This situation, inconvenient enough in itself, was, on the present occasion, precisely what Julian would have selected. He wrapped himself in the weather-beaten cloak of Lance Outram, which had been stained, by age and weather, into a thousand variations from its original Lincoln green; and with as little noise as he could, set himself to observe the two inmates, who had engrossed to themselves the whole of the apartment, which was usually open to the public. They sat by a table well covered with such costly rarities, as could only have been procured by much forecast, and prepared by the exquisite Mons. Chaubert; to which both seemed to do much justice.
Julian had little difficulty in ascertaining, that one of the travellers was, as he had anticipated, the master of the said Chaubert, or, as he was called by Ganlesse, Smith; the other, who faced him, he had never seen before. This last was dressed like a gallant of the first order. His periwig, indeed, as he travelled on horseback, did not much exceed in size the bar-wig of a modern lawyer; but then the essence which he shook from it with every motion, impregnated a whole apartment, which was usually only perfumed by that vulgar herb, tobacco. His riding-coat was laced in the newest and most courtly style; and Grammont himself might have envied the embroidery of his waistcoat, and the peculiar cut of his breeches, which buttoned above the knee, permitting the shape of a very handsome leg to be completely seen. This, by the proprietor thereof, had been stretched out upon a stool, and he contemplated its proportions, from time to time, with infinite satisfaction.
The conversation between these worthies was so interesting, that we propose to assign to it another chapter.
——This is some creature of the elements, Most like your sea-gull. He can wheel and whistle His screaming song, e'en when the storm is loudest— Take for his sheeted couch the restless foam Of the wild wave-crest—slumber in the calm, And daily with the storm. Yet 'tis a gull, An arrant gull, with all this. —THE CHAMPION.
"And here is to thee," said the fashionable gallant whom we have described, "honest Tom; and a cup of welcome to thee out of Looby-land. Why, thou hast been so long in the country, that thou hast got a bumpkinly clod-compelling sort of look thyself. That greasy doublet fits thee as if it were thy reserved Sunday's apparel; and the points seem as if they were stay-laces bought for thy true-love Marjory. I marvel thou canst still relish a ragout. Methinks now, to a stomach bound in such a jacket, eggs and bacon were a diet more conforming."
"Rally away, my good lord, while wit lasts," answered his companion; "yours is not the sort of ammunition which will bear much expenditure. Or rather, tell me news from Court, since we have met so opportunely."
"You would have asked me these an hour ago," said the lord, "had not your very soul been under Chaubert's covered dishes. You remembered King's affairs will keep cool, and entre-mets must be eaten hot."
"Not so, my lord; I only kept common talk whilst that eavesdropping rascal of a landlord was in the room; so that, now the coast is clear once more, I pray you for news from Court."
"The Plot is nonsuited," answered the courtier—"Sir George Wakeman acquitted—the witnesses discredited by the jury—Scroggs, who ranted on one side, is now ranting on t'other."
"Rat the Plot, Wakeman, witnesses, Papists, and Protestants, all together! Do you think I care for such trash as that?—Till the Plot comes up the Palace backstair, and gets possession of old Rowley's own imagination, I care not a farthing who believes or disbelieves. I hang by him will bear me out."
"Well, then," said the lord, "the next news is Rochester's disgrace."
"Disgraced!—How, and for what? The morning I came off he stood as fair as any one."
"That's over—the epitaph[*] has broken his neck—and now he may write one for his own Court favour, for it is dead and buried."
[*] The epitaph alluded to is the celebrated epigram made by Rochester on Charles II. It was composed at the King's request, who nevertheless resented its poignancy.
The lines are well known:—
"Here lies our sovereign lord the King, Whose word no man relies on, Who never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one."
"The epitaph!" exclaimed Tom; "why, I was by when it was made; and it passed for an excellent good jest with him whom it was made upon."
"Ay, so it did amongst ourselves," answered his companion; "but it got abroad, and had a run like a mill-race. It was in every coffee-house, and in half the diurnals. Grammont translated it into French too; and there is no laughing at so sharp a jest, when it is dinned into your ears on all sides. So disgraced is the author; and but for his Grace of Buckingham, the Court would be as dull as my Lord Chancellor's wig."
"Or as the head it covers.—Well, my lord, the fewer at Court, there is the more room for those that can bustle there. But there are two mainstrings of Shaftesbury's fiddle broken—the Popish Plot fallen into discredit—and Rochester disgraced. Changeful times—but here is to the little man who shall mend them."
"I apprehend you," replied his lordship; "and meet your health with my love. Trust me, my lord loves you, and longs for you.—Nay, I have done you reason.—By your leave, the cup is with me. Here is to his buxom Grace of Bucks."
"As blithe a peer," said Smith, "as ever turned night to day. Nay, it shall be an overflowing bumper, an you will; and I will drink it super naculum.—And how stands the great Madam?"[*]
[*] The Duchess of Portsmouth, Charles II.'s favourite mistress; very unpopular at the time of the Popish Plot, as well from her religion as her country, being a Frenchwoman and a Catholic.
"Stoutly against all change," answered the lord—"Little Anthony[*] can make nought of her."
[*] Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, the politician and intriguer of the period.
"Then he shall bring her influence to nought. Hark in thine ear. Thou knowest——" (Here he whispered so low that Julian could not catch the sound.)
"Know him?" answered the other—"Know Ned of the Island?—To be sure I do."
"He is the man that shall knot the great fiddle-strings that have snapped. Say I told you so; and thereupon I give thee his health."
"And thereupon I pledge thee," said the young nobleman, "which on any other argument I were loath to do—thinking of Ned as somewhat the cut of a villain."
"Granted, man—granted," said the other,—"a very thorough-paced rascal; but able, my lord, able and necessary; and, in this plan, indispensable.—Pshaw!—This champagne turns stronger as it gets older, I think."
"Hark, mine honest fellow," said the courtier; "I would thou wouldst give me some item of all this mystery. Thou hast it, I know; for whom do men entrust but trusty Chiffinch?"
"It is your pleasure to say so, my lord," answered Smith (whom we shall hereafter call by his real name of Chiffinch) with such drunken gravity, for his speech had become a little altered by his copious libations in the course of the evening,—"few men know more, or say less, than I do; and it well becomes my station. Conticuere omnes, as the grammar hath it—all men should learn to hold their tongue."
"Except with a friend, Tom—except with a friend. Thou wilt never be such a dogbolt as to refuse a hint to a friend? Come, you get too wise and statesman-like for your office.—The ligatures of thy most peasantly jacket there are like to burst with thy secret. Come, undo a button, man; it is for the health of thy constitution—Let out a reef; and let thy chosen friend know what is meditating. Thou knowest I am as true as thyself to little Anthony, if he can but get uppermost."
"If, thou lordly infidel!" said Chiffinch—"talk'st thou to me of ifs?—There is neither if nor and in the matter. The great Madam shall be pulled a peg down—the great Plot screwed a peg or two up. Thou knowest Ned?—Honest Ned had a brother's death to revenge."
"I have heard so," said the nobleman; "and that his persevering resentment of that injury was one of the few points which seemed to be a sort of heathenish virtue in him."
"Well," continued Chiffinch, "in manoeuvring to bring about this revenge, which he hath laboured at many a day, he hath discovered a treasure."
"What!—In the Isle of Man?" said his companion.
"Assure yourself of it.—She is a creature so lovely, that she needs but be seen to put down every one of the favourites, from Portsmouth and Cleveland down to that threepenny baggage, Mistress Nelly."
"By my word, Chiffinch," said my lord, "that is a reinforcement after the fashion of thine own best tactics. But bethink thee, man! To make such a conquest, there wants more than a cherry-cheek and a bright eye—there must be wit—wit, man, and manners, and a little sense besides, to keep influence when it is gotten."
"Pshaw! will you tell me what goes to this vocation?" said Chiffinch. "Here, pledge me her health in a brimmer.—Nay, you shall do it on knees, too.—Never such a triumphant beauty was seen—I went to church on purpose, for the first time these ten years—Yet I lie, it was not to church neither—it was to chapel."
"To chapel!—What the devil, is she a Puritan?" exclaimed the other courtier.
"To be sure she is. Do you think I would be accessory to bringing a Papist into favour in these times, when, as my good Lord said in the House, there should not be a Popish manservant, nor a Popish maid-servant, not so much as dog or cat, left to bark or mew about the King!"[*]
[*] Such was the extravagance of Shaftesbury's eloquence.
"But consider, Chiffie, the dislikelihood of her pleasing," said the noble courtier.—"What! old Rowley, with his wit, and love of wit—his wildness, and love of wildness—he form a league with a silly, scrupulous, unidea'd Puritan!—Not if she were Venus."
"Thou knowest nought of the matter," answered Chiffinch. "I tell thee, the fine contrast between the seeming saint and falling sinner will give zest to the old gentleman's inclination. If I do not know him, who does?—Her health, my lord, on your bare knee, as you would live to be of the bedchamber."
"I pledge you most devoutly," answered his friend. "But you have not told me how the acquaintance is to be made; for you cannot, I think, carry her to Whitehall."
