed to Jerningham, who entered, "Victoria! victoria! magna est veritas et praevalebit!—Had I told the villain a word of a lie, he is so familiar with all the regions of falsehood—his whole life has been such an absolute imposture, that I had stood detected in an instant; but I told him truth, and that was the only means of deceiving him. Victoria! my dear Jerningham, I am prouder of cheating Christian, than I should have been of circumventing a minister of state."
"Your Grace holds his wisdom very high," said the attendant.
"His cunning, at least, I do, which, in Court affairs, often takes the weather-gage of wisdom,—as in Yarmouth Roads a herring-buss will baffle a frigate. He shall not return to London if I can help it, until all these intrigues are over."
As his Grace spoke, the Colonel, after whom he had repeatedly made inquiry, was announced by a gentleman of his household. "He met not Christian, did he?" said the Duke hastily.
"No, my lord," returned the domestic, "the Colonel came by the old garden staircase."
"I judged as much," replied the Duke; "'tis an owl that will not take wing in daylight, when there is a thicket left to skulk under. Here he comes from threading lane, vault, and ruinous alley, very near ominous a creature as the fowl of ill augury which he resembles."
The Colonel, to whom no other appellation seemed to be given, than that which belonged to his military station, now entered the apartment. He was tall, strongly built, and past the middle period of life, and his countenance, but for the heavy cloud which dwelt upon it, might have been pronounced a handsome one. While the Duke spoke to him, either from humility or some other cause, his large serious eye was cast down upon the ground; but he raised it when he answered, with a keen look of earnest observation. His dress was very plain, and more allied to that of the Puritans than of the Cavaliers of the time; a shadowy black hat, like the Spanish sombrero; a large black mantle or cloak, and a long rapier, gave him something the air of a Castilione, to which his gravity and stiffness of demeanour added considerable strength.
"Well, Colonel," said the Duke, "we have been long strangers—how have matters gone with you?"
"As with other men of action in quiet times," answered the colonel, "or as a good war-caper[*] that lies high and dry in a muddy creek, till seams and planks are rent and riven."
[*] A privateer.
"Well, Colonel," said the Duke, "I have used your valour before now, and I may again; so that I shall speedily see that the vessel is careened, and undergoes a thorough repair."
"I conjecture, then," said the Colonel, "that your Grace has some voyage in hand?"
"No, but there is one which I want to interrupt," replied the Duke.
"Tis but another stave of the same tune.—Well, my lord, I listen," answered the stranger.
"Nay," said the Duke, "it is but a trifling matter after all.—You know Ned Christian?"
"Ay, surely, my lord," replied the Colonel, "we have been long known to each other."
"He is about to go down to Derbyshire to seek a certain niece of his, whom he will scarcely find there. Now, I trust to your tried friendship to interrupt his return to London. Go with him, or meet him, cajole him, or assail him, or do what thou wilt with him—only keep him from London for a fortnight at least, and then I care little how soon he comes."
"For by that time, I suppose," replied the Colonel, "any one may find the wench that thinks her worth the looking for."
"Thou mayst think her worth the looking for thyself, Colonel," rejoined the Duke; "I promise you she hath many a thousand stitched to her petticoat; such a wife would save thee from skeldering on the public."
"My lord, I sell my blood and my sword, but not my honour," answered the man sullenly; "if I marry, my bed may be a poor, but it shall be an honest one."
"Then thy wife will be the only honest matter in thy possession, Colonel—at least since I have known you," replied the Duke.
"Why, truly, your Grace may speak your pleasure on that point. It is chiefly your business which I have done of late; and if it were less strictly honest than I could have wished, the employer was to blame as well as the agent. But for marrying a cast-off mistress, the man (saving your Grace, to whom I am bound) lives not who dares propose it to me."
The Duke laughed loudly. "Why, this is mine Ancient Pistol's vein," he replied.
——"Shall I Sir Pandarus of Troy become, And by my side wear steel?—then Lucifer take all!"
"My breeding is too plain to understand ends of playhouse verse, my lord," said the Colonel suddenly. "Has your Grace no other service to command me?"
"None—only I am told you have published a Narrative concerning the Plot."
"What should ail me, my lord?" said the Colonel; "I hope I am a witness as competent as any that has yet appeared?"
"Truly, I think so to the full," said the Duke; "and it would have been hard, when so much profitable mischief was going, if so excellent a Protestant as yourself had not come in for a share."
"I came to take your Grace's commands, not to be the object of your wit," said the Colonel.
