In the King's name, Let fall your swords and daggers! --CRITIC.
When the father and son entered the cabinet of audience, it was easily visible that Sir Geoffrey had obeyed the summons as he would have done the trumpet's call to horse; and his dishevelled grey locks and half- arranged dress, though they showed zeal and haste, such as he would have used when Charles I. called him to attend a council of war, seemed rather indecorous in a pacific drawing-room. He paused at the door of the cabinet, but when the King called on him to advance, came hastily forward, with every feeling of his earlier and later life afloat, and contending in his memory, threw himself on his knees before the King, seized his hand, and, without even an effort to speak, wept aloud. Charles, who generally felt deeply so long as an impressive object was before his eyes, indulged for a moment the old man's rapture.--"My good Sir Geoffrey," he said, "you have had some hard measure; we owe you amends, and will find time to pay our debt."
"No suffering--no debt," said the old man; "I cared not what the rogues said of me--I knew they could never get twelve honest fellows to believe a word of their most damnable lies. I did long to beat them when they called me traitor to your Majesty--that I confess--But to have such an early opportunity of paying my duty to your Majesty, overpays it all. The villains would have persuaded me I ought not to come to Court--aha!"
The Duke of Ormond perceived that the King coloured much; for in truth it was from the Court that the private intimation had been given to Sir Geoffrey to go down to the country, without appearing at Whitehall; and he, moreover, suspected that the jolly old Knight had not risen from his dinner altogether dry-lipped, after the fatigues of a day so agitating.--"My old friend," he whispered, "you forget that your son is to be presented--permit me to have that honour."
"I crave your Grace's pardon humbly," said Sir Geoffrey, "but it is an honour I design for myself, as I apprehend no one can so utterly surrender and deliver him up to his Majesty's service as the father that begot him is entitled to do.--Julian, come forward, and kneel.-- Here he is, please your Majesty--Julian Peveril--a chip of the old block--as stout, though scarce so tall a tree, as the old trunk, when at the freshest. Take him to you, sir, for a faithful servant, /à pendre/, as the French say; if he fears fire or steel, axe or gallows, in your Majesty's service, I renounce him--he is no son of mine--I disown him, and he may go to the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs, or the Isle of Devils, for what I care."
Charles winked to Ormond, and having, with his wonted courtesy, expressed his thorough conviction that Julian would imitate the loyalty of his ancestors, and especially of his father, added, that he believed his Grace of Ormond had something to communicate which was of consequence to his service. Sir Geoffrey made his military reverence at this hint, and marched off in the rear of the Duke, who proceeded to inquire of him concerning the events of the day. Charles, in the meanwhile, having in the first place, ascertained that the son was not in the same genial condition with the father, demanded and received from him a precise account of all the proceedings subsequent to the trial.
Julian, with the plainness and precision which such a subject demanded, when treated in such a presence, narrated all that happened down to the entrance of Bridgenorth; and his Majesty was so much pleased with his manner, that he congratulated Arlington on their having gained the evidence of at least one man of sense to these dark and mysterious events. But when Bridgenorth was brought upon the scene, Julian hesitated to bestow a name upon him; and although he mentioned the chapel which he had seen filled with men in arms, and the violent language of the preacher, he added, with earnestness, that notwithstanding all this, the men departed without coming to any extremity, and had all left the place before his father and he were set at liberty.
"And you retired quietly to your dinner in Fleet Street, young man," said the King severely, "without giving a magistrate notice of the dangerous meeting which was held in the vicinity of our palace, and who did not conceal their intention of proceeding to extremities?"
Peveril blushed, and was silent. The King frowned, and stepped aside to communicate with Ormond, who reported that the father seemed to have known nothing of the matter.
"And the son, I am sorry to say," said the King, "seems more unwilling to speak the truth than I should have expected. We have all variety of evidence in this singular investigation--a mad witness like the dwarf, a drunken witness like the father, and now a dumb witness.--Young man," he continued, addressing Julian, "your behaviour is less frank than I expected from your father's son. I must know who this person is with whom you held such familiar intercourse--you know him, I presume?"
Julian acknowledged that he did, but, kneeling on one knee, entreated his Majesty's forgiveness for concealing his name; "he had been freed," he said, "from his confinement, on promising to that effect."