"Aha, my dear lord, you would have the whole secret! but that I cannot afford—I can spare a friend a peep at my ends, but no one must look on the means by which they are achieved."—So saying, he shook his drunken head most wisely.
The villainous design which this discourse implied, and which his heart told him was designed against Alice Bridgenorth, stirred Julian so extremely, that he involuntarily shifted his posture, and laid his hand on his sword hilt.
Chiffinch heard a rustling, and broke off, exclaiming, "Hark!—Zounds, something moved—I trust I have told the tale to no ears but thine."
"I will cut off any which have drunk in but a syllable of thy words," said the nobleman; and raising a candle, he took a hasty survey of the apartment. Seeing nothing that could incur his menaced resentment, he replaced the light and continued:—"Well, suppose the Belle Louise de Querouaille[*] shoots from her high station in the firmament, how will you rear up the downfallen Plot again—for without that same Plot, think of it as thou wilt, we have no change of hands—and matters remain as they were, with a Protestant courtezan instead of a Papist—Little Anthony can but little speed without that Plot of his—I believe, in my conscience, he begot it himself."[+]
[*] Charles's principal mistress en titre. She was created Duchess of Portsmouth.
[+] Shaftesbury himself is supposed to have said that he knew not who was the inventor of the Plot, but that he himself had all the advantage of the discovery.
"Whoever begot it," said Chiffinch, "he hath adopted it; and a thriving babe it has been to him. Well, then, though it lies out of my way, I will play Saint Peter again—up with t'other key, and unlock t'other mystery."
"Now thou speakest like a good fellow; and I will, with my own hands, unwire this fresh flask, to begin a brimmer to the success of thy achievement."
"Well, then," continued the communicative Chiffinch, "thou knowest that they have long had a nibbling at the old Countess of Derby.—So Ned was sent down—he owes her an old accompt, thou knowest—with private instructions to possess himself of the island, if he could, by help of some of his old friends. He hath ever kept up spies upon her; and happy man was he, to think his hour of vengeance was come so nigh. But he missed his blow; and the old girl being placed on her guard, was soon in a condition to make Ned smoke for it. Out of the island he came with little advantage for having entered it; when, by some means—for the devil, I think, stands ever his friend—he obtained information concerning a messenger, whom her old Majesty of Man had sent to London to make party in her behalf. Ned stuck himself to this fellow—a raw, half-bred lad, son of an old blundering Cavalier of the old stamp, down in Derbyshire—and so managed the swain, that he brought him to the place where I was waiting, in anxious expectation of the pretty one I told you of. By Saint Anthony, for I will swear by no meaner oath, I stared when I saw this great lout—not that the fellow is so ill-looked neither—I stared like—like—good now, help me to a simile."
"Like Saint Anthony's pig, an it were sleek," said the young lord; "your eyes, Chiffie, have the very blink of one. But what hath all this to do with the Plot? Hold, I have had wine enough."
"You shall not balk me," said Chiffinch; and a jingling was heard, as if he were filling his comrade's glass with a very unsteady hand. "Hey—What the devil is the matter?—I used to carry my glass steady—very steady."
"Well, but this stranger?"
"Why, he swept at game and ragout as he would at spring beef or summer mutton. Never saw so unnurtured a cub—Knew no more what he ate than an infidel—I cursed him by my gods when I saw Chaubert's chef-d' oeuvres glutted down so indifferent a throat. We took the freedom to spice his goblet a little, and ease him of his packet of letters; and the fool went on his way the next morning with a budget artificially filled with grey paper. Ned would have kept him, in hopes to have made a witness of him, but the boy was not of that mettle."
"How will you prove your letters?" said the courtier.
"La you there, my lord," said Chiffinch; "one may see with half an eye, for all your laced doublet, that you have been of the family of Furnival's, before your brother's death sent you to Court. How prove the letters?—Why, we have but let the sparrow fly with a string round his foot.—We have him again so soon as we list."
"Why, thou art turned a very Machiavel, Chiffinch," said his friend. "But how if the youth proved restive?—I have heard these Peak men have hot heads and hard hands."
"Trouble not yourself—that was cared for, my lord," said Chiffinch—"his pistols might bark, but they could not bite."
"Most exquisite Chiffinch, thou art turned micher as well as padder—Canst both rob a man and kidnap him!"
"Micher and padder—what terms be these?" said Chiffinch. "Methinks these are sounds to lug out upon. You will have me angry to the degree of falling foul—robber and kidnapper!"
"You mistake verb for noun-substantive," replied his lordship; "I said rob and kidnap—a man may do either once and away without being professional."
"But not without spilling a little foolish noble blood, or some such red-coloured gear," said Chiffinch, starting up.
"Oh yes," said his lordship; "all this may be without these dire consequences, and as you will find to-morrow, when you return to England; for at present you are in the land of Champagne, Chiffie; and that you may continue so, I drink thee this parting cup to line thy nightcap."
"I do not refuse your pledge," said Chiffinch; "but I drink to thee in dudgeon and in hostility—It is cup of wrath, and a gage of battle. To-morrow, by dawn, I will have thee at point of fox, wert thou the last of the Savilles.—What the devil! think you I fear you because you are a lord?"
"Not so, Chiffinch," answered his companion. "I know thou fearest nothing but beans and bacon, washed down with bumpkin-like beer.—Adieu, sweet Chiffinch—to bed—Chiffinch—to bed."
So saying, he lifted a candle, and left the apartment. And Chiffinch, whom the last draught had nearly overpowered, had just strength enough left to do the same, muttering, as he staggered out, "Yes, he shall answer it.—Dawn of day? D—n me—It is come already—Yonder's the dawn—No, d—n me, 'tis the fire glancing on the cursed red lattice—It is the smell of the brandy in this cursed room—It could not be the wine—Well, old Rowley shall send me no more errands to the country again—Steady, steady."
So saying, he reeled out of the apartment, leaving Peveril to think over the extraordinary conversation he had just heard.
The name of Chiffinch, the well-known minister of Charles's pleasures, was nearly allied to the part which he seemed about to play in the present intrigue; but that Christian, whom he had always supposed a Puritan as strict as his brother-in-law, Bridgenorth, should be associated with him in a plot so infamous, seemed alike unnatural and monstrous. The near relationship might blind Bridgenorth, and warrant him in confiding his daughter to such a man's charge; but what a wretch he must be, that could coolly meditate such an ignominious abuse of his trust! In doubt whether he could credit for a moment the tale which Chiffinch had revealed, he hastily examined his packet, and found that the sealskin case in which it had been wrapt up, now only contained an equal quantity of waste paper. If he had wanted farther confirmation, the failure of the shot which he fired at Bridgenorth, and of which the wadding only struck him, showed that his arms had been tampered with. He examined the pistol which still remained charged, and found that the ball had been drawn. "May I perish," said he to himself, "amid these villainous intrigues, but thou shalt be more surely loaded, and to better purpose! The contents of these papers may undo my benefactress—their having been found on me, may ruin my father—that I have been the bearer of them, may cost, in these fiery times, my own life—that I care least for—they form a branch of the scheme laid against the honour and happiness of a creature so innocent, that it is almost sin to think of her within the neighbourhood of such infamous knaves. I will recover the letters at all risks—But how?—that is to be thought on.—Lance is stout and trusty; and when a bold deed is once resolved upon, there never yet lacked the means of executing it."
His host now entered, with an apology for his long absence; and after providing Peveril with some refreshments, invited him to accept, for his night-quarters, the accommodation of a remote hayloft, which he was to share with his comrade; professing, at the same time, he could hardly have afforded them this courtesy, but out of deference to the exquisite talents of Lance Outram, as assistant at the tap; where, indeed, it seems probable that he, as well as the admiring landlord, did that evening contrive to drink nearly as much liquor as they drew.
But Lance was a seasoned vessel, on whom liquor made no lasting impression; so that when Peveril awaked that trusty follower at dawn, he found him cool enough to comprehend and enter into the design which he expressed, of recovering the letters which had been abstracted from his person.
Having considered the whole matter with much attention, Lance shrugged, grinned, and scratched his head; and at length manfully expressed his resolution. "Well, my naunt speaks truth in her old saw——
'He that serves Peveril maunna be slack, Neither for weather, nor yet for wrack.'
And then again, my good dame was wont to say, that whenever Peveril was in a broil, Outram was in a stew; so I will never bear a base mind, but even hold a part with you as my fathers have done with yours, for four generations, whatever more."
"Spoken like a most gallant Outram," said Julian; "and were we but rid of that puppy lord and his retinue, we two could easily deal with the other three."
"Two Londoners and a Frenchman?" said Lance,—"I would take them in mine own hand. And as for my Lord Saville, as they call him, I heard word last night that he and all his men of gilded gingerbread—that looked at an honest fellow like me, as if they were the ore and I the dross—are all to be off this morning to some races, or such-like junketings, about Tutbury. It was that brought him down here, where he met this other civet-cat by accident."
In truth, even as Lance spoke, a trampling was heard of horses in the yard; and from the hatch of their hayloft they beheld Lord Saville's attendants mustered, and ready to set out as soon as he could make his appearance.
"So ho, Master Jeremy," said one of the fellows, to a sort of principal attendant, who just came out of the house, "methinks the wine has proved a sleeping cup to my lord this morning."
