Charles would fain have obliterated all recollection of his appearance, by the observation, "It were a shame that such a reprobate scoundrel should be the subject of discord between two noblemen of distinction;" and he recommended to the Dukes of Buckingham and Ormond to join hands, and forget a misunderstanding which rose on so unworthy a subject.
Buckingham answered carelessly, "That the Duke of Ormond's honoured white hairs were a sufficient apology for his making the first overtures to a reconciliation," and he held out his hand accordingly. But Ormond only bowed in return, and said, "The King had no cause to expect that the Court would be disturbed by his personal resentments, since time would not yield him back twenty years, nor the grave restore his gallant son Ossory. As to the ruffian who had intruded himself there, he was obliged to him, since, by showing that his Majesty's clemency extended even to the very worst of criminals, he strengthened his hopes of obtaining the King's favour for such of his innocent friends as were now in prison, and in danger, from the odious charges brought against them on the score of the Popish Plot."
The King made no other answer to this insinuation, than by directing that the company should embark for their return to Whitehall; and thus took leave of the officers of the Tower who were in attendance, with one of those well-turned compliments to their discharge of duty, which no man knew better how to express; and issued at the same time strict and anxious orders for protection and defence of the important fortress confided to them, and all which it contained.
Before he parted with Ormond on their arrival at Whitehall, he turned round to him, as one who has made up his resolution, and said, "Be satisfied, my Lord Duke—our friends' case shall be looked to."
In the same evening the Attorney-General, and North, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, had orders with all secrecy, to meet his Majesty that evening on especial matters of state, at the apartments of Chiffinch, the centre of all affairs, whether of gallantry or business.
Yet, Corah, thou shalt from oblivion pass; Erect thyself, thou monumental brass, High as the serpent of thy metal made, While nations stand secure beneath thy shade. —ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.
The morning which Charles had spent in visiting the Tower, had been very differently employed by those unhappy individuals, whom their bad fate, and the singular temper of the times, had made the innocent tenants of that state prison, and who had received official notice that they were to stand their trial in the Court of Queen's Bench at Westminster, on the seventh succeeding day. The stout old Cavalier at first only railed at the officer for spoiling his breakfast with the news, but evinced great feeling when he was told that Julian was to be put under the same indictment.
We intend to dwell only very generally on the nature of their trial, which corresponded, in the outline, with almost all those which took place during the prevalence of the Popish Plot. That is, one or two infamous and perjured evidences, whose profession of common informers had become frightfully lucrative, made oath to the prisoners having expressed themselves interested in the great confederacy of the Catholics. A number of others brought forward facts or suspicions, affecting the character of the parties as honest Protestants and good subjects; and betwixt the direct and presumptive evidence, enough was usually extracted for justifying, to a corrupted court and perjured jury, the fatal verdict of Guilty.
The fury of the people had, however, now begun to pass away, exhausted even by its own violence. The English nation differ from all others, indeed even from those of the sister kingdoms, in being very easily sated with punishment, even when they suppose it most merited. Other nations are like the tamed tiger, which, when once its native appetite for slaughter is indulged in one instance, rushes on in promiscuous ravages. But the English public have always rather resembled what is told of the sleuth-dog, which, eager, fierce, and clamorous in pursuit of his prey, desists from it so soon as blood is sprinkled upon his path.
Men's minds were now beginning to cool—the character of the witnesses was more closely sifted—their testimonies did not in all cases tally—and a wholesome suspicion began to be entertained of men, who would never say they had made a full discovery of all they knew, but avowedly reserved some points of evidence to bear on future trials.
The King also, who had lain passive during the first burst of popular fury, was now beginning to bestir himself, which produced a marked effect on the conduct of the Crown Counsel, and even the Judges. Sir George Wakeman had been acquitted in spite of Oates's direct testimony; and public attention was strongly excited concerning the event of the next trial; which chanced to be that of the Peverils, father and son, with whom, I know not from what concatenation, little Hudson the dwarf was placed at the bar of the Court of King's Bench.
It was a piteous sight to behold a father and son, who had been so long separated, meet under circumstances so melancholy; and many tears were shed, when the majestic old man—for such he was, though now broken with years—folded his son to his bosom, with a mixture of joy, affection, and a bitter anticipation of the event of the impending trial. There was a feeling in the Court that for a moment overcame every prejudice and party feeling. Many spectators shed tears; and there was even a low moaning, as of those who weep aloud.
Such as felt themselves sufficiently at ease to remark the conduct of poor little Geoffrey Hudson, who was scarcely observed amid the preponderating interest created by his companions in misfortune, could not but notice a strong degree of mortification on the part of that diminutive gentleman. He had soothed his great mind by the thoughts of playing the character which he was called on to sustain, in a manner which should be long remembered in that place; and on his entrance, had saluted the numerous spectators, as well as the Court, with a cavalier air, which he meant should express grace, high-breeding, perfect coolness, with a noble disregard to the issue of their proceedings. But his little person was so obscured and jostled aside, on the meeting of the father and son, who had been brought in different boats from the Tower, and placed at the bar at the same moment, that his distress and his dignity were alike thrown into the background, and attracted neither sympathy nor admiration.
The dwarf's wisest way to attract attention would have been to remain quiet, when so remarkable an exterior would certainly have received in its turn the share of public notice which he so eagerly coveted. But when did personal vanity listen to the suggestions of prudence?—Our impatient friend scrambled, with some difficulty, on the top of the bench intended for his seat; and there, "paining himself to stand a-tiptoe," like Chaucer's gallant Sir Chaunticlere, he challenged the notice of the audience as he stood bowing and claiming acquaintance of his namesake Sir Geoffrey the larger, with whose shoulders, notwithstanding his elevated situation, he was scarcely yet upon a level.
The taller Knight, whose mind was occupied in a very different manner, took no notice of these advances upon the dwarf's part, but sat down with the determination rather to die on the spot than evince any symptoms of weakness before Roundheads and Presbyterians; under which obnoxious epithets, being too old-fashioned to find out party designations of newer date, he comprehended all persons concerned in his present trouble.
By Sir Geoffrey the larger's change of position, his face was thus brought on a level with that of Sir Geoffrey the less, who had an opportunity of pulling him by the cloak. He of Martindale Castle, rather mechanically than consciously, turned his head towards the large wrinkled visage, which, struggling between an assumed air of easy importance, and an anxious desire to be noticed, was grimacing within a yard of him. But neither the singular physiognomy, the nods and smiles of greeting and recognition into which it was wreathed, nor the strange little form by which it was supported, had at that moment the power of exciting any recollections in the old Knight's mind; and having stared for a moment at the poor little man, his bulky namesake turned away his head without farther notice.
Julian Peveril, the dwarf's more recent acquaintance, had, even amid his own anxious feelings, room for sympathy with those of his little fellow-sufferer. As soon as he discovered that he was at the same terrible bar with himself, although he could not conceive how their causes came to be conjoined, he acknowledged him by a hearty shake of the hand, which the old man returned with affected dignity and real gratitude. "Worthy youth," he said, "thy presence is restorative, like the nepenthe of Homer even in this syncope of our mutual fate. I am concerned to see that your father hath not the same alacrity of soul as that of ours, which are lodged within smaller compass; and that he hath forgotten an ancient comrade and fellow-soldier, who now stands beside him to perform, perhaps, their last campaign."
Julian briefly replied, that his father had much to occupy him. But the little man—who, to do him justice, cared no more (in his own phrase) for imminent danger or death, than he did for the puncture of a flea's proboscis—did not so easily renounce the secret object of his ambition, which was to acquire the notice of the large and lofty Sir Geoffrey Peveril, who, being at least three inches taller than his son, was in so far possessed of that superior excellence, which the poor dwarf, in his secret soul, valued before all other distinctions, although in his conversation, he was constantly depreciating it. "Good comrade and namesake," he proceeded, stretching out his hand, so as to again to reach the elder Peveril's cloak, "I forgive your want of reminiscence, seeing it is long since I saw you at Naseby, fighting as if you had as many arms as the fabled Briareus."
The Knight of Martindale, who had again turned his head towards the little man, and had listened, as if endeavouring to make something out of his discourse, here interrupted him with a peevish, "Pshaw!"
"Pshaw!" repeated Sir Geoffrey the less; "Pshaw is an expression of slight esteem,—nay, of contempt,—in all languages; and were this a befitting place——"
But the Judges had now taken their places, the criers called silence, and the stern voice of the Lord Chief Justice (the notorious Scroggs) demanded what the officers meant by permitting the accused to communicate together in open court.
It may here be observed, that this celebrated personage was, upon the present occasion, at a great loss how to proceed. A calm, dignified, judicial demeanour, was at no time the characteristic of his official conduct. He always ranted and roared either on the one side or the other; and of late, he had been much unsettled which side to take, being totally incapable of anything resembling impartiality. At the first trials for the Plot, when the whole stream of popularity ran against the accused, no one had been so loud as Scroggs; to attempt to the character of Oates or Bedloe, or any other leading witnesses, he treated as a crime more heinous than it would have been to blaspheme the Gospel on which they had been sworn—it was a stifling of the Plot, or discrediting of the King's witnesses—a crime not greatly, if at all, short of high treason against the King himself.