"That was a promise made, by your own account, under compulsion," answered the King, "and I cannot authorise your keeping it; it is your duty to speak the truth--if you are afraid of Buckingham, the Duke shall withdraw."
"I have no reason to fear the Duke of Buckingham," said Peveril; "that I had an affair with one of his household, was the man's own fault and not mine."
"Oddsfish!" said the King, "the light begins to break in on me--I thought I remembered thy physiognomy. Wert thou not the very fellow whom I met at Chiffinch's yonder morning?--The matter escaped me since; but now I recollect thou saidst then, that thou wert the son of that jolly old three-bottle Baronet yonder."
"It is true," said Julian, "that I met your Majesty at Master Chiffinch's, and I am afraid had the misfortune to displease you; but----"
"No more of that, young man--no more of that--But I recollect you had with you that beautiful dancing siren.--Buckingham, I will hold you gold to silver, that she was the intended tenant of that bass-fiddle?"
"Your Majesty has rightly guessed it," said the Duke; "and I suspect she has put a trick upon me, by substituting the dwarf in her place; for Christian thinks----"
"Damn Christian!" said the King hastily--"I wish they would bring him hither, that universal referee."--And as the wish was uttered, Christian's arrival was announced. "Let him attend," said the King: "But hark--a thought strikes me.--Here, Master Peveril--yonder dancing maiden that introduced you to us by the singular agility of her performance, is she not, by your account, a dependent of the Countess of Derby?"
"I have known her such for years," answered Julian.
"Then will we call the Countess hither," said the King: "It is fit we should learn who this little fairy really is; and if she be now so absolutely at the beck of Buckingham, and this Master Christian of his--why I think it would be but charity to let her ladyship know so much, since I question if she will wish, in that case, to retain her in her service. Besides," he continued, speaking apart, "this Julian, to whom suspicion attaches in these matters from his obstinate silence, is also of the Countess's household. We will sift this matter to the bottom, and do justice to all."
The Countess of Derby, hastily summoned, entered the royal closet at one door, just as Christian and Zarah, or Fenella, were ushered in by the other. The old Knight of Martindale, who had ere this returned to the presence, was scarce controlled, even by the signs which she made, so much was he desirous of greeting his old friend; but as Ormond laid a kind restraining hand upon his arm, he was prevailed on to sit still.
The Countess, after a deep reverence to the King, acknowledged the rest of the nobility present by a slighter reverence, smiled to Julian Peveril, and looked with surprise at the unexpected apparition of Fenella. Buckingham bit his lip, for he saw the introduction of Lady Derby was likely to confuse and embroil every preparation which he had arranged for his defence; and he stole a glance at Christian, whose eye, when fixed on the Countess, assumed the deadly sharpness which sparkles in the adder's, while his cheek grew almost black under the influence of strong emotion.
"Is there any one in this presence whom your ladyship recognises," said the King graciously, "besides your old friends of Ormond and Arlington?"
"I see, my liege, two worthy friends of my husband's house," replied the Countess; "Sir Geoffrey Peveril and his son--the latter a distinguished member of my son's household."
"Any one else?" continued the King.
"An unfortunate female of my family, who disappeared from the Island of Man at the same time when Julian Peveril left it upon business of importance. She was thought to have fallen from the cliff into the sea."
"Had your ladyship any reason to suspect--pardon me," said the King, "for putting such a question--any improper intimacy between Master Peveril and this same female attendant?"
"My liege," said the Countess, colouring indignantly, "my household is of reputation."
"Nay, my lady, be not angry," said the King; "I did but ask--such things will befall in the best regulated families."
"Not in mine, sire," said the Countess. "Besides that, in common pride and in common honesty, Julian Peveril is incapable of intriguing with an unhappy creature, removed by her misfortune almost beyond the limits of humanity."
Zarah looked at her, and compressed her lips, as if to keep in the words that would fain break from them.
"I know how it is," said the King--"What your ladyship says may be true in the main, yet men's tastes have strange vagaries. This girl is lost in Man as soon as the youth leaves it, and is found in Saint Jame's Park, bouncing and dancing like a fairy, so soon as he appears in London."
"Impossible!" said the Countess; "she cannot dance."
"I believe," said the King, "she can do more feats than your ladyship either suspects or would approve of."