"No," answered Jeremy, "he hath been up before light writing letters for London; and to punish thy irreverence, thou, Jonathan, shalt be the man to ride back with them."
"And so to miss the race?" said Jonathan sulkily; "I thank you for this good turn, good Master Jeremy; and hang me if I forget it."
Farther discussion was cut short by the appearance of the young nobleman, who, as he came out of the inn, said to Jeremy, "These be the letters. Let one of the knaves ride to London for life and death, and deliver them as directed; and the rest of them get to horse and follow me."
Jeremy gave Jonathan the packet with a malicious smile; and the disappointed groom turned his horse's head sullenly towards London, while Lord Saville, and the rest of his retinue, rode briskly off in an opposite direction, pursued by the benedictions of the host and his family, who stood bowing and courtesying at the door, in gratitude, doubtless, for the receipt of an unconscionable reckoning.
It was full three hours after their departure, that Chiffinch lounged into the room in which they had supped, in a brocade nightgown, and green velvet cap, turned up with the most costly Brussels lace. He seemed but half awake; and it was with drowsy voice that he called for a cup of cold small beer. His manner and appearance were those of a man who had wrestled hard with Bacchus on the preceding evening, and had scarce recovered the effects of his contest with the jolly god. Lance, instructed by his master to watch the motions of the courtier, officiously attended with the cooling beverage he called for, pleading, as an excuse to the landlord, his wish to see a Londoner in his morning-gown and cap.
No sooner had Chiffinch taken his morning draught, than he inquired after Lord Saville.
"His lordship was mounted and away by peep of dawn," was Lance's reply.
"What the devil!" exclaimed Chiffinch; "why, this is scarce civil.—What! off for the races with his whole retinue?"
"All but one," replied Lance, "whom his lordship sent back to London with letters."
"To London with letters!" said Chiffinch. "Why, I am for London, and could have saved his express a labour.—But stop—hold—I begin to recollect—d——n, can I have blabbed?—I have—I have—I remember it all now—I have blabbed; and to the very weasel of the Court, who sucks the yelk out of every man's secret. Furies and fire—that my afternoons should ruin my mornings thus!—I must turn boon companion and good fellow in my cups—and have my confidences and my quarrels—my friends and my enemies, with a plague to me, as if any one could do a man much good or harm but his own self. His messenger must be stopped, though—I will put a spoke in his wheel.—Hark ye, drawer-fellow—call my groom hither—call Tom Beacon."
Lance obeyed; but failed not, when he had introduced the domestic, to remain in the apartment, in order to hear what should pass betwixt him and his master.
"Hark ye, Tom," said Chiffinch, "here are five pieces for you."
"What's to be done now, I trow?" said Tom, without even the ceremony of returning thanks, which he was probably well aware would not be received even in part payment of the debt he was incurring.
"Mount your fleet nag, Tom—ride like the devil—overtake the groom whom Lord Saville despatched to London this morning—lame his horse—break his bones—fill him as drunk as the Baltic sea; or do whatever may best and most effectively stop his journey.—Why does the lout stand there without answering me? Dost understand me?"
"Why, ay, Master Chiffinch," said Tom; "and so I am thinking doth this honest man here, who need not have heard quite so much of your counsel, an it had been your will."
"I am bewitched this morning," said Chiffinch to himself, "or else the champagne runs in my head still. My brain has become the very lowlands of Holland—a gill-cup would inundate it—Hark thee, fellow," he added, addressing Lance, "keep my counsel—there is a wager betwixt Lord Saville and me, which of us shall first have a letter in London. Here is to drink my health, and bring luck on my side. Say nothing of it; but help Tom to his nag.—Tom, ere thou startest come for thy credentials—I will give thee a letter to the Duke of Bucks, that may be evidence thou wert first in town."
Tom Beacon ducked and exited; and Lance, after having made some show of helping him to horse, ran back to tell his master the joyful intelligence, that a lucky accident had abated Chiffinch's party to their own number.
Peveril immediately ordered his horses to be got ready; and, so soon as Tom Beacon was despatched towards London, on a rapid trot, had the satisfaction to observe Chiffinch, with his favourite Chaubert, mount to pursue the same journey, though at a more moderate rate. He permitted them to attain such a distance, that they might be dogged without suspicion; then paid his reckoning, mounted his horse, and followed, keeping his men carefully in view, until he should come to a place proper for the enterprise which he meditated.
It had been Peveril's intention, that when they came to some solitary part of the road, they should gradually mend their pace, until they overtook Chaubert—that Lance Outram should then drop behind, in order to assail the man of spits and stoves, while he himself, spurring onwards, should grapple with Chiffinch. But this scheme presupposed that the master and servant should travel in the usual manner—the latter riding a few yards behind the former. Whereas, such and so interesting were the subjects of discussion betwixt Chiffinch and the French cook, that, without heeding the rules of etiquette, they rode on together, amicably abreast, carrying on a conversation on the mysteries of the table, which the ancient Comus, or a modern gastronome, might have listened to with pleasure. It was therefore necessary to venture on them both at once.
For this purpose, when they saw a long tract of road before them, unvaried by the least appearance of man, beast, or human habitation, they began to mend their pace, that they might come up to Chiffinch, without giving him any alarm, by a sudden and suspicious increase of haste. In this manner they lessened the distance which separated them till they were within about twenty yards, when Peveril, afraid that Chiffinch might recognise him at a nearer approach, and so trust to his horse's heels, made Lance the signal to charge.
At the sudden increase of their speed, and the noise with which it was necessarily attended, Chiffinch looked around, but had time to do no more, for Lance, who had pricked his pony (which was much more speedy than Julian's horse) into full gallop, pushed, without ceremony, betwixt the courtier and his attendant; and ere Chaubert had time for more than one exclamation, he upset both horse and Frenchman,—morbleu! thrilling from his tongue as he rolled on the ground amongst the various articles of his occupation, which, escaping from the budget in which he bore them, lay tumbled upon the highway in strange disorder; while Lance, springing from his palfrey, commanded his foeman to be still, under no less a penalty than that of death, if he attempted to rise.
Before Chiffinch could avenge his trusty follower's downfall, his own bridle was seized by Julian, who presented a pistol with the other hand, and commanded him to stand or die.
Chiffinch, though effeminate, was no coward. He stood still as commanded, and said, with firmness, "Rogue, you have taken me at surprise. If you are highwaymen, there is my purse. Do us no bodily harm, and spare the budget of spices and sauces."
"Look you, Master Chiffinch," said Peveril, "this is no time for dallying. I am no highwayman, but a man of honour. Give me back that packet which you stole from me the other night; or, by all that is good, I will send a brace of balls through you, and search for it at leisure."
"What night?—What packet?" answered Chiffinch, confused; yet willing to protract the time for the chance of assistance, or to put Peveril off his guard. "I know nothing of what you mean. If you are a man of honour, let me draw my sword, and I will do you right, as a gentleman should do to another."
"Dishonourable rascal!" said Peveril, "you escape not in this manner. You plundered me when you had me at odds; and I am not the fool to let my advantage escape, now that my turn is come. Yield up the packet; and then, if you will, I will fight you on equal terms. But first," he reiterated, "yield up the packet, or I will instantly send you where the tenor of your life will be hard to answer for."
The tone of Peveril's voice, the fierceness of his eye, and the manner in which he held the loaded weapon, within a hand's-breadth of Chiffinch's head, convinced the last there was neither room for compromise, nor time for trifling. He thrust his hand into a side pocket of his cloak, and with visible reluctance, produced those papers and despatches with which Julian had been entrusted by the Countess of Derby.
"They are five in number," said Julian; "and you have given me only four. Your life depends on full restitution."
"It escaped from my hand," said Chiffinch, producing the missing document—"There it is. Now, sir, your pleasure is fulfilled, unless," he added sulkily, "you design either murder or farther robbery."
"Base wretch!" said Peveril, withdrawing his pistol, yet keeping a watchful eye on Chiffinch's motions, "thou art unworthy any honest man's sword; and yet, if you dare draw your own, as you proposed but now, I am willing to give you a chance upon fair equality of terms."
"Equality!" said Chiffinch sneeringly; "yes, a proper equality—sword and pistol against single rapier, and two men upon one, for Chaubert is no fighter. No sir; I shall seek amends upon some more fitting occasion, and with more equal weapons."
"By backbiting, or by poison, base pander!" said Julian; "these are thy means of vengeance. But mark me—I know your vile purpose respecting a lady who is too worthy that her name should be uttered in such a worthless ear. Thou hast done me one injury, and thou see'st I have repaid it. But prosecute this farther villainy, and be assured I will put thee to death like a foul reptile, whose very slaver is fatal to humanity. Rely upon this, as if Machiavel had sworn it; for so surely as you keep your purpose, so surely will I prosecute my revenge.—Follow me, Lance, and leave him to think on what I have told him."
Lance had, after the first shock, sustained a very easy part in this recontre; for all he had to do, was to point the butt of his whip, in the manner of a gun, at the intimidated Frenchman, who, lying on his back, and gazing at random on the skies, had as little the power or purpose of resistance, as any pig which had ever come under his own slaughter-knife.