"Gallantly spoken, most resolute and most immaculate Colonel! As you are to be on full pay in my service for a month to come, I pray your acceptance of this purse, for contingents and equipments, and you shall have my instructions from time to time."
"They shall be punctually obeyed, my lord," said the Colonel; "I know the duty of a subaltern officer. I wish your Grace a good morning."
So saying, he pocketed the purse, without either affecting hesitation, or expressing gratitude, but merely as a part of a transaction in the regular way of business, and stalked from the apartment with the same sullen gravity which marked his entrance. "Now, there goes a scoundrel after my own heart," said the Duke; "a robber from his cradle, a murderer since he could hold a knife, a profound hypocrite in religion, and a worse and deeper hypocrite in honour,—would sell his soul to the devil to accomplish any villainy, and would cut the throat of his brother, did he dare to give the villainy he had so acted its right name.—Now, why stand you amazed, good Master Jerningham, and look on me as you would on some monster of Ind, when you had paid your shilling to see it, and were staring out your pennyworth with your eyes as round as a pair of spectacles? Wink, man, and save them, and then let thy tongue untie the mystery."
"On my word, my Lord Duke," answered Jerningham, "since I am compelled to speak, I can only say, that the longer I live with your Grace, I am the more at a loss to fathom your motives of action. Others lay plans, either to attain profit or pleasure by their execution; but your Grace's delight is to counteract your own schemes, when in the very act of performance; like a child—forgive me—that breaks its favourite toy, or a man who should set fire to the house he has half built."
"And why not, if he wanted to warm his hands at the blaze?" said the Duke.
"Ay, my lord," replied his dependent; "but what if, in doing so, he should burn his fingers?—My lord, it is one of your noblest qualities, that you will sometimes listen to the truth without taking offence; but were it otherwise, I could not, at this moment, help speaking out at every risk."
"Well, say on, I can bear it," said the Duke, throwing himself into an easy-chair, and using his toothpick with graceful indifference and equanimity; "I love to hear what such potsherds as thou art, think of the proceeding of us who are of the pure porcelain clay of the earth."
"In the name of Heaven, my lord, let me then ask you," said Jerningham, "what merit you claim, or what advantage you expect, from having embroiled everything in which you are concerned to a degree which equals the chaos of the blind old Roundhead's poem which your Grace is so fond of? To begin with the King. In spite of good-humour, he will be incensed at your repeated rivalry."
"His Majesty defied me to it."
"You have lost all hopes of the Isle, by quarrelling with Christian."
"I have ceased to care a farthing about it," replied the Duke.
"In Christian himself, whom you have insulted, and to whose family you intend dishonour, you have lost a sagacious, artful, and cool-headed instrument and adherent," said the monitor.
"Poor Jerningham!" answered the Duke; "Christian would say as much for thee, I doubt not, wert thou discarded tomorrow. It is the common error of such tools as you and he to think themselves indispensable. As to his family, what was never honourable cannot be dishonoured by any connection with my house."
"I say nothing of Chiffinch," said Jerningham, "offended as he will be when he learns why, and by whom, his scheme has been ruined, and the lady spirited away—He and his wife, I say nothing of them."
"You need not," said the Duke; "for were they even fit persons to speak to me about, the Duchess of Portsmouth has bargained for their disgrace."
"Then this bloodhound of a Colonel, as he calls himself, your Grace cannot even lay him on a quest which is to do you service, but you must do him such indignity at the same time, as he will not fail to remember, and be sure to fly at your throat should he ever have an opportunity of turning on you."
"I will take care he has none," said the Duke; "and yours, Jerningham, is a low-lived apprehension. Beat your spaniel heartily if you would have him under command. Ever let your agents see you know what they are, and prize them accordingly. A rogue, who must needs be treated as a man of honour, is apt to get above his work. Enough, therefore, of your advice and censure, Jerningham; we differ in every particular. Were we both engineers, you would spend your life in watching some old woman's wheel, which spins flax by the ounce; I must be in the midst of the most varied and counteracting machinery, regulating checks and counter-checks, balancing weights, proving springs and wheels, directing and controlling a hundred combined powers."
"And your fortune, in the meanwhile?" said Jerningham; "pardon this last hint, my lord."
"My fortune," said the Duke, "is too vast to be hurt by a petty wound; and I have, as thou knowest, a thousand salves in store for the scratches and scars which it sometimes receives in greasing my machinery."
"Your Grace does not mean Dr. Wilderhead's powder of projection?"
"Pshaw! he is a quacksalver, and mountebank, and beggar."