The Countess drew up, and was indignantly silent.
The King proceeded--"No sooner is Peveril in Newgate, than, by the account of the venerable little gentleman, this merry maiden is even there also for company. Now, without inquiring how she got in, I think charitably that she had better taste than to come there on the dwarf's account.--Ah ha! I think Master Julian is touched in conscience!"
Julian did indeed start as the King spoke, for it reminded him of the midnight visit in his cell.
The King looked fixedly at him, and then proceeded--"Well, gentlemen, Peveril is carried to his trial, and is no sooner at liberty, than we find him in the house where the Duke of Buckingham was arranging what he calls a musical mask.--Egad, I hold it next to certain, that this wench put the change on his Grace, and popt the poor dwarf into the bass-viol, reserving her own more precious hours to be spent with Master Julian Peveril.--Think you not so, Sir Christian, you, the universal referee? Is there any truth in this conjecture?"
Christian stole a glance at Zarah, and read that in her eye which embarrassed him. "He did not know," he said; "he had indeed engaged this unrivalled performer to take the proposed part in the mask; and she was to have come forth in the midst of a shower of lambent fire, very artificially prepared with perfumes, to overcome the smell of the powder; but he knew not why--excepting that she was wilful and capricious, like all great geniuses--she had certainly spoiled the concert by cramming in that more bulky dwarf."
"I should like," said the King, "to see this little maiden stand forth, and bear witness, in such manner as she can express herself, on this mysterious matter. Can any one here understand her mode of communication?"
Christian said, he knew something of it since he had become acquainted with her in London. The Countess spoke not till the King asked her, and then owned dryly, that she had necessarily some habitual means of intercourse with one who had been immediately about her person for so many years.
"I should think," said Charles, "that this same Master Peveril has the more direct key to her language, after all we have heard."
The King looked first at Peveril, who blushed like a maiden at the inference which the King's remark implied, and then suddenly turned his eyes on the supposed mute, on whose cheek a faint colour was dying away. A moment afterwards, at a signal from the Countess, Fenella, or Zarah, stepped forward, and having kissed her lady's hand, stood with her arms folded on her breast, with a humble air, as different from that which she wore in the harem of the Duke of Buckingham, as that of a Magdalene from a Judith. Yet this was the least show of her talent of versatility, for so well did she play the part of the dumb girl, that Buckingham, sharp as his discernment was, remained undecided whether the creature which stood before him could possibly be the same with her, who had, in a different dress, made such an impression on his imagination, or indeed was the imperfect creature she now represented. She had at once all that could mark the imperfection of hearing, and all that could show the wonderful address by which nature so often makes up of the deficiency. There was the lip that trembles not at any sound--the seeming insensibility to the conversation that passed around; while, on the other hand, was the quick and vivid glance; that seemed anxious to devour the meaning of those sounds, which she could gather no otherwise than by the motion of the lips.
Examined after her own fashion, Zarah confirmed the tale of Christian in all its points, and admitted that she had deranged the project laid for a mask, by placing the dwarf in her own stead; the cause of her doing so she declined to assign, and the Countess pressed her no farther.
"Everything tells to exculpate my Lord of Buckingham," said Charles, "from so absurd an accusation: the dwarf's testimony is too fantastic, that of the two Peverils does not in the least affect the Duke; that of the dumb damsel completely contradicts the possibility of his guilt. Methinks, my lords, we should acquaint him that he stands acquitted of a complaint, too ridiculous to have been subjected to a more serious scrutiny than we have hastily made upon this occasion."
Arlington bowed in acquiescence, but Ormond spoke plainly.--"I should suffer, sire, in the opinion of the Duke of Buckingham, brilliant as his talents are known to be, should I say that I am satisfied in my own mind on this occasion. But I subscribe to the spirit of the times; and I agree it would be highly dangerous, on such accusations as we have been able to collect, to impeach the character of a zealous Protestant like his Grace--Had he been a Catholic, under such circumstances of suspicion, the Tower had been too good a prison for him."
Buckingham bowed to the Duke of Ormond, with a meaning which even his triumph could not disguise.--"/Tu me la pagherai!/" he muttered, in a tone of deep and abiding resentment; but the stout old Irishman, who had long since braved his utmost wrath, cared little for this expression of his displeasure.