Summoned by his master from the easy duty of guarding such an unresisting prisoner, Lance remounted his horse, and they both rode off, leaving their discomfited antagonists to console themselves for their misadventure as they best could. But consolation was hard to come by in the circumstances. The French artist had to lament the dispersion of his spices, and the destruction of his magazine of sauces—an enchanter despoiled of his magic wand and talisman, could scarce have been in more desperate extremity. Chiffinch had to mourn the downfall of his intrigue, and its premature discovery. "To this fellow, at least," he thought, "I can have bragged none—here my evil genius alone has betrayed me. With this infernal discovery, which may cost me so dear on all hands, champagne had nought to do. If there be a flask left unbroken, I will drink it after dinner, and try if it may not even yet suggest some scheme of redemption and of revenge."
With this manly resolution, he prosecuted his journey to London.
A man so various, that he seem'd to be Not one, but all mankind's epitome; Stiff in opinions—always in the wrong— Was everything by starts, but nothing long; Who, in the course of one revolving moon, Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon; Then, all for women, painting, fiddling, drinking; Besides a thousand freaks that died in thinking. —DRYDEN.
We must now transport the reader to the magnificent hotel in ——Street, inhabited at this time by the celebrated George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, whom Dryden has doomed to a painful immortality by the few lines which we have prefixed to this chapter. Amid the gay and licentious of the laughing Court of Charles, the Duke was the most licentious and most gay; yet, while expending a princely fortune, a strong constitution, and excellent talents, in pursuit of frivolous pleasures, he nevertheless nourished deeper and more extensive designs; in which he only failed from want of that fixed purpose and regulated perseverance essential to all important enterprises, but particularly in politics.
It was long past noon; and the usual hour of the Duke's levee—if anything could be termed usual where all was irregular—had been long past. His hall was filled with lackeys and footmen, in the most splendid liveries; the interior apartments, with the gentlemen and pages of his household, arrayed as persons of the first quality, and, in that respect, rather exceeding than falling short of the Duke in personal splendour. But his antechamber, in particular, might be compared to a gathering of eagles to the slaughter, were not the simile too dignified to express that vile race, who, by a hundred devices all tending to one common end, live upon the wants of needy greatness, or administer to the pleasures of summer-teeming luxury, or stimulate the wild wishes of lavish and wasteful extravagance, by devising new modes and fresh motives of profusion. There stood the projector, with his mysterious brow, promising unbounded wealth to whomsoever might choose to furnish the small preliminary sum necessary to change egg-shells into the great arcanum. There was Captain Seagull, undertaker for a foreign settlement, with the map under his arm of Indian or American kingdoms, beautiful as the primitive Eden, waiting the bold occupants, for whom a generous patron should equip two brigantines and a fly-boat. Thither came, fast and frequent, the gamesters, in their different forms and calling. This, light, young, gay in appearance, the thoughtless youth of wit and pleasure—the pigeon rather than the rook—but at heart the same sly, shrewd, cold-blooded calculator, as yonder old hard-featured professor of the same science, whose eyes are grown dim with watching of the dice at midnight; and whose fingers are even now assisting his mental computation of chances and of odds. The fine arts, too—I would it were otherwise—have their professors amongst this sordid train. The poor poet, half ashamed, in spite of habit, of the part which he is about to perform, and abashed by consciousness at once of his base motive and his shabby black coat, lurks in yonder corner for the favourable moment to offer his dedication. Much better attired, the architect presents his splendid vision of front and wings, and designs a palace, the expense of which may transfer his employer to a jail. But uppermost of all, the favourite musician, or singer, who waits on my lord to receive, in solid gold, the value of the dulcet sounds which solaced the banquet of the preceding evening.
Such, and many such like, were the morning attendants of the Duke of Buckingham—all genuine descendants of the daughter of the horse-leech, whose cry is "Give, give."
But the levee of his Grace contained other and very different characters; and was indeed as various as his own opinions and pursuits. Besides many of the young nobility and wealthy gentry of England, who made his Grace the glass at which they dressed themselves for the day, and who learned from him how to travel, with the newest and best grace, the general Road to Ruin; there were others of a graver character—discarded statesmen, political spies, opposition orators, servile tools of administration, men who met not elsewhere, but who regarded the Duke's mansion as a sort of neutral ground; sure, that if he was not of their opinion to-day, this very circumstance rendered it most likely he should think with them to-morrow. The Puritans themselves did not shun intercourse with a man whose talents must have rendered him formidable, even if they had not been united with high rank and an immense fortune. Several grave personages, with black suits, short cloaks, and band-strings of a formal cut, were mingled, as we see their portraits in a gallery of paintings, among the gallants who ruffled in silk and embroidery. It is true, they escaped the scandal of being thought intimates of the Duke, by their business being supposed to refer to money matters. Whether these grave and professing citizens mixed politics with money lending, was not known; but it had been long observed, that the Jews, who in general confine themselves to the latter department, had become for some time faithful attendants at the Duke's levee.
It was high-tide in the antechamber, and had been so for more than an hour, ere the Duke's gentleman-in-ordinary ventured into his bedchamber, carefully darkened, so as to make midnight at noonday, to know his Grace's pleasure. His soft and serene whisper, in which he asked whether it were his Grace's pleasure to rise, was briefly and sharply answered by the counter questions, "Who waits?—What's o'clock?"
"It is Jerningham, your Grace," said the attendant. "It is one, afternoon; and your Grace appointed some of the people without at eleven."
"Who are they?—What do they want?"
"A message from Whitehall, your Grace."
"Pshaw! it will keep cold. Those who make all others wait, will be the better of waiting in their turn. Were I to be guilty of ill-breeding, it should rather be to a king than a beggar."
"The gentlemen from the city."
"I am tired of them—tired of their all cant, and no religion—all Protestantism, and no charity. Tell them to go to Shaftesbury—to Aldersgate Street with them—that's the best market for their wares."
"Jockey, my lord, from Newmarket."
"Let him ride to the devil—he has horse of mine, and spurs of his own. Any more?"
"The whole antechamber is full, my lord—knights and squires, doctors and dicers."
"The dicers, with their doctors[*] in their pockets, I presume."
[*] Doctor, a cant name for false dice.
"Counts, captains, and clergymen."
"You are alliterative, Jerningham," said the Duke; "and that is a proof you are poetical. Hand me my writing things."
Getting half out of bed—thrusting one arm into a brocade nightgown, deeply furred with sables, and one foot into a velvet slipper, while the other pressed in primitive nudity the rich carpet—his Grace, without thinking farther on the assembly without, began to pen a few lines of a satirical poem; then suddenly stopped—threw the pen into the chimney—exclaimed that the humour was past—and asked his attendant if there were any letters. Jerningham produced a huge packet.
"What the devil!" said his Grace, "do you think I will read all these? I am like Clarence, who asked a cup of wine, and was soused into a butt of sack. I mean, is there anything which presses?"
"This letter, your Grace," said Jerningham, "concerning the Yorkshire mortgage."
"Did I not bid thee carry it to old Gatheral, my steward?"
"I did, my lord," answered the other; "but Gatheral says there are difficulties."
"Let the usurers foreclose, then—there is no difficulty in that; and out of a hundred manors I shall scarce miss one," answered the Duke. "And hark ye, bring me my chocolate."
"Nay, my lord, Gatheral does not say it is impossible—only difficult."
"And what is the use of him, if he cannot make it easy? But you are all born to make difficulties," replied the Duke.
"Nay, if your Grace approves the terms in this schedule, and pleases to sign it, Gatheral will undertake for the matter," answered Jerningham.
"And could you not have said so at first, you blockhead?" said the Duke, signing the paper without looking at the contents—"What other letters? And remember, I must be plagued with no more business."
"Billets-doux, my lord—five or six of them. This left at the porter's lodge by a vizard mask."
"Pshaw!" answered the Duke, tossing them over, while his attendant assisted in dressing him—"an acquaintance of a quarter's standing."
"This given to one of the pages by my Lady ——'s waiting-woman."
"Plague on it—a Jeremiade on the subject of perjury and treachery, and not a single new line to the old tune," said the Duke, glancing over the billet. "Here is the old cant—cruel man—broken vows—Heaven's just revenge. Why, the woman is thinking of murder—not of love. No one should pretend to write upon so threadbare a topic without having at least some novelty of expression. The despairing Araminta—Lie there, fair desperate. And this—how comes it?"
"Flung into the window of the hall, by a fellow who ran off at full speed," answered Jerningham.
"This is a better text," said the Duke; "and yet it is an old one too—three weeks old at least—The little Countess with the jealous lord—I should not care a farthing for her, save for that same jealous lord—Plague on't, and he's gone down to the country—this evening—in silence and safety—written with a quill pulled from the wing of Cupid—Your ladyship has left him pen-feathers enough to fly away with—better clipped his wings when you had caught him, my lady—And so confident of her Buckingham's faith,—I hate confidence in a young person. She must be taught better—I will not go."
"You Grace will not be so cruel!" said Jerningham.
"Thou art a compassionate fellow, Jerningham; but conceit must be punished."