"Or Solicitor Drowndland's plan for draining the fens?"
"He is a cheat,—videlicet, an attorney."
"Or the Laird of Lackpelf's sale of Highland woods?"
"He is a Scotsman," said the Duke,—"videlicet, both cheat and beggar."
"These streets here, upon the site of your noble mansion-house?" said Jerningham.
"The architect's a bite, and the plan's a bubble. I am sick of the sight of this rubbish, and I will soon replace our old alcoves, alleys, and flower-pots by an Italian garden and a new palace."
"That, my lord, would be to waste, not to improve your fortune," said his domestic.
"Clodpate, and muddy spirit that thou art, thou hast forgot the most hopeful scheme of all—the South Sea Fisheries—their stock is up 50 per cent. already. Post down to the Alley, and tell old Mansses to buy L20,000 for me.—Forgive me, Plutus, I forgot to lay my sacrifice on thy shrine, and yet expected thy favours!—Fly post-haste, Jerningham—for thy life, for thy life, for thy life!"[*]
[*] Stock-jobbing, as it is called, that is, dealing in shares of monopolies, patent, and joint-stock companies of every description, was at least as common in Charles II.'s time as our own; and as the exercise of ingenuity in this way promised a road to wealth without the necessity of industry, it was then much pursued by dissolute courtiers.
With hands and eyes uplifted, Jerningham left the apartment; and the Duke, without thinking a moment farther on old or new intrigues—on the friendship he had formed, or the enmity he had provoked—on the beauty whom he had carried off from her natural protectors, as well as from her lover—or on the monarch against whom he had placed himself in rivalship,—sat down to calculate chances with all the zeal of Demoivre, tired of the drudgery in half-an-hour, and refused to see the zealous agent whom he had employed in the city, because he was busily engaged in writing a new lampoon.
Ah! changeful head, and fickle heart! —PROGRESS OF DISCONTENT.
No event is more ordinary in narratives of this nature, than the abduction of the female on whose fate the interest is supposed to turn; but that of Alice Bridgenorth was thus far particular, that she was spirited away by the Duke of Buckingham, more in contradiction than in the rivalry of passion; and that, as he made his first addresses to her at Chiffinch's, rather in the spirit of rivalry to this Sovereign, than from any strong impression which her beauty had made on his affections, so he had formed the sudden plan of spiriting her away by means of his dependents, rather to perplex Christian, the King, Chiffinch, and all concerned, than because he had any particular desire for her society at his own mansion. Indeed, so far was this from being the case, that his Grace was rather surprised than delighted with the success of the enterprise which had made her an inmate there, although it is probable he might have thrown himself into an uncontrollable passion, had he learned its miscarriage instead of its success.
Twenty-four hours had passed over since he had returned to his own roof, before, notwithstanding sundry hints from Jerningham, he could even determine on the exertion necessary to pay his fair captive a visit; and then it was with the internal reluctance of one who can only be stirred from indolence by novelty.
"I wonder what made me plague myself about this wench," said he, "and doom myself to encounter all the hysterical rhapsodies of a country Phillis, with her head stuffed with her grandmother's lessons about virtue and the Bible-book, when the finest and best-bred women in town may be had upon more easy terms. It is a pity one cannot mount the victor's car of triumph without having a victory to boast of; yet, faith, it is what most of our modern gallants do, though it would not become Buckingham.—Well, I must see her," he concluded, "though it were but to rid the house of her. The Portsmouth will not hear of her being set at liberty near Charles, so much is she afraid of a new fair seducing the old sinner from his allegiance. So how the girl is to be disposed of—for I shall have little fancy to keep her here, and she is too wealthy to be sent down to Cliefden as a housekeeper—is a matter to be thought on."
He then called for such a dress as might set off his natural good mien—a compliment which he considered as due to his own merit; for as to anything farther, he went to pay his respects to his fair prisoner with almost as little zeal in the cause, as a gallant to fight a duel in which he has no warmer interest than the maintenance of his reputation as man of honour.
The set of apartments consecrated to the use of those favourites who occasionally made Buckingham's mansion their place of abode, and who were, so far as liberty was concerned, often required to observe the regulations of a convent, were separated from the rest of the Duke's extensive mansion. He lived in the age when what was called gallantry warranted the most atrocious actions of deceit and violence; as may be best illustrated by the catastrophe of an unfortunate actress, whose beauty attracted the attention of the last De Vere, Earl of Oxford. While her virtue defied his seductions, he ruined her under colour of a mock marriage, and was rewarded for a success which occasioned the death of his victim, by the general applause of the men of wit and gallantry who filled the drawing-room of Charles.