But, of late, a new light had begun to glimmer upon the understanding of this interpreter of the laws. Sagacious in the signs of the times, he began to see that the tide was turning; and that Court favour at least, and probably popular opinion also, were likely, in a short time, to declare against the witnesses, and in favour of the accused.
The opinion which Scroggs had hitherto entertained of the high respect in which Shaftesbury, the patron of the Plot, was held by Charles, had been definitely shaken by a whisper from his brother North to the following effect: "His Lordship has no more interest at Court than your footman."
This notice, from a sure hand, and received but that morning, had put the Judge to a sore dilemma; for, however indifferent to actual consistency, he was most anxious to save appearances. He could not but recollect how violent he had been on former occasions in favour of these prosecutions; and being sensible at the same time that the credit of the witnesses, though shaken in the opinion of the more judicious, was, amongst the bulk of the people out of doors, as strong as ever, he had a difficult part to play. His conduct, therefore, during the whole trial, resembled the appearance of a vessel about to go upon another tack, when her sails are shivering in the wind, ere they have yet caught the impulse which is to send her forth in a new direction. In a word, he was so uncertain which side it was his interest to favour, that he might be said on that occasion to have come nearer a state of total impartiality than he was ever capable of attaining, whether before or afterwards. This was shown by his bullying now the accused, and now the witnesses, like a mastiff too much irritated to lie still without baying, but uncertain whom he shall first bite.
The indictment was then read; and Sir Geoffrey Peveril heard, with some composure, the first part of it, which stated him to have placed his son in the household of the Countess of Derby, a recusant Papist, for the purpose of aiding the horrible and bloodthirsty Popish Plot—with having had arms and ammunition concealed in his house—and with receiving a blank commission from the Lord Stafford, who had suffered death on account of the Plot. But when the charge went on to state that he had communicated for the same purpose with Geoffrey Hudson, sometimes called Sir Geoffrey Hudson, now, or formerly in the domestic service of the Queen Dowager, he looked at his companion as if he suddenly recalled him to remembrance, and broke out impatiently, "These lies are too gross to require a moment's consideration. I might have had enough of intercourse, though in nothing but what was loyal and innocent, with my noble kinsman, the late Lord Stafford—I will call him so in spite of his misfortunes—and with my wife's relation, the Honourable Countess of Derby. But what likelihood can there be that I should have colleagued with a decrepit buffoon, with whom I never had an instant's communication, save once at an Easter feast, when I whistled a hornpipe, as he danced on a trencher to amuse the company?"
The rage of the poor dwarf brought tears in his eyes, while, with an affected laugh, he said, that instead of those juvenile and festive passages, Sir Geoffrey Peveril might have remembered his charging along with him at Wiggan Lane.
"On my word," said Sir Geoffrey, after a moment's recollection, "I will do you justice, Master Hudson—I believe you were there—I think I heard you did good service. But you will allow you might have been near one without his seeing you."
A sort of titter ran through the Court at the simplicity of the larger Sir Geoffrey's testimony, which the dwarf endeavoured to control, by standing on his tiptoes, and looking fiercely around, as if to admonish the laughers that they indulged their mirth at their own peril. But perceiving that this only excited farther scorn, he composed himself into a semblance of careless contempt, observing, with a smile, that no one feared the glance of a chained lion; a magnificent simile, which rather increased than diminished the mirth of those who heard it.
Against Julian Peveril there failed not to be charged the aggravated fact, that he had been bearer of letters between the Countess of Derby and other Papists and priests, engaged in the universal treasonable conspiracy of the Catholics; and the attack of the house at Moultrassie Hall,—with his skirmish with Chiffinch, and his assault, as it was termed, on the person of John Jenkins, servant to the Duke of Buckingham, were all narrated at length, as so many open and overt acts of treasonable import. To this charge Peveril contented himself with pleading—Not Guilty.
His little companion was not satisfied with so simple a plea; for when he heard it read, as a part of the charge applying to him, that he had received from an agent of the Plot a blank commission as Colonel of a regiment of grenadiers, he replied, in wrath and scorn, that if Goliath of Gath had come to him with such a proposal, and proffered him the command of the whole sons of Anak in a body, he should never have had occasion or opportunity to repeat the temptation to another. "I would have slain him," said the little man of loyalty, "even where he stood."
The charge was stated anew by the Counsel for the Crown; and forth came the notorious Doctor Oates, rustling in the full silken canonicals of priesthood, for it was a time when he affected no small dignity of exterior decoration and deportment.
This singular man, who, aided by the obscure intrigues of the Catholics themselves, and the fortuitous circumstance of Godfrey's murder, had been able to cram down the public throat such a mass of absurdity as his evidence amounts to, had no other talent for imposture than an impudence which set conviction and shame alike at defiance. A man of sense or reflection, by trying to give his plot an appearance of more probability, would most likely have failed, as wise men often to do in addressing the multitude, from not daring to calculate upon the prodigious extent of their credulity, especially where the figments presented to them involve the fearful and the terrible.
Oates was by nature choleric; and the credit he had acquired made him insolent and conceited. Even his exterior was portentous. A fleece of white periwig showed a most uncouth visage, of great length, having the mouth, as the organ by use of which he was to rise to eminence, placed in the very centre of the countenance, and exhibiting to the astonished spectator as much chin below as there was nose and brow above the aperture. His pronunciation, too, was after a conceited fashion of his own, in which he accented the vowels in a manner altogether peculiar to himself.
This notorious personage, such as we have described him, stood forth on the present trial, and delivered his astonishing testimony concerning the existence of a Catholic Plot for the subversion of the government and murder of the King, in the same general outline in which it may be found in every English history. But as the doctor always had in reserve some special piece of evidence affecting those immediately on trial, he was pleased, on the present occasion, deeply to inculpate the Countess of Derby. "He had seen," as he said, "that honourable lady when he was at the Jesuits' College at Saint Omer's. She had sent for him to an inn, or auberge, as it was there termed—the sign of the Golden Lamb; and had ordered him to breakfast in the same room with her ladyship; and afterwards told him, that, knowing he was trusted by the Fathers of the Society, she was determined that he should have a share of her secrets also; and therewithal, that she drew from her bosom a broad sharp-pointed knife, such as butchers kill sheep with, and demanded of him what he thought of it for the purpose; and when he, the witness, said for what purpose she rapt him on the fingers with her fan, called him a dull fellow, and said it was designed to kill the King with."
Here Sir Geoffrey Peveril could no longer refrain his indignation and surprise. "Mercy of Heaven!" he said, "did ever one hear of ladies of quality carrying butchering knives about them, and telling every scurvy companion she meant to kill the King with them?—Gentleman of the Jury, do but think if this is reasonable—though, if the villain could prove by any honest evidence, that my Lady of Derby ever let such a scum as himself come to speech of her, I would believe all he can say."
"Sir Geoffrey," said the Judge, "rest you quiet—You must not fly out—passion helps you not here—the Doctor must be suffered to proceed."
Doctor Oates went on to state how the lady complained of the wrongs the House of Derby had sustained from the King and the oppression of her religion, and boasted of the schemes of the Jesuits and seminary priests; and how they would be farthered by her noble kinsman of the House of Stanley. He finally averred that both the Countess and the Fathers of the seminary abroad, founded much upon the talents and courage of Sir Geoffrey Peveril and his son—the latter of whom was a member of her family. Of Hudson, he only recollected of having heard one of the Fathers say, that although but a dwarf in stature, he would prove a giant in the cause of the Church.
When he had ended his evidence, there was a pause, until the Judge, as if the thought had suddenly occurred to him, demanded of Dr. Oates, whether he had ever mentioned the names of the Countess of Derby in any of the previous informations which he had lodged before the Privy Council, and elsewhere, upon this affair.
Oates seemed rather surprised at the question, and coloured with anger, as he answered, in his peculiar mode of pronunciation, "Whoy, no, maay laard."
"And pray, Doctor," said the Judge, "how came so great a revealer of mysteries as you have lately proved, to have suffered so material a circumstance as the accession of this powerful family to the Plot to have remained undiscovered?"
"Maay laard," said Oates, with much effrontery, "aye do not come here to have my evidence questioned as touching the Plaat."
"I do not question your evidence, Doctor," said Scroggs, for the time was not arrived that he dared treat him roughly; "nor do I doubt the existence of the Plaat, since it is your pleasure to swear to it. I would only have you, for your own sake, and the satisfaction of all good Protestants, to explain why you have kept back such a weighty point of information from the King and country."
"Maay laard," said Oates, "I will tell you a pretty fable."
"I hope," answered the Judge, "it may be the first and last which you shall tell in this place."
"Maay laard," continued Oates, "there was once a faux, who having to carry a goose over a frazen river, and being afraid the aice would not bear him and his booty, did caarry aaver a staane, my laard, in the first instance, to prove the strength of the aice."
"So your former evidence was but the stone, and now, for the first time, you have brought us the goose?" said Sir William Scroggs; "to tell us this, Doctor, is to make geese of the Court and Jury."