The King then, signing to the other nobles to pass into the public apartments, stopped Buckingham as he was about to follow them; and when they were alone, asked, with a significant tone, which brought all the blood in the Duke's veins into his countenance, "When was it, George, that your useful friend Colonel Blood became a musician?--You are silent," he said; "do not deny the charge, for yonder villain, once seen, is remembered for ever. Down, down on your knees, George, and acknowledge that you have abused my easy temper.--Seek for no apology--none will serve your turn. I saw the man myself, among your Germans as you call them; and you know what I must needs believe from such a circumstance."
"Believe that I have been guilty--most guilty, my liege and King," said the Duke, conscience-stricken, and kneeling down;--"believe that I was misguided--that I was mad--Believe anything but that I was capable of harming, or being accessory to harm, your person."
"I do not believe it," said the King; "I think of you, Villiers, as the companion of my dangers and my exile, and am so far from supposing you mean worse than you say, that I am convinced you acknowledge more than ever you meant to attempt."
"By all that is sacred," said the Duke, still kneeling, "had I not been involved to the extent of life and fortune with the villain Christian----"
"Nay, if you bring Christian on the stage again," said the King, smiling, "it is time for me to withdraw. Come, Villiers, rise--I forgive thee, and only recommend one act of penance--the curse you yourself bestowed on the dog who bit you--marriage, and retirement to your country-seat."
The Duke rose abashed, and followed the King into the circle, which Charles entered, leaning on the shoulder of his repentant peer; to whom he showed so much countenance, as led the most acute observers present, to doubt the possibility of there existing any real cause for the surmises to the Duke's prejudice.
The Countess of Derby had in the meanwhile consulted with the Duke of Ormond, with the Peverils, and with her other friends; and, by their unanimous advice, though with considerable difficulty, became satisfied, that to have thus shown herself at Court, was sufficient to vindicate the honour of her house; and that it was her wisest course, after having done so, to retire to her insular dominions, without farther provoking the resentment of a powerful faction. She took farewell of the King in form, and demanded his permission to carry back with her the helpless creature who had so strangely escaped from her protection, into a world where her condition rendered her so subject to every species of misfortune.
"Will your ladyship forgive me?" said Charles. "I have studied your sex long--I am mistaken if your little maiden is not as capable of caring for herself as any of us."
"Impossible!" said the Countess.
"Possible, and most true," whispered the King. "I will instantly convince you of the fact, though the experiment is too delicate to be made by any but your ladyship. Yonder she stands, looking as if she heard no more than the marble pillar against which she leans. Now, if Lady Derby will contrive either to place her hand near the region of the damsel's heart, or at least on her arm, so that she can feel the sensation of the blood when the pulse increases, then do you, my Lord of Ormond, beckon Julian Peveril out of sight--I will show you in a moment that it can stir at sounds spoken."
The Countess, much surprised, afraid of some embarrassing pleasantry on the part of Charles, yet unable to repress her curiosity, placed herself near Fenella, as she called her little mute; and, while making signs to her, contrived to place her hand on her wrist.
At this moment the King, passing near them, said, "This is a horrid deed--the villain Christian has stabbed young Peveril!"
The mute evidence of the pulse, which bounded as if a cannon had been discharged close by the poor girl's ear, was accompanied by such a loud scream of agony, as distressed, while it startled, the good- natured monarch himself. "I did but jest," he said; "Julian is well, my pretty maiden. I only used the wand of a certain blind deity, called Cupid, to bring a deaf and dumb vassal of his to the exercise of her faculties."
"I am betrayed!" she said, with her eyes fixed on the ground--"I am betrayed!--and it is fit that she, whose life has been spent in practising treason on others, should be caught in her own snare. But where is my tutor in iniquity?--where is Christian, who taught me to play the part of spy on this unsuspicious lady, until I had well-nigh delivered her into his bloody hands?"
"This," said the King, "craves more secret examination. Let all leave the apartment who are not immediately connected with these proceedings, and let this Christian be again brought before us.-- Wretched man," he continued, addressing Christian, "what wiles are these you have practised, and by what extraordinary means?"