"But if your lordship should resume your fancy for her?"
"Why, then, you must swear the billet-doux miscarried," answered the Duke. "And stay, a thought strikes me—it shall miscarry in great style. Hark ye—Is—what is the fellow's name—the poet—is he yonder?"
"There are six gentlemen, sir, who, from the reams of paper in their pocket, and the threadbare seams at their elbows, appear to wear the livery of the Muses."
"Poetical once more, Jerningham. He, I mean, who wrote the last lampoon," said the Duke.
"To whom your Grace said you owed five pieces and a beating!" replied Jerningham.
"The money for his satire, and the cudgel for his praise—Good—find him—give him the five pieces, and thrust the Countess's billet-doux—Hold—take Araminta's and the rest of them—thrust them all into his portfolio—All will come out at the Wit's Coffee-house; and if the promulgator be not cudgelled into all the colours of the rainbow, there is no spite in woman, no faith in crabtree, or pith in heart of oak—Araminta's wrath alone would overburden one pair of mortal shoulders."
"But, my Lord Duke," said his attendant, "this Settle[*] is so dull a rascal, that nothing he can write will take."
[*] Elkana Settle, the unworthy scribbler whom the envy of Rochester and others tried to raise to public estimation, as a rival to Dryden; a circumstance which has been the means of elevating him to a very painful species of immortality.
"Then as we have given him steel to head the arrow," said the Duke, "we will give him wings to waft it with—wood, he has enough of his own to make a shaft or bolt of. Hand me my own unfinished lampoon—give it to him with the letters—let him make what he can of them all."
"My Lord Duke—I crave pardon—but your Grace's style will be discovered; and though the ladies' names are not at the letters, yet they will be traced."
"I would have it so, you blockhead. Have you lived with me so long, and cannot discover that the eclat of an intrigue is, with me, worth all the rest of it?"
"But the danger, my Lord Duke?" replied Jerningham. "There are husbands, brothers, friends, whose revenge may be awakened."
"And beaten to sleep again," said Buckingham haughtily. "I have Black Will and his cudgel for plebeian grumblers; and those of quality I can deal with myself. I lack breathing and exercise of late."
"But yet your Grace——"
"Hold your peace, fool! I tell you that your poor dwarfish spirit cannot measure the scope of mine. I tell thee I would have the course of my life a torrent—I am weary of easy achievements, and wish for obstacles, that I can sweep before my irresistible course."
Another gentleman now entered the apartment. "I humbly crave your Grace's pardon," he said; "but Master Christian is so importunate for admission instantly, that I am obliged to take your Grace's pleasure."
"Tell him to call three hours hence. Damn his politic pate, that would make all men dance after his pipe!"
"I thank thee for the compliment, my Lord Duke," said Christian, entering the apartment in somewhat a more courtly garb, but with the same unpretending and undistinguished mien, and in the same placid and indifferent manner with which he had accosted Julian Peveril upon different occasions during his journey to London. "It is precisely my present object to pipe to you; and you may dance to your own profit, if you will."
"On my word, Master Christian," said the Duke haughtily, "the affair should be weighty, that removes ceremony so entirely from betwixt us. If it relates to the subject of our last conversation, I must request our interview be postponed to some farther opportunity. I am engaged in an affair of some weight." Then turning his back on Christian, he went on with his conversation with Jerningham. "Find the person you wot of, and give him the papers; and hark ye, give him this gold to pay for the shaft of his arrow—the steel-head and peacock's wing we have already provided."
"This is all well, my lord," said Christian calmly, and taking his seat at the same time in an easy-chair at some distance; "but your Grace's levity is no match for my equanimity. It is necessary I should speak with you; and I will await your Grace's leisure in the apartment."
"Very well, sir," said the Duke peevishly; "if an evil is to be undergone, the sooner it is over the better—I can take measures to prevent its being renewed. So let me hear your errand without farther delay."
"I will wait till your Grace's toilette is completed," said Christian, with the indifferent tone which was natural to him. "What I have to say must be between ourselves."
"Begone, Jerningham; and remain without till I call. Leave my doublet on the couch.—How now, I have worn this cloth of silver a hundred times."
"Only twice, if it please your Grace," replied Jerningham.
"As well twenty times—keep it for yourself, or give it to my valet, if you are too proud of your gentility."
"Your Grace has made better men than me wear your cast clothes," said Jerningham submissively.
"Thou art sharp, Jerningham," said the Duke—"in one sense I have, and I may again. So now, that pearl-coloured will do with the ribbon and George. Get away with thee.—And now that he is gone, Master Christian, may I once more crave your pleasure?"
"My Lord Duke," said Christian, "you are a worshipper of difficulties in state affairs, as in love matters."
"I trust you have been no eavesdropper, Master Christian," replied the Duke; "it scarce argues the respect due to me, or to my roof."
"I know not what you mean, my lord," replied Christian.
"Nay, I care not if the whole world heard what I said but now to Jerningham. But to the matter," replied the Duke of Buckingham.
"Your Grace is so much occupied with conquests over the fair and over the witty, that you have perhaps forgotten what a stake you have in the little Island of Man."
"Not a whit, Master Christian. I remember well enough that my roundheaded father-in-law, Fairfax, had the island from the Long Parliament; and was ass enough to quit hold of it at the Restoration, when, if he had closed his clutches, and held fast, like a true bird of prey, as he should have done, he might have kept it for him and his. It had been a rare thing to have had a little kingdom—made laws of my own—had my Chamberlain with his white staff—I would have taught Jerningham, in half a day, to look as wise, walk as stiffly, and speak as silly, as Harry Bennet."
"You might have done this, and more, if it had pleased your Grace."
"Ay, and if it had pleased my Grace, thou, Ned Christian, shouldst have been the Jack Ketch of my dominions."
"I your Jack Ketch, my lord?" said Christian, more in a tone of surprise than of displeasure.
"Why, ay; thou hast been perpetually intriguing against the life of yonder poor old woman. It were a kingdom to thee to gratify thy spleen with thy own hands."
"I only seek justice against the Countess," said Christian.
"And the end of justice is always a gibbet," said the Duke.
"Be it so," answered Christian. "Well, the Countess is in the Plot."
"The devil confound the Plot, as I believe he first invented it!" said the Duke of Buckingham; "I have heard of nothing else for months. If one must go to hell, I would it were by some new road, and in gentlemen's company. I should not like to travel with Oates, Bedloe, and the rest of that famous cloud of witnesses."
"Your Grace is then resolved to forego all the advantages which may arise? If the House of Derby fall under forfeiture, the grant to Fairfax, now worthily represented by your Duchess, revives, and you become the Lord and Sovereign of Man."
"In right of a woman," said the Duke; "but, in troth, my godly dame owes me some advantage for having lived the first year of our marriage with her and old Black Tom, her grim, fighting, puritanic father. A man might as well have married the Devil's daughter, and set up housekeeping with his father-in-law."[*]
[*] Mary, daughter of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was wedded to the Duke of Buckingham, whose versatility made him capable of rendering himself for a time as agreeable to his father-in-law, though a rigid Presbyterian, as to the gay Charles II.
"I understand you are willing, then, to join your interest for a heave at the House of Derby, my Lord Duke?"
"As they are unlawfully possessed of my wife's kingdom, they certainly can expect no favour at my hand. But thou knowest there is an interest at Whitehall predominant over mine."
"That is only by your Grace's sufferance," said Christian.
"No, no; I tell thee a hundred times, no," said the Duke, rousing himself to anger at the recollection. "I tell thee that base courtezan, the Duchess of Portsmouth, hath impudently set herself to thwart and contradict me; and Charles has given me both cloudy looks and hard words before the Court. I would he could but guess what is the offence between her and me! I would he knew but that! But I will have her plumes picked, or my name is not Villiers. A worthless French fille-de-joie to brave me thus!—Christian, thou art right; there is no passion so spirit-stirring as revenge. I will patronise the Plot, if it be but to spite her, and make it impossible for the King to uphold her."
As the Duke spoke, he gradually wrought himself into a passion, and traversed the apartment with as much vehemence as if the only object he had on earth was to deprive the Duchess of her power and favour with the King. Christian smiled internally to see him approach the state of mind in which he was most easily worked upon, and judiciously kept silence, until the Duke called out to him, in a pet, "Well, Sir Oracle, you that have laid so many schemes to supplant this she-wolf of Gaul, where are all your contrivances now?—Where is the exquisite beauty who was to catch the Sovereign's eye at the first glance?—Chiffinch, hath he seen her?—and what does he say, that exquisite critic in beauty and blank-mange, women and wine?"
"He has seen and approves, but has not yet heard her; and her speech answers to all the rest. We came here yesterday; and to-day I intend to introduce Chiffinch to her, the instant he arrives from the country; and I expect him every hour. I am but afraid of the damsel's peevish virtue, for she hath been brought up after the fashion of our grandmothers—our mothers had better sense."
"What! so fair, so young, so quick-witted, and so difficult?" said the Duke. "By your leave, you shall introduce me as well as Chiffinch."
"That your Grace may cure her of her intractable modesty?" said Christian.
"Why," replied the Duke, "it will but teach her to stand in her own light. Kings do not love to court and sue; they should have their game run down for them."