"I desoire your laardship's honest construction," said Oates, who saw the current changing against him, but was determined to pay the score with effrontery. "All men knaw at what coast and praice I have given my evidence, which has been always, under Gaad, the means of awakening this poor naation to the dangerous state in which it staunds. Many here knaw that I have been obliged to faartify my ladging at Whitehall against the bloody Papists. It was not to be thought that I should have brought all the story out at aance. I think your wisdome would have advised me otherwise."[*]
[*] It was on such terms that Dr. Oates was pleased to claim the extraordinary privilege of dealing out the information which he chose to communicate to a court of justice. The only sense in which his story of the fox, stone, and goose could be applicable, is by supposing that he was determined to ascertain the extent of his countrymen's credulity before supplying it with a full meal.
"Nay, Doctor," said the Judge, "it is not for me to direct you in this affair; and it is for the Jury to believe you or not; and as for myself, I sit here to do justice to both—the Jury have heard your answer to my question."
Doctor Oates retired from the witness-box reddening like a turkey-cock, as one totally unused to have such accounts questioned as he chose to lay before the courts of justice; and there was, perhaps, for the first time, amongst the counsel and solicitors, as well as the templars and students of law there present, a murmur, distinct and audible, unfavourable to the character of the great father of the Popish Plot.
Everett and Dangerfield, with whom the reader is already acquainted, were then called in succession to sustain the accusation. They were subordinate informers—a sort of under-spur-leathers, as the cant term went—who followed the path of Oates, with all deference to his superior genius and invention, and made their own fictions chime in and harmonise with his, as well as their talents could devise. But as their evidence had at no time received the full credence into which the impudence of Oates had cajoled the public, so they now began to fall into discredit rather more hastily than their prototype, as the super-added turrets of an ill-constructed building are naturally the first to give way.
It was in vain that Everett, with the precision of a hypocrite, and Dangerfield, with the audacity of a bully, narrated, with added circumstances of suspicion and criminality, their meeting with Julian Peveril in Liverpool, and again at Martindale Castle. It was in vain they described the arms and accoutrements which they pretended to have discovered in old Sir Geoffrey's possession; and that they gave a most dreadful account of the escape of the younger Peveril from Moultrassie Hall, by means of an armed force.
The Jury listened coldly, and it was visible that they were but little moved by the accusation; especially as the Judge, always professing his belief in the Plot, and his zeal for the Protestant religion, was ever and anon reminding them that presumptions were no proofs—that hearsay was no evidence—that those who made a trade of discovery were likely to aid their researches by invention—and that without doubting the guilt of the unfortunate persons at the bar, he would gladly hear some evidence brought against them of a different nature. "Here we are told of a riot, and an escape achieved by the younger Peveril, at the house of a grave and worthy magistrate, known, I think, to most of us. Why, Master Attorney, bring ye not Master Bridgenorth himself to prove the fact, or all his household, if it be necessary?—A rising in arms is an affair over public to be left on the hearsay tale of these two men—though Heaven forbid that I should suppose they speak one word more than they believe! They are the witnesses for the King—and, what is equally dear to us, the Protestant religion—and witnesses against a most foul and heathenish Plot. On the other hand, here is a worshipful old knight, for such I must suppose him to be, since he has bled often in battle for the King,—such, I must say, I suppose him to be, until he is proved otherwise. And here is his son, a hopeful young gentleman—we must see that they have right, Master Attorney."
"Unquestionably, my lord," answered the Attorney. "God forbid else! But we will make out these matters against these unhappy gentlemen in a manner more close, if your lordship will permit us to bring in our evidence."
"Go on, Master Attorney," said the Judge, throwing himself back in his seat. "Heaven forbid I hinder proving the King's accusation! I only say, what you know as well as I, that de non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio."
"We shall then call Master Bridgenorth, as your lordship advised, who I think is in waiting."
"No!" answered a voice from the crowd, apparently that of a female; "he is too wise and too honest to be here."
The voice was distinct as that of Lady Fairfax, when she expressed herself to a similar effect on the trial of Charles the First; but the researches which were made on the present occasion to discover the speaker were unsuccessful.
After the slight confusion occasioned by this circumstance was abated, the Attorney, who had been talking aside with the conductors of the prosecution, said, "Whoever favoured us with that information, my lord, had good reason for what they said. Master Bridgenorth has become, I am told, suddenly invisible since this morning."
"Look you there now, Master Attorney," said the Judge—"This comes of not keeping the crown witnesses together and in readiness—I am sure I cannot help the consequences."
"Nor I either, my lord," said the Attorney pettishly. "I could have proved by this worshipful gentleman, Master Justice Bridgenorth, the ancient friendship betwixt this party, Sir Geoffrey Peveril, and the Countess of Derby, of whose doings and intentions Dr. Oates has given such a deliberate evidence. I could have proved his having sheltered her in his Castle against a process of law, and rescued her, by force of arms, from this very Justice Bridgenorth, not without actual violence. Moreover, I could have proved against young Peveril the whole affray charged upon him by the same worshipful evidence."
Here the Judge stuck his thumbs into his girdle, which was a favourite attitude of his on such occasions, and exclaimed, "Pshaw, pshaw, Master Attorney!—Tell me not that you could have proved that, or that, or this—Prove what you will, but let it be through the mouths of your evidence. Men are not to be licked out of their lives by the rough side of a lawyer's tongue."
"Nor is a foul Plot to be smothered," said the Attorney, "for all the haste your lordship is in. I cannot call Master Chiffinch neither, as he is employed on the King's especial affairs, as I am this instant certiorated from the Court at Whitehall."
"Produce the papers, then, Master Attorney, of which this young man is said to be the bearer," said the Judge.
"They are before the Privy Council, my lord."
"Then why do you found on them here?" said the Judge—"This is something like trifling with the Court."
"Since your lordship gives it that name," said the Attorney, sitting down in a huff, "you may manage the cause as you will."
"If you do not bring more evidence, I pray you to charge the Jury," said the Judge.
"I shall not take the trouble to do so," said the Crown Counsel. "I see plainly how the matter is to go."
"Nay, but be better advised," said Scroggs. "Consider, your case is but half proved respecting the two Peverils, and doth not pinch on the little man at all, saving that Doctor Oates said that he was in a certain case to prove a giant, which seems no very probable Popish miracle."
This sally occasioned a laugh in the Court, which the Attorney-General seemed to take in great dudgeon.
"Master Attorney," said Oates, who always interfered in the management of these law-suits, "this is a plain an absolute giving away of the cause—I must needs say it, a mere stoifling of the Plaat."
"Then the devil who bred it may blow wind into it again, if he lists," answered the Attorney-General; and, flinging down his brief, he left the Court, as if in a huff with all who were concerned in the affair.
The Judge having obtained silence,—for a murmur arose in the Court when the Counsel for the prosecution threw up his brief,—began to charge the Jury, balancing, as he had done throughout the whole day, the different opinions by which he seemed alternately swayed. He protested on his salvation that he had no more doubt of the existence of the horrid and damnable conspiracy called the Popish Plot, than he had of the treachery of Judas Iscariot; and that he considered Oates as the instrument under Providence of preserving the nation from all the miseries of his Majesty's assassination, and of a second Saint Bartholomew, acted in the streets of London. But then he stated it was the candid construction of the law of England, that the worse the crime, the more strong should be the evidence. Here was the case of accessories tried, whilst their principal—for such he should call the Countess of Derby—was unconvicted and at large; and for Doctor Oates, he had but spoke of matters which personally applied to that noble lady, whose words, if she used such in passion, touching aid which she expected in some treasonable matters from these Peverils, and from her kinsmen, or her son's kinsmen, of the House of Stanley, may have been but a burst of female resentment—dulcis Amaryllidis ira, as the poet hath it. Who knoweth but Doctor Oates did mistake—he being a gentleman of a comely countenance and easy demeanour—this same rap with the fan as a chastisement for lack of courage in the Catholic cause, when, peradventure, it was otherwise meant, as Popish ladies will put, it is said, such neophytes and youthful candidates for orders, to many severe trials. "I speak these things jocularly," said the Judge, "having no wish to stain the reputation either of the Honourable Countess or the Reverend Doctor; only I think the bearing between them may have related to something short of high treason. As for what the Attorney-General hath set forth of rescues and force, and I wot not what, sure I am, that in a civil country, when such things happen such things may be proved; and that you and I, gentlemen, are not to take them for granted gratuitously. Touching this other prisoner, this Galfridus minimus, he must needs say," he continued, "he could not discover even a shadow of suspicion against him. Was it to be thought so abortive a creature would thrust himself into depths of policy, far less into stratagems of war? They had but to look at him to conclude the contrary—the creature was, from his age, fitter for the grave than a conspiracy—and by his size and appearance, for the inside of a raree-show, than the mysteries of a plot."
The dwarf here broke in upon the Judge by force of screaming, to assure him that he had been, simple as he sat there, engaged in seven plots in Cromwell's time; and, as he proudly added, with some of the tallest men of England. The matchless look and air with which Sir Geoffrey made this vaunt, set all a-laughing, and increased the ridicule with which the whole trial began to be received; so that it was amidst shaking sides and watery eyes that a general verdict of Not Guilty was pronounced, and the prisoners dismissed from the bar.