Buckingham had made provision in the interior of his ducal mansion for exploits of a similar nature; and the set of apartments which he now visited were alternately used to confine the reluctant, and to accommodate the willing.
Being now destined for the former purpose, the key was delivered to the Duke by a hooded and spectacled old lady, who sat reading a devout book in the outer hall which divided these apartments (usually called the Nunnery) from the rest of the house. This experienced dowager acted as mistress of the ceremonies on such occasions, and was the trusty depositary of more intrigues than were known to any dozen of her worshipful calling besides.
"As sweet a linnet," she said, as she undid the outward door, "as ever sung in a cage."
"I was afraid she might have been more for moping than for singing, Dowlas," said the Duke.
"Till yesterday she was so, please your Grace," answered Dowlas; "or, to speak sooth, till early this morning, we heard of nothing but Lachrymae. But the air of your noble Grace's house is favourable to singing-birds; and to-day matters have been a-much mended."
"Tis sudden, dame," said the Duke; "and 'tis something strange, considering that I have never visited her, that the pretty trembler should have been so soon reconciled to her fate."
"Ah, your Grace has such magic, that it communicates itself to your very walls; as wholesome Scripture says, Exodus, first and seventh, 'It cleaveth to the walls and the doorposts.'"
"You are too partial, Dame Dowlas," said the Duke of Buckingham.
"Not a word but truth," said the dame; "and I wish I may be an outcast from the fold of the lambs, but I think this damsel's very frame has changed since she was under your Grace's roof. Methinks she hath a lighter form, a finer step, a more displayed ankle—I cannot tell, but I think there is a change. But, lack-a-day, your Grace knows I am as old as I am trusty, and that my eyes wax something uncertain."
"Especially when you wash them with a cup of canary, Dame Dowlas," answered the Duke, who was aware that temperance was not amongst the cardinal virtues which were most familiar to the old lady's practice.
"Was it canary, your Grace said?—Was it indeed with canary, that your Grace should have supposed me to have washed my eyes?" said the offended matron. "I am sorry that your Grace should know me no better."
"I crave your pardon, dame," said the Duke, shaking aside, fastidiously, the grasp which, in the earnestness of her exculpation, Madam Dowlas had clutched upon his sleeve. "I crave your pardon. Your nearer approach has convinced me of my erroneous imputation—I should have said nantz—not canary."
So saying, he walked forward into the inner apartments, which were fitted up with an air of voluptuous magnificence.
"The dame said true, however," said the proud deviser and proprietor of the splendid mansion—"A country Phillis might well reconcile herself to such a prison as this, even without a skilful bird-fancier to touch a bird-call. But I wonder where she can be, this rural Phidele. Is it possible she can have retreated, like a despairing commandant, into her bedchamber, the very citadel of the place, without even an attempt to defend the outworks?"
As he made this reflection, he passed through an antechamber and little eating parlour, exquisitely furnished, and hung with excellent paintings of the Venetian school.
Beyond these lay a withdrawing-room, fitted up in a style of still more studied elegance. The windows were darkened with painted glass, of such a deep and rich colour, as made the midday beams, which found their way into the apartment, imitate the rich colours of sunset; and, in the celebrated expression of the poet, "taught light to counterfeit a gloom."
Buckingham's feelings and taste had been too much, and too often, and too readily gratified, to permit him, in the general case, to be easily accessible, even to those pleasures which it had been the business of his life to pursue. The hackneyed voluptuary is like the jaded epicure, the mere listlessness of whose appetite becomes at length a sufficient penalty for having made it the principal object of his enjoyment and cultivation. Yet novelty has always some charms, and uncertainty has more.
The doubt how he was to be received—the change of mood which his prisoner was said to have evinced—the curiosity to know how such a creature as Alice Bridgenorth had been described, was likely to bear herself under the circumstances in which she was so unexpectedly placed, had upon Buckingham the effect of exciting unusual interest. On his own part, he had none of those feelings of anxiety with which a man, even of the most vulgar mind, comes to the presence of the female whom he wishes to please, far less the more refined sentiments of love, respect, desire, and awe, with which the more refined lover approaches the beloved object. He had been, to use an expressive French phrase, too completely blase even from his earliest youth, to permit him now to experience the animal eagerness of the one, far less the more sentimental pleasure of the other. It is no small aggravation of this jaded and uncomfortable state of mind, that the voluptuary cannot renounce the pursuits with which he is satiated, but must continue, for his character's sake, or from the mere force of habit, to take all the toil, fatigue, and danger of the chase, while he has so little real interest in the termination.