"Under your Grace's favour," said Christian, "this cannot be—Non omnibus dormio—Your Grace knows the classic allusion. If this maiden become a Prince's favourite, rank gilds the shame and the sin. But to any under Majesty, she must not vail topsail."
"Why, thou suspicious fool, I was but in jest," said the Duke. "Do you think I would interfere to spoil a plan so much to my own advantage as that which you have laid before me?"
Christian smiled and shook his head. "My lord," he said, "I know your Grace as well, or better, perhaps, than you know yourself. To spoil a well-concerted intrigue by some cross stroke of your own, would give you more pleasure, than to bring it to a successful termination according to the plans of others. But Shaftesbury, and all concerned, have determined that our scheme shall at least have fair play. We reckon, therefore, on your help; and—forgive me when I say so—we will not permit ourselves to be impeded by your levity and fickleness of purpose."
"Who?—I light and fickle of purpose?" said the Duke. "You see me here as resolved as any of you, to dispossess the mistress, and to carry on the plot; these are the only two things I live for in this world. No one can play the man of business like me, when I please, to the very filing and labelling of my letters. I am regular as a scrivener."
"You have Chiffinch's letter from the country; he told me he had written to you about some passages betwixt him and the young Lord Saville."
"He did so—he did so," said the Duke, looking among his letters; "but I see not his letter just now—I scarcely noted the contents—I was busy when it came—but I have it safely."
"You should have acted on it," answered Christian. "The fool suffered himself to be choused out of his secret, and prayed you to see that my lord's messenger got not to the Duchess with some despatches which he sent up from Derbyshire, betraying our mystery."
The Duke was now alarmed, and rang the bell hastily. Jerningham appeared. "Where is the letter I had from Master Chiffinch some hours since?"
"If it be not amongst those your Grace has before you, I know nothing of it," said Jerningham. "I saw none such arrive."
"You lie, you rascal," said Buckingham; "have you a right to remember better than I do?"
"If your Grace will forgive me reminding you, you have scarce opened a letter this week," said his gentleman.
"Did you ever hear such a provoking rascal?" said the Duke. "He might be a witness in the Plot. He has knocked my character for regularity entirely on the head with his damned counter-evidence."
"Your Grace's talent and capacity will at least remain unimpeached," said Christian; "and it is those that must serve yourself and your friends. If I might advise, you will hasten to Court, and lay some foundation for the impression we wish to make. If your Grace can take the first word, and throw out a hint to crossbite Saville, it will be well. But above all, keep the King's ear employed, which no one can do so well as you. Leave Chiffinch to fill his heart with a proper object. Another thing is, there is a blockhead of an old Cavalier, who must needs be a bustler in the Countess of Derby's behalf—he is fast in hold, with the whole tribe of witnesses at his haunches."
"Nay, then, take him, Topham."
"Topham has taken him already, my lord," said Christian; "and there is, besides, a young gallant, a son of the said Knight, who was bred in the household of the Countess of Derby, and who has brought letters from her to the Provincial of the Jesuits, and others in London."
"What are their names?" said the Duke dryly.
"Sir Geoffrey Peveril of Martindale Castle, in Derbyshire, and his son Julian."
"What! Peveril of the Peak?" said the Duke,—"a stout old Cavalier as ever swore an oath.—A Worcester-man, too—and, in truth, a man of all work, when blows were going. I will not consent to his ruin, Christian. These fellows must be flogged of such false scents—flogged in every sense, they must, and will be, when the nation comes to its eyesight again."
"It is of more than the last importance, in the meantime, to the furtherance of our plan," said Christian, "that your Grace should stand for a space between them and the King's favour. The youth hath influence with the maiden, which we should find scarce favourable to our views; besides, her father holds him as high as he can any one who is no such puritanic fool as himself."
"Well, most Christian Christian," said the Duke, "I have heard your commands at length. I will endeavour to stop the earths under the throne, that neither the lord, knight, nor squire in question, shall find it possible to burrow there. For the fair one, I must leave Chiffinch and you to manage her introduction to her high destinies, since I am not to be trusted. Adieu, most Christian Christian."
He fixed his eyes on him, and then exclaimed, as he shut the door of the apartment,—"Most profligate and damnable villain! And what provokes me most of all, is the knave's composed insolence. Your Grace will do this—and your Grace will condescend to do that—A pretty puppet I should be, to play the second part, or rather the third, in such a scheme! No, they shall all walk according to my purpose, or I will cross them. I will find this girl out in spite of them, and judge if their scheme is likely to be successful. If so, she shall be mine—mine entirely, before she becomes the King's; and I will command her who is to guide Charles.—Jerningham" (his gentleman entered), "cause Christian to be dogged where-ever he goes, for the next four-and-twenty hours, and find out where he visits a female newly come to town.—You smile, you knave?"
"I did but suspect a fresh rival to Araminta and the little Countess," said Jerningham.
"Away to your business, knave," said the Duke, "and let me think of mine.—To subdue a Puritan in Esse—a King's favourite in Posse—the very muster of western beauties—that is point first. The impudence of this Manx mongrel to be corrected—the pride of Madame la Duchesse to be pulled down—and important state intrigue to be farthered, or baffled, as circumstances render most to my own honour and glory—I wished for business but now, and I have got enough of it. But Buckingham will keep his own steerage-way through shoal and through weather."
——Mark you this, Bassanio— The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose. —MERCHANT OF VENICE.
After leaving the proud mansion of the Duke of Buckingham, Christian, full of the deep and treacherous schemes which he meditated, hastened to the city, where, in a decent inn, kept by a person of his own persuasion, he had been unexpectedly summoned to meet with Ralph Bridgenorth of Moultrassie. He was not disappointed—the Major had arrived that morning, and anxiously expected him. The usual gloom of his countenance was darkened into a yet deeper shade of anxiety, which was scarcely relieved, even while, in answer to his inquiry after his daughter, Christian gave the most favourable account of her health and spirits, naturally and unaffectedly intermingled with such praises of her beauty and her disposition, as were likely to be most grateful to a father's ear.
But Christian had too much cunning to expatiate on this theme, however soothing. He stopped short exactly at the point where, as an affectionate relative, he might be supposed to have said enough. "The lady," he said, "with whom he had placed Alice, was delighted with her aspect and manners, and undertook to be responsible for her health and happiness. He had not, he said, deserved so little confidence at the hand of his brother, Bridgenorth, as that the Major should, contrary to his purpose, and to the plan which they had adjusted together, have hurried up from the country, as if his own presence were necessary for Alice's protection."
"Brother Christian," said Bridgenorth in reply, "I must see my child—I must see this person with whom she is entrusted."
"To what purpose?" answered Christian. "Have you not often confessed that the over excess of the carnal affection which you have entertained for your daughter, hath been a snare to you?—Have you not, more than once, been on the point of resigning those great designs which should place righteousness as a counsellor beside the throne, because you desired to gratify your daughter's girlish passion for this descendant of your old persecutor—this Julian Peveril?"
"I own it," said Bridgenorth; "and worlds would I have given, and would yet give, to clasp that youth to my bosom, and call him my son. The spirit of his mother looks from his eye, and his stately step is as that of his father, when he daily spoke comfort to me in my distress, and said, 'The child liveth.'"
"But the youth walks," said Christian, "after his own lights, and mistakes the meteor of the marsh for the Polar star. Ralph Bridgenorth, I will speak to thee in friendly sincerity. Thou must not think to serve both the good cause and Baal. Obey, if thou wilt, thine own carnal affections, summon this Julian Peveril to thy house, and let him wed thy daughter—But mark the reception she will meet with from the proud old knight, whose spirit is now, even now, as little broken with his chains, as after the sword of the Saints had prevailed at Worcester. Thou wilt see thy daughter spurned from his feet like an outcast."
"Christian," said Bridgenorth, interrupting him, "thou dost urge me hard; but thou dost it in love, my brother, and I forgive thee—Alice shall never be spurned.—But this friend of thine—this lady—thou art my child's uncle; and after me, thou art next to her in love and affection—Still, thou art not her father—hast not her father's fears. Art thou sure of the character of this woman to whom my child is entrusted?"
"Am I sure of my own?—Am I sure that my name is Christian—yours Bridgenorth?—Is it a thing I am likely to be insecure in?—Have I not dwelt for many years in this city?—Do I not know this Court?—And am I likely to be imposed upon? For I will not think you can fear my imposing upon you."
"Thou art my brother," said Bridgenorth—"the blood and bone of my departed Saint—and I am determined that I will trust thee in this matter."
"Thou dost well," said Christian; "and who knows what reward may be in store for thee?—I cannot look upon Alice, but it is strongly borne in on my mind, that there will be work for a creature so excellent beyond ordinary women. Courageous Judith freed Bethulia by her valour, and the comely features of Esther made her a safeguard and a defence to her people in the land of captivity, when she found favour in the sight of King Ahasuerus."
"Be it with her as Heaven wills," said Bridgenorth; "and now tell me what progress there is in the great work."