But a warmer sentiment awakened among those who saw the father and son throw themselves into each other's arms, and, after a hearty embrace, extend their hands to their poor little companion in peril, who, like a dog, when present at a similar scene, had at last succeeded, by stretching himself up to them and whimpering at the same time, to secure to himself a portion of their sympathy and gratulation.
Such was the singular termination of this trial. Charles himself was desirous to have taken considerable credit with the Duke of Ormond for the evasion of the law, which had been thus effected by his private connivance; and was both surprised and mortified at the coldness with which his Grace replied, that he was rejoiced at the poor gentleman's safety, but would rather have had the King redeem them like a prince, by his royal prerogative of mercy, than that his Judge should convey them out of the power of the law, like a juggler with his cups and balls.
——On fair ground I could beat forty of them! —CORIOLANUS.
It doubtless occurred to many that were present at the trial we have described, that it was managed in a singular manner, and that the quarrel, which had the appearance of having taken place between the Court and the Crown Counsel, might proceed from some private understanding betwixt them, the object of which was the miscarriage of the accusation. Yet though such underhand dealing was much suspected, the greater part of the audience, being well educated and intelligent, had already suspected the bubble of the Popish Plot, and were glad to see that accusations, founded on what had already cost so much blood, could be evaded in any way. But the crowd, who waited in the Court of Requests, and in the hall, and without doors, viewed in a very different light the combination, as they interpreted it, between the Judge and the Attorney-General, for the escape of the prisoners.
Oates, whom less provocation than he had that day received often induced to behave like one frantic with passion, threw himself amongst the crowd, and repeated till he was hoarse, "Theay are stoifling the Plaat!—theay are straangling the Plaat!—My Laard Justice and Maaster Attarney are in league to secure the escape of the plaaters and Paapists!"
"It is the device of the Papist whore of Portsmouth," said one.
"Of old Rowley himself," said another.
"If he could be murdered by himself, why hang those that would hinder it!" exclaimed a third.
"He should be tried," said a fourth, "for conspiring his own death, and hanged in terrorem."
In the meanwhile, Sir Geoffrey, his son, and their little companion, left the hall, intending to go to Lady Peveril's lodgings, which had been removed to Fleet Street. She had been relieved from considerable inconvenience, as Sir Geoffrey gave Julian hastily to understand, by an angel, in the shape of a young friend, and she now expected them doubtless with impatience. Humanity, and some indistinct idea of having unintentionally hurt the feelings of the poor dwarf, induced the honest Cavalier to ask this unprotected being to go with them. "He knew Lady Peveril's lodgings were but small," he said; "but it would be strange, if there was not some cupboard large enough to accommodate the little gentleman."
The dwarf registered this well-meant remark in his mind, to be the subject of a proper explanation, along with the unhappy reminiscence of the trencher-hornpipe, whenever time should permit an argument of such nicety.
And thus they sallied from the hall, attracting general observation, both from the circumstances in which they had stood so lately, and from their resemblance, as a wag of the Inner Temple expressed it, to the three degrees of comparison, Large, Lesser, Least. But they had not passed far along the street, when Julian perceived that more malevolent passions than mere curiosity began to actuate the crowd which followed, and, as it were, dogged their motions.
"There go the Papist cut-throats, tantivy for Rome!" said one fellow.
"Tantivy to Whitehall, you mean!" said another.
"Ah! the bloodthirsty villains!" cried a woman: "Shame, one of them should be suffered to live, after poor Sir Edmondsbury's cruel murder."
"Out upon the mealy-mouthed Jury, that turned out the bloodhounds on an innocent town!" cried a fourth.
In short, the tumult thickened, and the word began to pass among the more desperate, "Lambe them, lads; lambe them!"—a cant phrase of the time, derived from the fate of Dr. Lambe, an astrologer and quack, who was knocked on the head by the rabble in Charles the First's time.
Julian began to be much alarmed at these symptoms of violence, and regretted that they had not gone down to the city by water. It was now too late to think of that mode of retreating, and he therefore requested his father in a whisper, to walk steadily forward towards Charing Cross, taking no notice of the insults which might be cast upon them, while the steadiness of their pace and appearance might prevent the rabble from resorting to actual violence. The execution of this prudent resolution was prevented after they had passed the palace, by the hasty disposition of the elder Sir Geoffrey, and the no less choleric temper of Galfridus Minimus, who had a soul which spurned all odds, as well of numbers as of size.
"Now a murrain take the knaves, with their hollowing and whooping," said the large knight; "by this day, if I could but light on a weapon, I would cudgel reason and loyalty into some of their carcasses!"
"And I also," said the dwarf, who was toiling to keep up with the longer strides of his companions, and therefore spoke in a very phthisical tone.—"I also will cudgel the plebeian knaves beyond measure—he!—hem!"
Among the crowd who thronged around them, impeded, and did all but assault them, was a mischievous shoemaker's apprentice, who, hearing this unlucky vaunt of the valorous dwarf, repaid it by flapping him on the head with a boot which he was carrying home to the owner, so as to knock the little gentleman's hat over his eyes. The dwarf, thus rendered unable to discover the urchin that had given him the offence, flew with instinctive ambition against the biggest fellow in the crowd, who received the onset with a kick on the stomach, which made the poor little champion reel back to his companions. They were now assaulted on all sides; but fortune complying with the wish of Sir Geoffrey the larger, ordained that the scuffle should happen near the booth of a cutler, from amongst whose wares, as they stood exposed to the public, Sir Geoffrey Peveril snatched a broadsword, which he brandished with the formidable address of one who had for many a day been in the familiar practice of using such a weapon. Julian, while at the same time he called loudly for a peace-officer, and reminded the assailants that they were attacking inoffensive passengers, saw nothing better for it than to imitate his father's example, and seized also one of the weapons thus opportunely offered.
When they displayed these demonstrations of defence, the rush which the rabble at first made towards them was so great as to throw down the unfortunate dwarf, who would have been trampled to death in the scuffle, had not his stout old namesake cleared the rascal crowd from about him with a few flourishes of his weapon, and seizing on the fallen champion, put him out of danger (except from missiles), by suddenly placing him on the bulk-head, that is to say, the flat wooden roof of the cutler's projecting booth. From the rusty ironware, which was displayed there, the dwarf instantly snatched an old rapier and target, and covering himself with the one, stood making passes with the other, at the faces and eyes of the people in the street; so much delighted with his post of vantage, that he called loudly to his friends who were skirmishing with the riotous on more equal terms as to position, to lose no time in putting themselves under his protection. But far from being in a situation to need his assistance, the father and son might easily have extricated themselves from the rabble by their own exertions, could they have thought of leaving the mannikin in the forlorn situation, in which, to every eye but his own, he stood like a diminutive puppet, tricked out with sword and target as a fencing-master's sign.
Stones and sticks began now to fly very thick, and the crowd, notwithstanding the exertions of the Peverils to disperse them with as little harm as possible, seemed determined on mischief, when some gentlemen who had been at the trial, understanding that the prisoners who had been just acquitted were in danger of being murdered by the populace, drew their swords, and made forward to effect their rescue, which was completed by a small party of the King's Life Guards, who had been despatched from their ordinary post of alarm, upon intelligence of what was passing. When this unexpected reinforcement arrived, the old jolly Knight at once recognised, amidst the cries of those who then entered upon action, some of the sounds which had animated his more active years.
"Where be these cuckoldly Roundheads," cried some.—"Down with the sneaking knaves!" cried others.—"The King and his friends, and the devil a one else!" exclaimed a third set, with more oaths and d—n me's, than, in the present more correct age, it is necessary to commit to paper.
The old soldier, pricking up his ears like an ancient hunter at the cry of the hounds, would gladly have scoured the Strand, with the charitable purpose, now he saw himself so well supported, of knocking the London knaves, who had insulted him, into twiggen bottles; but he was withheld by the prudence of Julian, who, though himself extremely irritated by the unprovoked ill-usage which they had received, saw himself in a situation in which it was necessary to exercise more caution than vengeance. He prayed and pressed his father to seek some temporary place of retreat from the fury of the populace, while that prudent measure was yet in their power. The subaltern officer, who commanded the party of the Life Guards, exhorted the old Cavalier eagerly to the same sage counsel, using, as a spice of compulsion, the name of the King; while Julian strongly urged that of his mother. The old Knight looked at his blade, crimsoned with cross-cuts and slashes which he had given to the most forward of the assailants, with the eye of one not half sufficed.
"I would I had pinked one of the knaves at least—but I know not how it was, when I looked on their broad round English faces, I shunned to use my point, and only sliced the rogues a little."
"But the King's pleasure," said the officer, "is, that no tumult be prosecuted."
"My mother," said Julian, "will die with fright, if the rumour of this scuffle reaches her ere we see her."
"Ay, ay," said the Knight, "the King's Majesty and my good dame—well, their pleasure be done, that's all I can say—Kings and ladies must be obeyed. But which way to retreat, since retreat we must?"
Julian would have been at some loss to advise what course to take, for everybody in the vicinity had shut up their shops, and chained their doors, upon observing the confusion become so formidable. The poor cutler, however, with whose goods they made so free, offered them an asylum on the part of his landlord, whose house served as a rest for his shop, and only intimated gently, he hoped the gentleman would consider him for the use of his weapons.