Buckingham, therefore, felt it due to his reputation as a successful hero of intrigue, to pay his addresses to Alice Bridgenorth with dissembled eagerness; and, as he opened the door of the inner apartment, he paused to consider, whether the tone of gallantry, or that of passion, was fittest to use on the occasion. This delay enabled him to hear a few notes of a lute touched with exquisite skill, and accompanied by the still sweeter strains of a female voice, which, without executing any complete melody, seemed to sport itself in rivalship of the silver sound of the instrument.
"A creature so well educated," said the Duke, "with the sense she is said to possess, would, rustic as she is, laugh at the assumed rants of Oroondates. It is the vein of Dorimont—once, Buckingham, thine own—that must here do the feat, besides that the part is easier."
So thinking, he entered the room with that easy grace which characterised the gay courtiers among whom he flourished, and approached the fair tenant, whom he found seated near a table covered with books and music, and having on her left hand the large half-open casement, dim with stained glass, admitting only a doubtful light into this lordly retiring-room, which, hung with the richest tapestry of the Gobelines, and ornamented with piles if china and splendid mirrors, seemed like a bower built for a prince to receive his bride.
The splendid dress of the inmate corresponded with the taste of the apartment which she occupied and partook of the Oriental costume which the much-admired Roxalana had the brought into fashion. A slender foot and ankle, which escaped from the wide trowser of richly ornamented and embroidered blue satin, was the only part of her person distinctly seen; the rest was enveloped, from head to foot, in a long veil of silver gauze, which, like a feathery and light mist on a beautiful landscape, suffered you to perceive that what it concealed was rarely lovely, yet induced the imagination even to enhance the charms it shaded. Such part of the dress as could be discovered was, like the veil and the trowsers, in the Oriental taste; a rich turban, and splendid caftan, were rather indicated than distinguished through the folds of the former. The whole attire argued at least coquetry on the part of the fair one, who must have expected, from her situation, a visitor of some pretension; and induced Buckingham to smile internally at Christian's account of the extreme simplicity and purity of his niece.
He approached the lady en cavalier, and addressed her with the air of being conscious, while he acknowledged his offences, that his condescending to do so formed a sufficient apology for them. "Fair Mistress Alice," he said, "I am sensible how deeply I ought to sue for pardon for the mistaken zeal of my servants, who, seeing you deserted and exposed without protection during an unlucky affray, took it upon them to bring you under the roof of one who would expose his life rather than suffer you to sustain a moment's anxiety. Was it my fault that those around me should have judged it necessary to interfere for your preservation; or that, aware of the interest I must take in you, they have detained you till I could myself, in personal attendance, receive your commands?"
"That attendance has not been speedily rendered, my lord," answered the lady. "I have been a prisoner for two days—neglected, and left to the charge of menials."
"How say you, lady?—Neglected!" exclaimed the Duke. "By Heaven, if the best in my household has failed in his duty, I will discard him on the instant!"
"I complain of no lack of courtesy from your servants, my lord," she replied; "but methinks it had been but complaisant in the Duke himself to explain to me earlier wherefore he has had the boldness to detain me as a state prisoner."
"And can the divine Alice doubt," said Buckingham, "that, had time and space, those cruel enemies to the flight of passion, given permission, the instant in which you crossed your vassal's threshold had seen its devoted master at your feet, who hath thought, since he saw you, of nothing but the charms which that fatal morning placed before him at Chiffinch's?"
"I understand, then, my lord," said the lady, "that you have been absent, and have had no part in the restraint which has been exercised upon me?"
"Absent on the King's command, lady, and employed in the discharge of his duty," answered Buckingham without hesitation. "What could I do?—The moment you left Chiffinch's, his Majesty commanded me to the saddle in such haste, that I had no time to change my satin buskins for riding-boots.[*] If my absence has occasioned you a moment of inconvenience, blame the inconsiderate zeal of those who, seeing me depart from London, half distracted at my separation from you, were willing to contribute their unmannered, though well-meant exertions, to preserve their master from despair, by retaining the fair Alice within his reach. To whom, indeed, could they have restored you? He whom you selected as your champion is in prison, or fled—your father absent from town—your uncle in the north. To Chiffinch's house you had expressed your well-founded aversion; and what fitter asylum remained than that of your devoted slave, where you must ever reign a queen?"