"She has betrayed me, then!" said Christian--"Betrayed me to bonds and death, merely for an idle passion, which can never be successful!--But know, Zarah," he added, addressing her sternly, "when my life is forfeited through thy evidence, the daughter has murdered the father!"
The unfortunate girl stared on him in astonishment. "You said," at length she stammered forth, "that I was the daughter of your slaughtered brother?"
"That was partly to reconcile thee to the part thou wert to play in my destined drama of vengeance--partly to hide what men call the infamy of thy birth. But /my/ daughter thou art! and from the eastern clime, in which thy mother was born, you derive that fierce torrent of passion which I laboured to train to my purposes, but which, turned into another channel, has become the cause of your father's destruction.--My destiny is the Tower, I suppose?"
He spoke these words with great composure, and scarce seemed to regard the agonies of his daughter, who, throwing herself at his feet, sobbed and wept most bitterly.
"This must not be," said the King, moved with compassion at this scene of misery. "If you consent, Christian, to leave this country, there is a vessel in the river bound for New England--Go, carry your dark intrigues to other lands."
"I might dispute the sentence," said Christian boldly; "and if I submit to it, it is a matter of my own choice.--One half-hour had made me even with that proud woman, but fortune hath cast the balance against me.--Rise, Zarah, Fenella no more! Tell the Lady of Derby, that, if the daughter of Edward Christian, the niece of her murdered victim, served her as a menial, it was but for the purpose of vengeance--miserably, miserably frustrated!--Thou seest thy folly now --thou wouldst follow yonder ungrateful stripling--thou wouldst forsake all other thoughts to gain his slightest notice; and now thou art a forlorn outcast, ridiculed and insulted by those on whose necks you might have trod, had you governed yourself with more wisdom!--But come, thou art still my daughter--there are other skies than that which canopies Britain."
"Stop him," said the King; "we must know by what means this maiden found access to those confined in our prisons."
"I refer your Majesty to your most Protestant jailer, and to the most Protestant Peers, who, in order to obtain perfect knowledge of the depth of the Popish Plot, have contrived these ingenious apertures for visiting them in their cells by night or day. His Grace of Buckingham can assist your Majesty, if you are inclined to make the inquiry."[*]
[*] It was said that very unfair means were used to compel the prisoners, committed on account of the Popish Plot, to make disclosures, and that several of them were privately put to the torture.
"Christian," said the Duke, "thou art the most barefaced villain who ever breathed."
"Of a commoner, I may," answered Christian, and led his daughter out of the presence.
"See after him, Selby," said the King; "lose not sight of him till the ship sail; if he dare return to Britain, it shall be at his peril. Would to God we had as good riddance of others as dangerous! And I would also," he added, after a moment's pause, "that all our political intrigues and feverish alarms could terminate as harmlessly as now. Here is a plot without a drop of blood; and all the elements of a romance, without its conclusion. Here we have a wandering island princess (I pray my Lady of Derby's pardon), a dwarf, a Moorish sorceress, an impenitent rogue, and a repentant man of rank, and yet all ends without either hanging or marriage."
"Not altogether without the latter," said the Countess, who had an opportunity, during the evening, of much private conversation with Julian Peveril. "There is a certain Major Bridgenorth, who, since your Majesty relinquishes farther inquiry into these proceedings, which he had otherwise intended to abide, designs, as we are informed, to leave England for ever. Now, this Bridgenorth, by dint of law, hath acquired strong possession over the domains of Peveril, which he is desirous to restore to the ancient owners, with much fair land besides, conditionally, that our young Julian will receive them as the dowry of his only child and heir."
"By my faith," said the King, "she must be a foul-favoured wench, indeed, if Julian requires to be pressed to accept her on such fair conditions."
"They love each other like lovers of the last age," said the Countess; "but the stout old Knight likes not the round-headed alliance."
"Our royal recommendation shall put that to rights," said the King; "Sir Geoffrey Peveril has not suffered hardship so often at our command, that he will refuse our recommendation when it comes to make him amends for all his losses."
It may be supposed the King did not speak without being fully aware of the unlimited ascendancy which he possessed over the old Tory; for within four weeks afterwards, the bells of Martindale-Moultrassie were ringing for the union of the families, from whose estates it takes its compound name, and the beacon-light of the Castle blazed high over hill and dale, and summoned all to rejoice who were within twenty miles of its gleam.
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