Julian was hastily revolving whether they ought, in prudence, to accept this man's invitation, aware, by experience, how many trepans, as they were then termed, were used betwixt two contending factions, each too inveterate to be very scrupulous of the character of fair play to an enemy, when the dwarf, exerting his cracked voice to the uttermost, and shrieking like an exhausted herald, from the exalted station which he still occupied on the bulk-head, exhorted them to accept the offer of the worthy man of the mansion. "He himself," he said, as he reposed himself after the glorious conquest in which he had some share, "had been favoured with a beatific vision, too splendid to be described to common and mere mortal ears, but which had commanded him, in a voice to which his heart had bounded as to a trumpet sound, to take refuge with the worthy person of the house, and cause his friends to do so."
"Vision!" said the Knight of the Peak,—"sound of a trumpet!—the little man is stark mad."
But the cutler, in great haste, intimated to them that their little friend had received an intimation from a gentlewoman of his acquaintance, who spoke to him from the window, while he stood on the bulk-head, that they would find a safe retreat in his landlord's; and desiring them to attend to two or three deep though distant huzzas, made them aware that the rabble were up still, and would soon be upon them with renewed violence, and increased numbers.
The father and son, therefore, hastily thanked the officer and his party, as well as the other gentlemen who had volunteered in their assistance, lifted little Sir Geoffrey Hudson from the conspicuous post which he had so creditably occupied during the skirmish, and followed the footsteps of the tenant of the booth, who conducted them down a blind alley and through one or two courts, in case, as he said, any one might have watched where they burrowed, and so into a back-door. This entrance admitted them to a staircase carefully hung with straw mats to exclude damp, from the upper step of which they entered upon a tolerably large withdrawing-room, hung with coarse green serge edged with gilded leather, which the poorer or more economical citizens at that time use instead of tapestry or wainscoting.
Here the poor cutler received from Julian such a gratuity for the loan of the swords, that he generously abandoned the property to the gentlemen who had used them so well; "the rather," he said, "that he saw, by the way they handed their weapons, that they were men of mettle, and tall fellows."
Here the dwarf smiled on him courteously, and bowed, thrusting at the same time, his hand into his pocket, which however, he withdrew carelessly probably because he found he had not the means of making the small donation which he had meditated.
The cutler proceeded to say, as he bowed and was about to withdraw, that he saw there would be merry days yet in Old England, and that Bilboa blades would fetch as good a price as ever. "I remember," he said, "gentlemen, though I was then but a 'prentice, the demand for weapons in the years forty-one and forty-two; sword blades were more in request than toothpicks, and Old Ironsides, my master, took more for rascally Provant rapiers, than I dare ask nowadays for a Toledo. But, to be sure, a man's life then rested on the blade he carried; the Cavaliers and Roundheads fought every day at the gates of Whitehall, as it is like, gentlemen, by your good example, they may do again, when I shall be enabled to leave my pitiful booth, and open a shop of better quality. I hope you will recommend me, gentlemen, to your friends. I am always provided with ware which a gentleman may risk his life on."
"Thank you, good friend," said Julian, "I prithee begone. I trust we shall need thy ware no more for some time at least."
The cutler retired, while the dwarf hollowed after him downstairs, that he would call on him soon, and equip himself with a longer blade, and one more proper for action; although, he said, the little weapon he had did well enough for a walking-sword, or in a skirmish with such canaille as they had been engaged with.
The cutler returned at this summons, and agreed to pleasure the little man with a weapon more suitable to his magnanimity; then, as if the thought had suddenly occurred to him, he said, "But, gentlemen, it will be wild work to walk with your naked swords through the Strand, and it can scarce fail to raise the rabble again. If you please, while you repose yourselves here, I can fit the blades with sheaths."
The proposal seemed so reasonable, that Julian and his father gave up their weapons to the friendly cutler, an example which the dwarf followed, after a moment's hesitation, not caring, as he magnificently expressed it, to part so soon with the trusty friend which fortune had but the moment before restored to his hand. The man retired with the weapons under his arm; and, in shutting the door behind him, they heard him turn the key.
"Did you hear that?" said Sir Geoffrey to his son—"and we are disarmed!"
Julian, without reply, examined the door, which was fast secured; and then looked at the casements, which were at a storey's height from the ground, and grated besides with iron. "I cannot think," he said, after a moment's pause, "that the fellow means to trepan us; and, in any event, I trust we should have no difficulty in forcing the door, or otherwise making escape. But, before resorting to such violent measures, I think it is better to give the rabble leisure to disperse, by waiting this man's return with our weapons within a reasonable time, when, if he does not appear, I trust we shall find little difficulty in extricating ourselves." As he spoke thus, the hangings were pulled aside, and from a small door which was concealed behind them, Major Bridgenorth entered the room.
He came amongst them like a new raised spirit To speak of dreadful judgments that impend, And of the wrath to come. —THE REFORMER.
The astonishment of Julian at the unexpected apparition of Bridgenorth, was instantly succeeded by apprehension of his father's violence, which he had every reason to believe would break forth against one, whom he himself could not but reverence on account of his own merits, as well as because he was the father of Alice. The appearance of Bridgenorth was not however, such as to awaken resentment. His countenance was calm, his step slow and composed, his eye not without the indication of some deep-seated anxiety, but without any expression either of anger or of triumph. "You are welcome," he said, "Sir Geoffrey Peveril, to the shelter and hospitality of this house; as welcome as you would have been in other days, when we called each other neighbours and friends."
"Odzooks," said the old Cavalier; "and had I known it was thy house, man, I would sooner had my heart's blood run down the kennel, than my foot should have crossed your threshold—in the way of seeking safety, that is."
"I forgive your inveteracy," said Major Bridgenorth, "on account of your prejudices."
"Keep your forgiveness," answered the Cavalier, "until you are pardoned yourself. By Saint George I have sworn, if ever I got my heels out of yon rascally prison, whither I was sent much through your means, Master Bridgenorth,—that you should pay the reckoning for my bad lodging.—I will strike no man in his own house; but if you will cause the fellow to bring back my weapon, and take a turn in that blind court there below, along with me, you shall soon see what chance a traitor hath with a true man, and a kennel-blooded Puritan with Peveril of the Peak."
Bridgenorth smiled with much composure. "When I was younger and more warm-blooded," he replied, "I refused your challenge, Sir Geoffrey; it is not likely I should now accept it, when each is within a stride of the grave. I have not spared, and will not spare, my blood, when my country wants it."
"That is when there is any chance of treason against the King," said Sir Geoffrey.
"Nay, my father," said Julian, "let us hear Master Bridgenorth! We have been sheltered in his house; and although we now see him in London, we should remember that he did not appear against us this day, when perhaps his evidence might have given a fatal turn to our situation."
"You are right, young man," said Bridgenorth; "and it should be some pledge of my sincere goodwill, that I was this day absent from Westminster, when a few words from my mouth had ended the long line of Peveril of the Peak: it needed but ten minutes to walk to Westminster Hall, to have ensured your condemnation. But could I have done this, knowing, as I now know, that to thee, Julian Peveril, I owe the extrication of my daughter—of my dearest Alice—the memory of her departed mother—from the snares which hell and profligacy had opened around her?"
"She is, I trust safe," said Peveril eagerly, and almost forgetting his father's presence; "she is, I trust, safe, and in your own wardship?"
"Not in mine," said the dejected father; "but in that of one in whose protection, next to that of Heaven, I can most fully confide."
"Are you sure—are you very sure of that?" repeated Julian eagerly. "I found her under the charge of one to whom she had been trusted, and who yet——"
"And who yet was the basest of women," answered Bridgenorth; "but he who selected her for the charge was deceived in her character."
"Say rather you were deceived in his; remember that when we parted in Moultrassie, I warned you of that Ganlesse—that——"
"I know your meaning," said Bridgenorth; "nor did you err in describing him as a worldly-wise man. But he has atoned for his error by recovering Alice from the dangers into which she has plunged when separated from you; and besides, I have not thought meet again to entrust him with the charge that is dearest to me."
"I thank God your eyes are thus far opened!" said Julian.
"This day will open them wide, or close them for ever," answered Bridgenorth.
During this dialogue, which the speakers hurried through without attending to the others who were present, Sir Geoffrey listened with surprise and eagerness, endeavouring to catch something which should render their conversation intelligible; but as he totally failed in gaining any such key to their meaning, he broke in with,—"'Sblood and thunder, Julian, what unprofitable gossip is this? What hast thou to do with this fellow, more than to bastinado him, if you should think it worth while to beat so old a rogue?"
"My dearest father," said Julian, "you know not this gentleman—I am certain you do him injustice. My own obligations to him are many; and I am sure when you come to know them——"
"I hope I shall die ere that moment come," said Sir Geoffrey; and continued with increasing violence, "I hope in the mercy of Heaven, that I shall be in the grave of my ancestors, ere I learn that my son—my only son—the last hope of my ancient house—the last remnant of the name of Peveril—hath consented to receive obligations from the man on earth I am most bound to hate, were I not still more bound to contemn him!—Degenerate dog-whelp!" he repeated with great vehemence, "you colour without replying! Speak, and disown such disgrace; or, by the God of my fathers——"
The dwarf suddenly stepped forward and called out, "Forbear!" with a voice at once so discordant and commanding, that it sounded supernatural. "Man of sin and pride," he said, "forbear; and call not the name of a holy God to witness thine unhallowed resentments."