[*] This case is not without precedent. Among the jealousies and fears expressed by the Long Parliament, they insisted much upon an agent for the King departing for the continent so abruptly, that he had not time to change his court dress—white buskins, to wit, and black silk pantaloons—for an equipment more suitable to travel with.
"An imprisoned one," said the lady. "I desire not royalty."
"Alas! how wilfully you misconstrue me!" said the Duke, kneeling on one knee; "and what right can you have to complain of a few hours' gentle restraint—you, who destine so many to hopeless captivity? Be merciful for once, and withdraw that envious veil; for the divinities are ever most cruel when they deliver their oracles from such clouded recesses. Suffer at least my rash hand——"
"I will save your Grace that unworthy trouble," said the lady haughtily; and rising up, she flung back over her shoulders the veil which shrouded her, saying, at the same time, "Look on me, my Lord Duke, and see if these be indeed the charms which have made on your Grace an impression so powerful."
Buckingham did look; and the effect produced on him by surprise was so strong, that he rose hastily from his knee, and remained for a few seconds as if he had been petrified. The figure that stood before him had neither the height nor the rich shape of Alice Bridgenorth; and, though perfectly well made, was so slightly formed, as to seem almost infantine. Her dress was three or four short vests of embroidered satin, disposed one over the other, of different colours, or rather different shades of similar colours; for strong contrast was carefully avoided. These opened in front, so as to show part of the throat and neck, partially obscured by an inner covering of the finest lace; over the uppermost vest was worn a sort of mantle, or coat of rich fur. A small but magnificent turban was carelessly placed on her head, from under which flowed a profusion of coal-black tresses, which Cleopatra might have envied. The taste and splendour of the Eastern dress corresponded with the complexion of the lady's face, which was brunette, of a shade so dark as might almost have served an Indian.
Amidst a set of features, in which rapid and keen expression made amends for the want of regular beauty, the essential points of eyes as bright as diamonds, and teeth as white as pearls, did not escape the Duke of Buckingham, a professed connoisseur in female charms. In a word, the fanciful and singular female who thus unexpectedly produced herself before him, had one of those faces which are never seen without making an impression; which, when removed, are long after remembered; and for which, in our idleness, we are tempted to invent a hundred histories, that we may please our fancy by supposing the features under the influence of different kinds of emotion. Every one must have in recollection countenances of this kind, which, from a captivating and stimulating originality of expression, abide longer in the memory, and are more seductive to the imagination, than ever regular beauty.
"My Lord Duke," said the lady, "it seems the lifting of my veil has done the work of magic upon your Grace. Alas, for the captive princess, whose nod was to command a vassal so costly as your Grace! She runs, methinks, no slight chance of being turned out of doors, like a second Cinderella, to seek her fortune among lackeys and lightermen."
"I am astonished!" said the Duke. "That villain, Jerningham—I will have the scoundrel's blood!"
"Nay, never abuse Jerningham for the matter," said the Unknown; "but lament your own unhappy engagements. While you, my Lord Duke, were posting northward, in white satin buskins, to toil in the King's affairs, the right and lawful princess sat weeping in sables in the uncheered solitude to which your absence condemned her. Two days she was disconsolate in vain; on the third came an African enchantress to change the scene for her, and the person for your Grace. Methinks, my lord, this adventure will tell but ill, when some faithful squire shall recount or record the gallant adventures of the second Duke of Buckingham."
"Fairly bit and bantered to boot," said the Duke—"the monkey has a turn for satire, too, by all that is piquante.—Hark ye, fair Princess, how dared you adventure on such a trick as you have been accomplice to?"
"Dare, my lord," answered the stranger; "put the question to others, not to one who fears nothing."
"By my faith, I believe so; for thy front is bronzed by nature.—Hark ye, once more, mistress—What is your name and condition?"
"My condition I have told you—I am a Mauritanian sorceress by profession, and my name is Zarah," replied the Eastern maiden.
"But methinks that face, shape, and eyes"—said the Duke—"when didst thou pass for a dancing fairy?—Some such imp thou wert not many days since."
"My sister you may have seen—my twin sister; but not me, my lord," answered Zarah.
"Indeed," said the Duke, "that duplicate of thine, if it was not thy very self, was possessed with a dumb spirit, as thou with a talking one. I am still in the mind that you are the same; and that Satan, always so powerful with your sex, had art enough on our former meeting, to make thee hold thy tongue."
"Believe what you will of it, my lord," replied Zarah, "it cannot change the truth.—And now, my lord, I bid you farewell. Have you any commands to Mauritania?"