"The people are weary of the iniquity of this Court," said Christian; "and if this man will continue to reign, it must be by calling to his councils men of another stamp. The alarm excited by the damnable practices of the Papists has called up men's souls, and awakened their eyes to the dangers of their state.—He himself—for he will give up brother and wife to save himself—is not averse to a change of measures; and though we cannot at first see the Court purged as with a winnowing fan, yet there will be enough of the good to control the bad—enough of the sober party to compel the grant of that universal toleration, for which we have sighed so long, as a maiden for her beloved. Time and opportunity will lead the way to more thorough reformation; and that will be done without stroke of sword, which our friends failed to establish on a sure foundation, even when their victorious blades were in their hands."
"May God grant it!" said Bridgenorth; "for I fear me I should scruple to do aught which should once more unsheath the civil sword; but welcome all that comes in a peaceful and parliamentary way."
"Ay," said Christian, "and which will bring with it the bitter amends, which our enemies have so long merited at our hands. How long hath our brother's blood cried for vengeance from the altar!—Now shall that cruel Frenchwoman find that neither lapse of years, nor her powerful friends, nor the name of Stanley, nor the Sovereignty of Man, shall stop the stern course of the pursuer of blood. Her name shall be struck from the noble, and her heritage shall another take."
"Nay, but, brother Christian," said Bridgenorth, "art thou not over eager in pursuing this thing?—It is thy duty as a Christian to forgive thine enemies."
"Ay, but not the enemies of Heaven—not those who shed the blood of the saints," said Christian, his eyes kindling that vehement and fiery expression which at times gave to his uninteresting countenance the only character of passion which it ever exhibited. "No, Bridgenorth," he continued, "I esteem this purpose of revenge holy—I account it a propitiatory sacrifice for what may have been evil in my life. I have submitted to be spurned by the haughty—I have humbled myself to be as a servant; but in my breast was the proud thought, I who do this—do it that I may avenge my brother's blood."
"Still, my brother," said Bridgenorth, "although I participate thy purpose, and have aided thee against this Moabitish woman, I cannot but think thy revenge is more after the law of Moses than after the law of love."
"This comes well from thee, Ralph Bridgenorth," answered Christian; "from thee, who has just smiled over the downfall of thine own enemy."
"If you mean Sir Geoffrey Peveril," said Bridgenorth, "I smile not on his ruin. It is well he is abased; but if it lies with me, I may humble his pride, but will never ruin his house."
"You know your purpose best," said Christian; "and I do justice, brother Bridgenorth, to the purity of your principles; but men who see with but worldly eyes, would discern little purpose of mercy in the strict magistrate and severe creditor—and such have you been to Peveril."
"And, brother Christian," said Bridgenorth, his colour rising as he spoke, "neither do I doubt your purpose, nor deny the surprising address with which you have procured such perfect information concerning the purposes of yonder woman of Ammon. But it is free to me to think, that in your intercourse with the Court, and with courtiers, you may, in your carnal and worldly policy, sink the value of those spiritual gifts, for which you were once so much celebrated among the brethren."
"Do not apprehend it," said Christian, recovering his temper, which had been a little ruffled by the previous discussion. "Let us but work together as heretofore; and I trust each of us shall be found doing the work of a faithful servant to that good old cause for which we have heretofore drawn the sword."
So saying, he took his hat, and bidding Bridgenorth farewell, declared his intention of returning in the evening.
"Fare thee well!" said Bridgenorth; "to that cause wilt thou find me ever a true and devoted adherent. I will act by that counsel of thine, and will not even ask thee—though it may grieve my heart as a parent—with whom, or where, thou hast entrusted my child. I will try to cut off, and cast from me, even my right hand, and my right eye; but for thee, Christian, if thou dost deal otherwise than prudently and honestly in this matter, it is what God and man will require at thy hand."
"Fear not me," said Christian hastily, and left the place, agitated by reflections of no pleasant kind.
"I ought to have persuaded him to return," he said, as he stepped out into the street. "Even his hovering in this neighbourhood may spoil the plan on which depends the rise of my fortunes—ay, and of his child's. Will men say I have ruined her, when I shall have raised her to the dazzling height of the Duchess of Portsmouth, and perhaps made her a mother to a long line of princes? Chiffinch hath vouched for opportunity; and the voluptuary's fortune depends upon his gratifying the taste of his master for variety. If she makes an impression, it must be a deep one; and once seated in his affections, I fear not her being supplanted.—What will her father say? Will he, like a prudent man, put his shame in his pocket, because it is well gilded? or will he think it fitting to make a display of moral wrath and parental frenzy? I fear the latter—He has ever kept too strict a course to admit his conniving at such licence. But what will his anger avail?—I need not be seen in the matter—those who are will care little for the resentment of a country Puritan. And after all, what I am labouring to bring about is best for himself, the wench, and above all, for me, Edward Christian."
With such base opiates did this unhappy wretch stifle his own conscience, while anticipating the disgrace of his friend's family, and the ruin of a near relative, committed in confidence to his charge. The character of this man was of no common description; nor was it by an ordinary road that he had arrived at the present climax of unfeeling and infamous selfishness.
Edward Christian, as the reader is aware, was the brother of that William Christian, who was the principal instrument in delivering up the Isle of Man to the Republic, and who became the victim of the Countess of Derby's revenge on that account. Both had been educated as Puritans, but William was a soldier, which somewhat modified the strictness of his religious opinions; Edward, a civilian, seemed to entertain these principles in the utmost rigour. But it was only seeming. The exactness of deportment, which procured him great honour and influence among the sober party, as they were wont to term themselves, covered a voluptuous disposition, the gratification of which was sweet to him as stolen waters, and pleasant as bread eaten in secret. While, therefore, his seeming godliness brought him worldly gain, his secret pleasures compensated for his outward austerity; until the Restoration, and the Countess's violent proceedings against his brother interrupted the course of both. He then fled from his native island, burning with the desire of revenging his brother's death—the only passion foreign to his own gratification which he was ever known to cherish, and which was also, at least, partly selfish, since it concerned the restoration of his own fortunes.
He found easy access to Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who, in right of his Duchess, claimed such of the Derby estate as had been bestowed by the Parliament on his celebrated father-in-law, Lord Fairfax. His influence at the Court of Charles, where a jest was a better plea than a long claim of faithful service, was so successfully exerted, as to contribute greatly to the depression of that loyal and ill-rewarded family. But Buckingham was incapable, even for his own interest, of pursuing the steady course which Christian suggested to him; and his vacillation probably saved the remnant of the large estates of the Earl of Derby.
Meantime, Christian was too useful a follower to be dismissed. From Buckingham, and others of that stamp, he did not affect to conceal the laxity of his morals; but towards the numerous and powerful party to which he belonged, he was able to disguise them by a seeming gravity of exterior, which he never laid aside. Indeed, so wide and absolute was then the distinction betwixt the Court and the city, that a man might have for some time played two several parts, as in two different spheres, without its being discovered in the one that he exhibited himself in a different light in the other. Besides, when a man of talent shows himself an able and useful partisan, his party will continue to protect and accredit him, in spite of conduct the most contradictory to their own principles. Some facts are, in such cases, denied—some are glossed over—and party zeal is permitted to cover at least as many defects as ever doth charity.
Edward Christian had often need of the partial indulgence of his friends; but he experienced it, for he was eminently useful. Buckingham, and other courtiers of the same class, however dissolute in their lives, were desirous of keeping some connection with the Dissenting or Puritanic party, as it was termed; thereby to strengthen themselves against their opponents at Court. In such intrigues, Christian was a notable agent; and at one time had nearly procured an absolute union between a class which professed the most rigid principles of religion and morality, and the latitudinarian courtiers, who set all principle at defiance.
Amidst the vicissitudes of a life of intrigue, during which Buckingham's ambitious schemes, and his own, repeatedly sent him across the Atlantic, it was Edward Christian's boast that he never lost sight of his principal object,—revenge on the Countess of Derby. He maintained a close and intimate correspondence with his native island, so as to be perfectly informed of whatever took place there; and he stimulated, on every favourable opportunity, the cupidity of Buckingham to possess himself of this petty kingdom, by procuring the forfeiture of its present Lord. It was not difficult to keep his patron's wild wishes alive on this topic, for his own mercurial imagination attached particular charms to the idea of becoming a sort of sovereign even in this little island; and he was, like Catiline, as covetous of the property of others, as he was profuse of his own.
But it was not until the pretended discovery of the Papist Plot that the schemes of Christian could be brought to ripen; and then, so odious were the Catholics in the eyes of the credulous people of England, that, upon the accusation of the most infamous of mankind, common informers, the scourings of jails, and the refuse of the whipping-post, the most atrocious charges against persons of the highest rank and fairest character were readily received and credited.
This was a period which Christian did not fail to improve. He drew close his intimacy with Bridgenorth, which had indeed never been interrupted, and readily engaged him in his schemes, which, in the eyes of his brother-in-law, were alike honourable and patriotic. But, while he flattered Bridgenorth with the achieving a complete reformation in the state—checking the profligacy of the Court—relieving the consciences of the Dissenters from the pressures of the penal laws—amending, in fine, the crying grievances of the time—while he showed him also, in prospect, revenge upon the Countess of Derby, and a humbling dispensation on the house of Peveril, from whom Bridgenorth had suffered such indignity, Christian did not neglect, in the meanwhile, to consider how he could best benefit himself by the confidence reposed in him by his unsuspicious relation.