The rebuke so boldly and decidedly given, and the moral enthusiasm with which he spoke, gave the despised dwarf an ascendancy for the moment over the fiery spirit of his gigantic namesake. Sir Geoffrey Peveril eyed him for an instant askance and shyly, as he might have done a supernatural apparition, and then muttered, "What knowest thou of my cause of wrath?"
"Nothing," said the dwarf;—"nothing but this—that no cause can warrant the oath thou wert about to swear. Ungrateful man! thou wert to-day rescued from the devouring wrath of the wicked, by a marvellous conjunction of circumstances—Is this a day, thinkest thou, on which to indulge thine own hasty resentments?"
"I stand rebuked," said Sir Geoffrey, "and by a singular monitor—the grasshopper, as the prayer-book saith, hath become a burden to me.—Julian, I will speak to thee of these matters hereafter;—and for you, Master Bridgenorth, I desire to have no farther communication with you, either in peace or in anger. Our time passes fast, and I would fain return to my family. Cause our weapons to be restored; unbar the doors, and let us part without farther altercation, which can but disturb and aggravate our spirits."
"Sir Geoffrey Peveril," said Bridgenorth, "I have no desire to vex your spirit or my own; but, for thus soon dismissing you, that may hardly be, it being a course inconsistent with the work which I have on hand."
"How, sir! Do you mean that we should abide here, whether with or against our inclinations?" said the dwarf. "Were it not that I am laid under charge to remain here, by one who hath the best right to command this poor microcosm, I would show thee that bolts and bars are unavailing restraints on such as I am."
"Truly," said Sir Geoffrey, "I think, upon an emergency, the little man might make his escape through the keyhole."
Bridgenorth's face was moved into something like a smile at the swaggering speech of the pigmy hero, and the contemptuous commentary of Sir Geoffrey Peveril; but such an expression never dwelt on his features for two seconds together, and he replied in these words:—"Gentlemen, each and all of you must be fain to content yourselves. Believe me, no hurt is intended towards you; on the contrary, your remaining here will be a means of securing your safety, which would be otherwise deeply endangered. It will be your own fault if a hair of your head is hurt. But the stronger force is on my side; and, whatever harm you may meet with should you attempt to break forth by violence, the blame must rest with yourselves. It you will not believe me, I will permit Master Julian Peveril to accompany me, where he shall see that I am provided fully with the means of repressing violence."
"Treason!—treason!" exclaimed the old Knight—"Treason against God and King Charles!—Oh, for one half-hour of the broadsword which I parted with like an ass!"
"Hold, my father, I conjure you!" said Julian. "I will go with Master Bridgenorth, since he requests it. I will satisfy myself whether there be danger, and of what nature. It is possible I may prevail on him to desist from some desperate measure, if such be indeed in agitation. Should it be necessary, fear not that your son will behave as he ought to do."
"Do your pleasure, Julian," said his father; "I will confide in thee. But if you betray my confidence, a father's curse shall cleave to you."
Bridgenorth now motioned to Peveril to follow him, and they passed through the small door by which he entered.
The passage led to a vestibule or anteroom, in which several other doors and passages seemed to centre. Through one of these Julian was conducted by Bridgenorth, walking with silence and precaution, in obedience to a signal made by his guide to that effect. As they advanced, he heard sounds, like those of the human voice, engaged in urgent and emphatic declamation. With slow and light steps Bridgenorth conducted him through a door which terminated this passage; and as he entered a little gallery, having a curtain in front, the sound of the preacher's voice—for such it now seemed—became distinct and audible.
Julian now doubted not that he was in one of those conventicles, which, though contrary to the existing laws, still continued to be regularly held in different parts of London and the suburbs. Many of these, as frequented by persons of moderate political principles, though dissenters from the Church for conscience' sake, were connived at by the prudence or timidity of the government. But some of them, in which assembled the fiercer and more exalted sects of Independents, Anabaptists, Fifth-Monarchy men, and other sectaries, whose stern enthusiasm had contributed so greatly to effect the overthrow of the late King's throne, were sought after, suppressed, and dispersed, whenever they could be discovered.
Julian was soon satisfied that the meeting into which he was thus secretly introduced was one of the latter class; and, to judge by the violence of the preacher, of the most desperate character. He was still more effectually convinced of this, when, at a sign from Bridgenorth, he cautiously unclosed a part of the curtain which hung before the gallery, and thus, unseen himself, looked down on the audience, and obtained a view of the preacher.
About two hundred persons were assembled beneath, in an area filled up with benches, as if for the exercise of worship; and they were all of the male sex, and well armed with pikes and muskets, as well as swords and pistols. Most of them had the appearance of veteran soldiers, now past the middle of life, yet retaining such an appearance of strength as might well supply the loss of youthful agility. They stood, or sat, in various attitudes of stern attention; and, resting on their spears and muskets, kept their eyes firmly fixed on the preacher, who ended the violence of his declamation by displaying from the pulpit a banner, on which was represented a lion, with the motto, "Vicit Leo ex tribu Judae."
The torrent of mystical yet animating eloquence of the preacher—an old grey-haired man, whom zeal seemed to supply with the powers of voice and action, of which years had deprived him—was suited to the taste of his audience, but could not be transferred to these pages without scandal and impropriety. He menaced the rulers of England with all the judgments denounced on those of Moab and Assyria—he called upon the saints to be strong, to be up and doing; and promised those miracles which, in the campaigns of Joshua, and his successors, the valiant Judges of Israel, supplied all odds against the Amorites, Midianites, and Philistines. He sounded trumpets, opened vials, broke seals, and denounced approaching judgments under all the mystical signs of the Apocalypse. The end of the world was announced, accompanied with all its preliminary terrors.
Julian, with deep anxiety, soon heard enough to make him aware that the meeting was likely to terminate in open insurrection, like that of the Fifth-Monarchy men, under Venner, at an earlier period of Charles's reign; and he was not a little concerned at the probability of Bridgenorth being implicated in so criminal and desperate an undertaking. If he had retained any doubts of the issue of the meeting, they must have been removed when the preacher called on his hearers to renounce all expectation which had hitherto been entertained of safety to the nation, from the execution of the ordinary laws of the land. This, he said, was at best but a carnal seeking after earthly aid—a going down to Egypt for help, which the jealousy of their Divine Leader would resent as a fleeing to another rock, and a different banner, from that which was this day displayed over them.—And here he solemnly swung the bannered lion over their heads, as the only sign under which they ought to seek for life and safety. He then proceeded to insist, that recourse to ordinary justice was vain as well as sinful.
"The event of that day at Westminster," he said, "might teach them that the man at Whitehall was even as the man his father;" and closed a long tirade against the vices of the Court, with assurance "that Tophet was ordained of old—for the King it was made hot."
As the preacher entered on a description of the approaching theocracy, which he dared to prophesy, Bridgenorth, who appeared for a time to have forgotten the presence of Julian, whilst with stern and fixed attention he drunk in the words of the preacher, seemed suddenly to collect himself, and, taking Julian by the hand, led him out of the gallery, of which he carefully closed the door, into an apartment at no great distance.
When they arrived there, he anticipated the expostulations of Julian, by asking him, in a tone of severe triumph, whether these men he had seen were likely to do their work negligently, or whether it would not be perilous to attempt to force their way from a house, when all the avenues were guarded by such as he had now seen—men of war from their childhood upwards.
"In the name of Heaven," said Julian, without replying to Bridgenorth's question, "for what desperate purpose have you assembled so many desperate men? I am well aware that your sentiments of religion are peculiar; but beware how you deceive yourself—No views of religion can sanction rebellion and murder; and such are the natural and necessary consequences of the doctrine we have just heard poured into the ears of fanatical and violent enthusiasts."
"My son," said Bridgenorth calmly, "in the days of my non-age, I thought as you do. I deemed it sufficient to pay my tithes of cummin and aniseed—my poor petty moral observances of the old law; and I thought I was heaping up precious things, when they were in value no more than the husks of the swine-trough. Praised be Heaven, the scales are fallen from mine eyes; and after forty years' wandering in the desert of Sinai, I am at length arrived in the Land of Promise—My corrupt human nature has left me—I have cast my slough, and can now with some conscience put my hand to the plough, certain that there is no weakness left in me where-through I may look back. The furrows," he added, bending his brows, while a gloomy fire filled his large eyes, "must be drawn long and deep, and watered by the blood of the mighty."
There was a change in Bridgenorth's tone and manner, when he used these singular expressions, which convinced Julian that his mind, which had wavered for so many years between his natural good sense and the insane enthusiasm of the time, had finally given way to the latter; and, sensible of the danger in which the unhappy man himself, the innocent and beautiful Alice, and his own father, were likely to be placed—to say nothing of the general risk of the community by a sudden insurrection, he at the same time felt that there was no chance of reasoning effectually with one, who would oppose spiritual conviction to all arguments which reason could urge against his wild schemes. To touch his feeling seemed a more probable resource; and Julian therefore conjured Bridgenorth to think how much his daughter's honour and safety were concerned in his abstaining from the dangerous course which he meditated. "If you fall," he said, "must she not pass under the power and guardianship of her uncle, whom you allow to have shown himself capable of the grossest mistake in the choice of her female protectress; and whom I believe, upon good grounds, to have made that infamous choice with his eyes open?"