"Tarry a little, my Princess," said the Duke; "and remember, that you have voluntarily entered yourself as pledge for another; and are justly subjected to any penalty which it is my pleasure to exact. None must brave Buckingham with impunity."
"I am in no hurry to depart, if your Grace hath any commands for me."
"What! are you neither afraid of my resentment, nor of my love, fair Zarah?" said the Duke.
"Of neither, by this glove," answered the lady. "Your resentment must be a pretty passion indeed, if it could stoop to such a helpless object as I am; and for your love—good lack! good lack!"
"And why good lack with such a tone of contempt, lady?" said the Duke, piqued in spite of himself. "Think you Buckingham cannot love, or has never been beloved in return?"
"He may have thought himself beloved," said the maiden; "but by what slight creatures!—things whose heads could be rendered giddy by a playhouse rant—whose brains were only filled with red-heeled shoes and satin buskins—and who run altogether mad on the argument of a George and a star."
"And are there no such frail fair ones in your climate, most scornful Princess?" said the Duke.
"There are," said the lady; "but men rate them as parrots and monkeys—things without either sense or soul, head or heart. The nearness we bear to the sun has purified, while it strengthens, our passions. The icicles of your frozen climate shall as soon hammer hot bars into ploughshares, as shall the foppery and folly of your pretended gallantry make an instant's impression on a breast like mine."
"You speak like one who knows what passion is," said the Duke. "Sit down, fair lady, and grieve not that I detain you. Who can consent to part with a tongue of so much melody, or an eye of such expressive eloquence!—You have known then what it is to love?"
"I know—no matter if by experience, or through the report of others—but I do know, that to love, as I would love, would be to yield not an iota to avarice, not one inch to vanity, not to sacrifice the slightest feeling to interest or to ambition; but to give up all to fidelity of heart and reciprocal affection."
"And how many women, think you, are capable of feeling such disinterested passion?"
"More, by thousands, than there are men who merit it," answered Zarah. "Alas! how often do you see the female, pale, and wretched, and degraded, still following with patient constancy the footsteps of some predominating tyrant, and submitting to all his injustice with the endurance of a faithful and misused spaniel, which prizes a look from his master, though the surliest groom that ever disgraced humanity, more than all the pleasure which the world besides can furnish him? Think what such would be to one who merited and repaid her devotion."
"Perhaps the very reverse," said the Duke; "and for your simile, I can see little resemblance. I cannot charge my spaniel with any perfidy; but for my mistresses—to confess truth, I must always be in a cursed hurry if I would have the credit of changing them before they leave me."
"And they serve you but rightly, my lord," answered the lady; "for what are you?—Nay, frown not; for you must hear the truth for once. Nature has done its part, and made a fair outside, and courtly education hath added its share. You are noble, it is the accident of birth—handsome, it is the caprice of Nature—generous, because to give is more easy than to refuse—well-apparelled, it is to the credit of your tailor—well-natured in the main, because you have youth and health—brave, because to be otherwise were to be degraded—and witty, because you cannot help it."
The Duke darted a glance on one of the large mirrors. "Noble, and handsome, and court-like, generous, well-attired, good-humoured, brave, and witty!—You allow me more, madam, than I have the slightest pretension to, and surely enough to make my way, at some point at least, to female favour."
"I have neither allowed you a heart nor a head," said Zarah calmly.—"Nay, never redden as if you would fly at me. I say not but nature may have given you both; but folly has confounded the one, and selfishness perverted the other. The man whom I call deserving the name is one whose thoughts and exertions are for others, rather than himself,—whose high purpose is adopted on just principles, and never abandoned while heaven or earth affords means of accomplishing it. He is one who will neither seek an indirect advantage by a specious road, nor take an evil path to gain a real good purpose. Such a man were one for whom a woman's heart should beat constant while he breathes, and break when he dies."
She spoke with so much energy that the water sparkled in her eyes, and her cheek coloured with the vehemence of her feelings.
"You speak," said the Duke, "as if you had yourself a heart which could pay the full tribute to the merit which you describe so warmly."
"And have I not?" said she, laying her hand on her bosom. "Here beats one that would bear me out in what I have said, whether in life or in death."
"Were it in my power," said the Duke, who began to get farther interested in his visitor than he could at first have thought possible—"Were it in my power to deserve such faithful attachment, methinks it should be my care to requite it."
"Your wealth, your titles, your reputation as a gallant—all you possess, were too little to merit such sincere affection."