The extreme beauty of Alice Bridgenorth—the great wealth which time and economy had accumulated on her father—pointed her out as a most desirable match to repair the wasted fortunes of some of the followers of the Court; and he flattered himself that he could conduct such a negotiation so as to be in a high degree conducive to his own advantage. He found there would be little difficulty in prevailing on Major Bridgenorth to entrust him with the guardianship of his daughter. That unfortunate gentleman had accustomed himself, from the very period of her birth, to regard the presence of his child as a worldly indulgence too great to be allowed to him; and Christian had little trouble in convincing him that the strong inclination which he felt to bestow her on Julian Peveril, provided he could be brought over to his own political opinions, was a blameable compromise with his more severe principles. Late circumstances had taught him the incapacity and unfitness of Dame Debbitch for the sole charge of so dear a pledge; and he readily and thankfully embraced the kind offer of her maternal uncle, Christian, to place Alice under the protection of a lady of rank in London, whilst he himself was to be engaged in the scenes of bustle and blood, which, in common with all good Protestants, he expected was speedily to take place on a general rising of the Papists, unless prevented by the active and energetic measures of the good people of England. He even confessed his fears, that his partial regard for Alice's happiness might enervate his efforts in behalf of his country; and Christian had little trouble in eliciting from him a promise, that he would forbear to inquire after her for some time.
Thus certain of being the temporary guardian of his niece for a space long enough, he flattered himself, for the execution of his purpose, Christian endeavoured to pave the way by consulting Chiffinch, whose known skill in Court policy qualified him best as an adviser on this occasion. But this worthy person, being, in fact, a purveyor for his Majesty's pleasures, and on that account high in his good graces, thought it fell within the line of his duty to suggest another scheme than that on which Christian consulted him. A woman of such exquisite beauty as Alice was described, he deemed more worthy to be a partaker of the affections of the merry Monarch, whose taste in female beauty was so exquisite, than to be made the wife of some worn-out prodigal of quality. And then, doing perfect justice to his own character, he felt it would not be one whit impaired, while his fortune would be, in every respect, greatly amended, if, after sharing the short reign of the Gwyns, the Davises, the Robertses, and so forth, Alice Bridgenorth should retire from the state of a royal favourite, into the humble condition of Mrs. Chiffinch.
After cautiously sounding Christian, and finding that the near prospect of interest to himself effectually prevented his starting at this iniquitous scheme, Chiffinch detailed it to him fully, carefully keeping the final termination out of sight, and talking of the favour to be acquired by the fair Alice as no passing caprice, but the commencement of a reign as long and absolute as that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, of whose avarice and domineering temper Charles was now understood to be much tired, though the force of habit rendered him unequal to free himself of her yoke.
Thus chalked out, the scene prepared was no longer the intrigue of a Court pander, and a villainous resolution for the ruin of an innocent girl, but became a state intrigue, for the removal of an obnoxious favourite, and the subsequent change of the King's sentiments upon various material points, in which he was at present influenced by the Duchess of Portsmouth. In this light it was exhibited to the Duke of Buckingham, who, either to sustain his character for daring gallantry, or in order to gratify some capricious fancy, had at one time made love to the reigning favourite, and experienced a repulse which he had never forgiven.
But one scheme was too little to occupy the active and enterprising spirit of the Duke. An appendix of the Popish Plot was easily so contrived as to involve the Countess of Derby, who, from character and religion, was precisely the person whom the credulous part of the public were inclined to suppose the likely accomplice of such a conspiracy. Christian and Bridgenorth undertook the perilous commission of attacking her even in her own little kingdom of Man, and had commissions for this purpose, which were only to be produced in case of their scheme taking effect.
It miscarried, as the reader is aware, from the Countess's alert preparations for defence; and neither Christian nor Bridgenorth held it sound policy to practise openly, even under parliamentary authority, against a lady so little liable to hesitate upon the measures most likely to secure her feudal sovereignty; wisely considering that even the omnipotence, as it has been somewhat too largely styled, of Parliament, might fail to relieve them from the personal consequences of a failure.
On the continent of Britain, however, no opposition was to be feared; and so well was Christian acquainted with all the motions in the interior of the Countess's little court, or household, that Peveril would have been arrested the instant he set foot on shore, but for the gale of wind which obliged the vessel, in which he was a passenger, to run for Liverpool. Here Christian, under the name of Ganlesse, unexpectedly met with him, and preserved him from the fangs of the well-breathed witnesses of the Plot, with the purpose of securing his despatches, or, if necessary, his person also, in such a manner as to place him at his own discretion—a narrow and perilous game, which he thought it better, however, to undertake, than to permit these subordinate agents, who were always ready to mutiny against all in league with them, to obtain the credit which they must have done by the seizure of the Countess of Derby's despatches. It was, besides, essential to Buckingham's schemes that these should not pass into the hands of a public officer like Topham, who, however pompous and stupid, was upright and well-intentioned, until they had undergone the revisal of a private committee, where something might have probably been suppressed, even supposing that nothing had been added. In short, Christian, in carrying on his own separate and peculiar intrigue, by the agency of the Great Popish Plot, as it was called, acted just like an engineer, who derives the principle of motion which turns his machinery, by means of a steam-engine, or large water-wheel, constructed to drive a separate and larger engine. Accordingly, he was determined that, while he took all the advantage he could from their supposed discoveries, no one should be admitted to tamper or interfere with his own plans of profit and revenge.
Chiffinch, who, desirous of satisfying himself with his own eyes of that excellent beauty which had been so highly extolled, had gone down to Derbyshire on purpose, was infinitely delighted, when, during the course of a two hours' sermon at the dissenting chapel in Liverpool, which afforded him ample leisure for a deliberate survey, he arrived at the conclusion that he had never seen a form or face more captivating. His eyes having confirmed what was told him, he hurried back to the little inn which formed their place of rendezvous, and there awaited Christian and his niece, with a degree of confidence in the success of their project which he had not before entertained; and with an apparatus of luxury, calculated, as he thought, to make a favourable impression on the mind of a rustic girl. He was somewhat surprised, when, instead of Alice Bridgenorth, to whom he expected that night to have been introduced, he found that Christian was accompanied by Julian Peveril. It was indeed a severe disappointment, for he had prevailed on his own indolence to venture this far from the Court, in order that he might judge, with his own paramount taste, whether Alice was really the prodigy which her uncle's praises had bespoken her, and, as such, a victim worthy of the fate to which she was destined.
A few words betwixt the worthy confederates determined them on the plan of stripping Peveril of the Countess's despatches; Chiffinch absolutely refusing to take any share in arresting him, as a matter of which his Master's approbation might be very uncertain.
Christian had also his own reasons for abstaining from so decisive a step. It was by no means likely to be agreeable to Bridgenorth, whom it was necessary to keep in good humour;—it was not necessary, for the Countess's despatches were of far more importance than the person of Julian. Lastly, it was superfluous in this respect also, that Julian was on the road to his father's castle, where it was likely he would be seized, as a matter of course, along with the other suspicious persons who fell under Topham's warrant, and the denunciations of his infamous companions. He, therefore, far from using any violence to Peveril, assumed towards him such a friendly tone, as might seem to warn him against receiving damage from others, and vindicate himself from having any share in depriving him of his charge. This last manoeuvre was achieved by an infusion of a strong narcotic into Julian's wine; under the influence of which he slumbered so soundly, that the confederates were easily able to accomplish their inhospitable purpose.
The events of the succeeding days are already known to the reader. Chiffinch set forward to return to London, with the packet, which it was desirable should be in Buckingham's hands as soon as possible; while Christian went to Moultrassie, to receive Alice from her father, and convey her safely to London—his accomplice agreeing to defer his curiosity to see more of her until they should have arrived in that city.
Before parting with Bridgenorth, Christian had exerted his utmost address to prevail on him to remain at Moultrassie; he had even overstepped the bounds of prudence, and, by his urgency, awakened some suspicions of an indefinite nature, which he found it difficult to allay. Bridgenorth, therefore, followed his brother-in-law to London; and the reader has already been made acquainted with the arts which Christian used to prevent his farther interference with the destinies of his daughter, or the unhallowed schemes of her ill-chosen guardian. Still Christian, as he strode along the street in profound reflection, saw that his undertaking was attended with a thousand perils; and the drops stood like beads on his brow when he thought of the presumptuous levity and fickle temper of Buckingham—the frivolity and intemperance of Chiffinch—the suspicions of the melancholy and bigoted, yet sagacious and honest Bridgenorth. "Had I," he thought, "but tools fitted, each to their portion of the work, how easily could I heave asunder and disjoint the strength that opposes me! But with these frail and insufficient implements, I am in daily, hourly, momentary danger, that one lever or other gives way, and that the whole ruin recoils on my own head. And yet, were it not for those failings I complain of, how were it possible for me to have acquired that power over them all which constitutes them my passive tools, even when they seem most to exert their own free will? Yes, the bigots have some right when they affirm that all is for the best."