"Young man," answered Bridgenorth, "you make me feel like the poor bird, around whose wing some wanton boy has fixed a line, to pull the struggling wretch to earth at his pleasure. Know, since thou wilt play this cruel part, and drag me down from higher contemplations, that she with whom Alice is placed, and who hath in future full power to guide her motions, and decide her fate, despite of Christian and every one else, is—I will not tell thee who she is—Enough—no one—thou least of all, needs to fear for her safety."
At this moment a side-door opened, and Christian himself came into the apartment. He started and coloured when he saw Julian Peveril; then turning to Bridgenorth with an assumed air of indifference, asked, "Is Saul among the prophets?—Is a Peveril among the saints?"
"No, brother," replied Bridgenorth, "his time is not come more than thine own—thou art too deep in the ambitious intrigues of manhood, and he in the giddy passions of youth, to hear the still calm voice—You will both hear it, as I trust and pray."
"Master Ganlesse, or Christian, or by whatever name you are called," said Julian, "by whatever reasons you guide yourself in this most perilous matter, you at least are not influenced by any idea of an immediate divine command for commencing hostilities against the state. Leaving, therefore, for the present, whatever subjects of discussion may be between us, I implore you, as a man of shrewdness and sense, to join with me in dissuading Master Bridgenorth from the fatal enterprise which he now meditates."
"Young gentleman," said Christian, with great composure, "when we met in the west, I was willing to have made a friend of you, but you rejected the overture. You might, however, even then have seen enough of me to be assured, that I am not likely to rush too rashly on any desperate undertaking. As to this which lies before us, my brother Bridgenorth brings to it the simplicity, though not the harmlessness of the dove, and I the subtilty of the serpent. He hath the leading of saints who are moved by the spirit; and I can add to their efforts a powerful body, who have for their instigators the world, the devil, and the flesh."
"And can you," said Julian, looking at Bridgenorth, "accede to such an unworthy union?"
"I unite not with them," said Bridgenorth; "but I may not, without guilt, reject the aid which Providence sends to assist His servants. We are ourselves few, though determined—Those whose swords come to help the cutting down of the harvest, must be welcome—When their work is wrought, they will be converted or scattered.—Have you been at York Place, brother, with that unstable epicure? We must have his last resolution, and that within an hour."
Christian looked at Julian, as if his presence prevented him from returning an answer; upon which Bridgenorth arose, and taking the young man by the arm, led him out of the apartment, into that in which they had left his father; assuring him by the way, that determined and vigilant guards were placed in every different quarter by which escape could be effected, and that he would do well to persuade his father to remain a quiet prisoner for a few hours.
Julian returned him no answer, and Bridgenorth presently retired, leaving him alone with his father and Hudson. To their questions he could only briefly reply, that he feared they were trepanned, since they were in the house with at least two hundred fanatics, completely armed, and apparently prepared for desperate enterprise. Their own want of arms precluded the possibility of open violence; and however unpleasant it might be to remain in such a condition, it seemed difficult, from the strength of the fastenings at doors and windows, to attempt any secret escape without instantaneous detection.
The valiant dwarf alone nursed hopes, with which he in vain endeavoured to inspire his companions in affliction. "The fair one, whose eyes," he said, "were like the twin stars of Leda"—for the little man was a great admirer of lofty language—"had not invited him, the most devoted, and, it might be, not the least favoured of her servants, into this place as a harbour, in order that he might therein suffer shipwreck; and he generously assured his friends, that in his safety they also should be safe."
Sir Geoffrey, little cheered by this intimation, expressed his despair at not being able to get the length of Whitehall, where he trusted to find as many jolly Cavaliers as would help him to stifle the whole nest of wasps in their hive; while Julian was of opinion that the best service he could now render Bridgenorth, would be timeously to disclose his plot, and, if possible, to send him at the same time warning to save his person.
But we must leave them to meditate over their plans at leisure; no one of which, as they all depended on their previous escape from confinement, seemed in any great chance of being executed.
And some for safety took the dreadful leap; Some for the voice of Heaven seem'd calling on them; Some for advancement, or for lucre's sake— I leap'd in frolic. —THE DREAM.
After a private conversation with Bridgenorth, Christian hastened to the Duke of Buckingham's hotel, taking at the same time such a route as to avoid meeting with any acquaintance. He was ushered into the apartment of the Duke, whom he found cracking and eating filberts, with a flask of excellent white wine at his elbow. "Christian," said his Grace, "come help me to laugh—I have bit Sir Charles Sedley—flung him for a thousand, by the gods!"
"I am glad at your luck, my Lord Duke," replied Christian; "but I am come here on serious business."
"Serious?—why, I shall hardly be serious in my life again—ha, ha, ha!—and for luck, it was no such thing—sheer wit, and excellent contrivance; and but that I don't care to affront Fortune, like the old Greek general, I might tell her to her face—In this thou hadst no share. You have heard, Ned Christian, that Mother Cresswell is dead?"
"Yes, I did hear that the devil hath got his due," answered Christian.
"Well," said the Duke, "you are ungrateful; for I know you have been obliged to her, as well as others. Before George, a most benevolent and helpful old lady; and that she might not sleep in an unblest grave, I betted—do you mark me—with Sedley, that I would write her funeral sermon; that it should be every word in praise of her life and conversation, that it should be all true, and yet that the diocesan should be unable to lay his thumb on Quodling, my little chaplain, who should preach it."
"I perfectly see the difficulty, my lord," said Christian, who well knew that if he wished to secure attention from this volatile nobleman, he must first suffer, nay, encourage him, to exhaust the topic, whatever it might be, that had got temporary possession of his pineal gland.
"Why," said the Duke, "I had caused my little Quodling to go through his oration thus—'That whatever evil reports had passed current during the lifetime of the worthy matron whom they had restored to dust that day, malice herself could not deny that she was born well, married well, lived well, and died well; since she was born in Shadwell, married to Cresswell, lived in Camberwell, and died in Bridewell.' Here ended the oration, and with it Sedley's ambitious hopes of overreaching Buckingham—ha, ha, ha!—And now, Master Christian, what are your commands for me to-day?"
"First, to thank your Grace for being so attentive as to send so formidable a person as Colonel Blood, to wait upon your poor friend and servant. Faith, he took such an interest in my leaving town, that he wanted to compel me to do it at point of fox, so I was obliged to spill a little of his malapert blood. Your Grace's swordsmen have had ill luck of late; and it is hard, since you always choose the best hands, and such scrupleless knaves too."
"Come now, Christian," said the Duke, "do not thus exult over me; a great man, if I may so call myself, is never greater than amid miscarriage. I only played this little trick on you, Christian, to impress on you a wholesome idea of the interest I take in your motions. The scoundrel's having dared to draw upon you, is a thing not to be forgiven.—What! injure my old friend Christian?"
"And why not," said Christian coolly, "if your old friend was so stubborn as not to go out of town, like a good boy, when your Grace required him to do so, for the civil purpose of entertaining his niece in his absence?"
"How—what!—how do you mean by my entertaining your niece, Master Christian?" said the Duke. "She was a personage far beyond my poor attentions, being destined, if I recollect aright, to something like royal favour."
"It was her fate, however, to be the guest of your Grace's convent for a brace of days, or so. Marry, my lord, the father confessor was not at home, and—for convents have been scaled of late—returned not till the bird was flown."
"Christian, thou art an old reynard—I see there is no doubling with thee. It was thou, then, that stole away my pretty prize, but left me something so much prettier in my mind, that, had it not made itself wings to fly away with, I would have placed it in a cage of gold. Never be downcast, man; I forgive thee—I forgive thee."
"Your Grace is of a most merciful disposition, especially considering it is I who have had the wrong; and sages have said, that he who doth the injury is less apt to forgive than he who only sustains it."
"True, true, Christian," said the Duke, "which, as you say, is something quite new, and places my clemency in a striking point of view. Well, then, thou forgiven man, when shall I see my Mauritanian Princess again?"
"Wherever I am certain that a quibble, and a carwhichit, for a play or a sermon, will not banish her from your Grace's memory."
"Not all the wit of South, or of Etherege," said Buckingham hastily, "to say nothing of my own, shall in future make me oblivious of what I owe the Morisco Princess."
"Yet, to leave the fair lady out of thought for a little while—a very little while," said Christian, "since I swear that in due time your Grace shall see her, and know in her the most extraordinary woman that the age has produced—to leave her, I say out of sight for a little while, has your Grace had late notice of your Duchess's health?"
"Health," said the Duke. "Umph—no—nothing particular. She has been ill—but——"
"She is no longer so," subjoined Christian; "she died in Yorkshire forty-eight hours since."
"Thou must deal with the devil," said the Duke.
"It would ill become one of my name to do so," replied Christian. "But in the brief interval, since your Grace hath known of an event which hath not yet reached the public ear, you have, I believe, made proposals to the King for the hand of the Lady Anne, second daughter of the Duke of York, and your Grace's proposals have been rejected."