"Come, fair lady," said the Duke, a good deal piqued, "do not be quite so disdainful. Bethink you, that if your love be as pure as coined gold, still a poor fellow like myself may offer you an equivalent in silver—The quantity of my affection must make up for its quality."
"But I am not carrying my affection to market, my lord; and therefore I need none of the base coin you offer in change for it."
"How do I know that, my fairest?" said the Duke. "This is the realm of Paphos—You have invaded it, with what purpose you best know; but I think with none consistent with your present assumption of cruelty. Come, come—eyes that are so intelligent can laugh with delight, as well as gleam with scorn and anger. You are here a waif on Cupid's manor, and I must seize on you in name of the deity."
"Do not think of touching me, my lord," said the lady. "Approach me not, if you would hope to learn the purpose of my being here. Your Grace may suppose yourself a Solomon if you please, but I am no travelling princess, come from distant climes, either to flatter your pride, or wonder at your glory."
"A defiance, by Jupiter!" said the Duke.
"You mistake the signal," said the 'dark ladye'; "I came not here without taking sufficient precautions for my retreat."
"You mouth it bravely," said the Duke; "but never fortress so boasted its resources but the garrison had some thoughts of surrender. Thus I open the first parallel."
They had been hitherto divided from each other by a long narrow table, which, placed in the recess of the large casement we have mentioned, had formed a sort of barrier on the lady's side, against the adventurous gallant. The Duke went hastily to remove it as he spoke; but, attentive to all his motions, his visitor instantly darted through the half-open window. Buckingham uttered a cry of horror and surprise, having no doubt, at first, that she had precipitated herself from a height of at least fourteen feet; for so far the window was distant from the ground. But when he sprung to the spot, he perceived, to his astonishment, that she had effected her descent with equal agility and safety.
The outside of this stately mansion was decorated with a quantity of carving, in the mixed state, betwixt the Gothic and Grecian styles, which marks the age of Elizabeth and her successor; and though the feat seemed a surprising one, the projections of these ornaments were sufficient to afford footing to a creature so light and active, even in her hasty descent.
Inflamed alike by mortification and curiosity, Buckingham at first entertained some thought of following her by the same dangerous route, and had actually got upon the sill of the window for that purpose; and was contemplating what might be his next safe movement, when, from a neighbouring thicket of shrubs, amongst which his visitor had disappeared, he heard her chant a verse of a comic song, then much in fashion, concerning a despairing lover who had recourse to a precipice—
"But when he came near, Beholding how steep The sides did appear, And the bottom how deep; Though his suit was rejected, He sadly reflected, That a lover forsaken A new love may get; But a neck that's once broken Can never be set."
The Duke could not help laughing, though much against his will, at the resemblance which the verses bore to his own absurd situation, and, stepping back into the apartment, desisted from an attempt which might have proved dangerous as well as ridiculous. He called his attendants, and contented himself with watching the little thicket, unwilling to think that a female, who had thrown herself in a great measure into his way, meant absolutely to mortify him by a retreat.
That question was determined in an instant. A form, wrapped in a mantle, with a slouched hat and shadowy plume, issued from the bushes, and was lost in a moment amongst the ruins of ancient and of modern buildings, with which, as we have already stated, the demesne formerly termed York House, was now encumbered in all directions.
The Duke's servants, who had obeyed his impatient summons, were hastily directed to search for this tantalising siren in every direction. Their master, in the meantime, eager and vehement in every new pursuit, but especially when his vanity was piqued, encouraged their diligence by bribes, and threats, and commands. All was in vain. They found nothing of the Mauritanian Princess, as she called herself, but the turban and the veil; both of which she had left in the thicket, together with her satin slippers; which articles, doubtless, she had thrown aside as she exchanged them for others less remarkable.
Finding all his search in vain, the Duke of Buckingham, after the example of spoiled children of all ages and stations, gave a loose to the frantic vehemence of passion; and fiercely he swore vengeance on his late visitor, whom he termed by a thousand opprobrious epithets, of which the elegant phrase "Jilt" was most frequently repeated.
Even Jerningham, who knew the depths and the shallows of his master's mood, and was bold to fathom them at almost every state of his passions, kept out of his way on the present occasion; and, cabineted with the pious old housekeeper, declared to her, over a bottle of ratafia, that, in his apprehension, if his Grace did not learn to put some control on his temper, chains, darkness, straw, and Bedlam, would be the final doom of the gifted and admired Duke of Buckingham.
——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 to-day, 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 to-day 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 congee, 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 to-day."
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.