"Fiends and firebrands, villain!" said the Duke, starting up and seizing Christian by the collar; "who hath told thee that?"
"Take your hand from my cloak, my Lord Duke, and I may answer you," said Christian. "I have a scurvy touch of old puritanical humour about me. I abide not the imposition of hands—take off your grasp from my cloak, or I will find means to make you unloose it."
The Duke, who had kept his right hand on his dagger-hilt while he held Christian's collar with his left, unloosed it as he spoke, but slowly, and as one who rather suspends than abandons the execution of some hasty impulse; while Christian, adjusting his cloak with perfect composure, said, "Soh—my cloak being at liberty, we speak on equal terms. I come not to insult your Grace, but to offer you vengeance for the insult you have received."
"Vengeance!" said the Duke—"It is the dearest proffer man can present to me in my present mood. I hunger for vengeance—thirst for vengeance—could die to ensure vengeance!—-'Sdeath!" he continued, walking up and down the large apartment with the most unrestrained and violent agitation; "I have chased this repulse out of my brain with ten thousand trifles, because I thought no one knew it. But it is known, and to thee, the very common-sewer of Court-secrets—the honour of Villiers is in thy keeping, Ned Christian! Speak, thou man of wiles and of intrigue—on whom dost thou promise the vengeance? Speak! and if thy answers meet my desires, I will make a bargain with thee as willingly as with thy master, Satan himself."
"I will not be," said Christian, "so unreasonable in my terms as stories tell of the old apostate; I will offer your Grace, as he might do, temporal prosperity and revenge, which is his frequent recruiting money, but I leave it to yourself to provide, as you may be pleased, for your future salvation."
The Duke, gazing upon him fixedly and sadly, replied, "I would to God, Christian, that I could read what purpose of damnable villainy thou hast to propose to me in thy countenance, without the necessity of thy using words!"
"Your Grace can but try a guess," said Christian, calmly smiling.
"No," replied the Duke, after gazing at him again for the space of a minute; "thou art so deeply dyed a hypocrite, that thy mean features, and clear grey eye, are as likely to conceal treason, as any petty scheme of theft or larceny more corresponding to your degree."
"Treason, my lord!" echoed Christian; "you may have guessed more nearly than you were aware of. I honour your Grace's penetration."
"Treason?" echoed the Duke. "Who dare name such a crime to me?"
"If a name startles your Grace, you may call it vengeance—vengeance on the cabal of councillors, who have ever countermined you, in spite of your wit and your interest with the King.—Vengeance on Arlington, Ormond—on Charles himself."
"No, by Heaven," said the Duke, resuming his disordered walk through the apartment—"Vengeance on these rats of the Privy Council,—come at it as you will. But the King!—never—never. I have provoked him a hundred times, where he has stirred me once. I have crossed his path in state intrigue—rivalled him in love—had the advantage in both,—and, d—n it, he has forgiven me! If treason would put me in his throne, I have no apology for it—it were worse than bestial ingratitude."
"Nobly spoken, my lord," said Christian; "and consistent alike with the obligations under which your Grace lies to Charles Stewart, and the sense you have ever shown of them.—But it signifies not. If your Grace patronise not our enterprise, there is Shaftesbury—there is Monmouth——"
"Scoundrel!" exclaimed the Duke, even more vehemently agitated than before, "think you that you shall carry on with others an enterprise which I have refused?—No, by every heathen and every Christian god!—Hark ye, Christian, I will arrest you on the spot—I will, by gods and devils, and carry you to unravel your plot at Whitehall."
"Where the first words I speak," answered the imperturbable Christian, "will be to inform the Privy Council in what place they may find certain letters, wherewith your Grace has honoured your poor vassal, containing, as I think, particulars which his Majesty will read with more surprise than pleasure."
"'Sdeath, villain!" said the Duke, once more laying his hand on his poniard-hilt, "thou hast me again at advantage. I know not why I forbear to poniard you where you stand!"
"I might fall, my Lord Duke," said Christian, slightly colouring, and putting his right hand into his bosom, "though not, I think, unavenged—for I have not put my person into this peril altogether without means of defence. I might fall, but, alas! your Grace's correspondence is in hands, which, by that very act, would be rendered sufficiently active in handing them to the King and the Privy Council. What say you to the Moorish Princess, my Lord Duke? What if I have left her executrix of my will, with certain instructions how to proceed if I return not unharmed from York Place? Oh, my lord, though my head is in the wolf's mouth, I was not goose enough to place it there without settling how many carabines should be fired on the wolf, so soon as my dying cackle was heard.—Pshaw, my Lord Duke! you deal with a man of sense and courage, yet you speak to him as a child and a coward."
The Duke threw himself into a chair, fixed his eyes on the ground, and spoke without raising them. "I am about to call Jerningham," he said; "but fear nothing—it is only for a draught of wine—That stuff on the table may be a vehicle of filberts, and walnuts, but not for such communications as yours.—Bring me champagne," he said to the attendant who answered to his summons.
The domestic returned, and brought a flask of champagne, with two large silver cups. One of them he filled for Buckingham, who, contrary to the usual etiquette, was always served first at home, and then offered the other to Christian, who declined to receive it.
The Duke drank off the large goblet which was presented to him, and for a moment covered his forehead with the palm of his hand; then instantly withdrew it, and said, "Christian, speak your errand plainly. We know each other. If my reputation be in some degree in your hands, you are well aware that your life is in mine. Sit down," he said, taking a pistol from his bosom and laying it on the table—"Sit down, and let me hear your proposal."
"My lord," said Christian, smiling, "I shall produce no such ultimate argument on my part, though possibly, in time of need, I may not be found destitute of them. But my defence is in the situation of things, and in the composed view which, doubtless, your Majesty will take of them."
"Majesty!" repeated the Duke—"My good friend Christian, you have kept company with the Puritans so long, that you confuse the ordinary titles of the Court."
"I know not how to apologise," said Christian, "unless your Grace will suppose that I spoke by prophecy."
"Such as the devil delivered to Macbeth," said the Duke—again paced the chamber, and again seated himself, and said, "Be plain, Christian—speak out at once, and manfully, what is it you intend?"
"I," said Christian—"What should I do?—I can do nothing in such a matter; but I thought it right that your Grace should know that the godly of this city"—(he spoke the word with a kind of ironical grin)—"are impatient of inactivity, and must needs be up and doing. My brother Bridgenorth is at the head of all old Weiver's congregation; for you must know, that, after floundering from one faith to another, he hath now got beyond ordinances, and is become a Fifth-Monarchy man. He has nigh two hundred of Weiver's people, fully equipped, and ready to fall on; and, with slight aid from your Grace's people, they must carry Whitehall, and make prisoners of all within it."
"Rascal!" said the Duke, "and is it to a Peer of England you make this communication?"
"Nay," answered Christian, "I admit it would be extreme folly in your Grace to appear until all is over. But let me give Blood and the others a hint on your part. There are the four Germans also—right Knipperdolings and Anabaptists—will be specially useful. You are wise, my lord, and know the value of a corps of domestic gladiators, as well as did Octavius, Lepidus, and Anthony, when, by such family forces, they divided the world by indenture tripartite."
"Stay, stay," said the Duke. "Even if these bloodhounds were to join with you—not that I would permit it without the most positive assurances for the King's personal safety—but say the villains were to join, what hope have you of carrying the Court?"
"Bully Tom Armstrong,[*] my lord, hath promised his interest with the Life Guards. Then there are my Lord Shaftesbury's brisk boys in the city—thirty thousand on the holding up a finger."
[*] Thomas, or Sir Thomas Armstrong, a person who had distinguished himself in youth by duels and drunken exploits. He was particularly connected with the Duke of Monmouth, and was said to be concerned in the Rye-House Plot, for which he suffered capital punishment, 20th June 1684.
"Let him hold up both hands, and if he count a hundred for each finger," said the Duke, "it will be more than I expect. You have not spoken to him?"
"Surely not till your Grace's pleasure was known. But, if he is not applied to, there is the Dutch train, Hans Snorehout's congregation, in the Strand—there are the French Protestants in Piccadilly—there are the family of Levi in Lewkenor's Lane—the Muggletonians in Thames Street——"
"Ah, faugh!—Out upon them—out upon them!—How the knaves will stink of cheese and tobacco when they come upon action!—they will drown all the perfumes in Whitehall. Spare me the detail; and let me know, my dearest Ned, the sum total of thy most odoriferous forces."
"Fifteen hundred men, well armed," said Christian, "besides the rabble that will rise to a certainty—they have already nearly torn to pieces the prisoners who were this day acquitted on account of the Plot."
"All, then, I understand.—And now, hark ye, most Christian Christian," said he, wheeling his chair full in front of that on which his agent was seated, "you have told me many things to-day—Shall I be equally communicative? Shall I show you that my accuracy of information matches yours? Shall I tell you, in a word, why you have at once resolved to push every one, from the Puritan to the free-thinker, upon a general attack of the Palace of Whitehall, without allowing me, a peer of the realm, time either to pause upon or to prepare for a step so desperate? Shall I tell you why you would lead or drive, seduce or compel me, into countenancing your measures?"