صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

“ Nay; a mere purchase of Spanish jennets for the stud-house," said the duke, striving to cover his indiscretion of speech.

“ Parma, methinks, is a somewhat outlaying market for a commodity that Watteville would have made it his diplomatic pride to purvey to his majesty !” cried the cunning Tom, too shrewd to be put upon a false scent.

“ His majesty may not be minded to accept either gifts or loans tendered him by the ambassador of Spain,” replied Buckingham, with ready evasion.

“ Still it does not strike me that because a Spanish branch of royalty ruleth in the duchy of Parma, its brood-mares, as well as its infants and infantas, must necessarily partake of Spanish blood,” persisted Killigrew, directing towards the countenance of Buckingham a scrutinising glance.

“ Trouble thyself no farther with the pedigree of either the jennets or the princes of Parma, excellent Tom!” cried Buckingham, with an ironical smile. “ Ne sutor ultra crepidam. Horseflesh is not the branch of learning in which thou art required to administer to the education of the court."

With all his disdains, however, the Duke of Buckingham was not sorry to have been forewarned by the badinage of the master of the revels of the encounter thus awaiting him with an individual against whom he entertained one of those peevish animosities which spring, like fungi, out of the natural dry rot of a throne. At Breda, jealousies had arisen between them from a defeated suit, or some such courtly toy; and having secretly rejoiced at the unaccountable vagary which carried Lord Lovell post into Italy at the moment when his royal master was carried upon the shoulders of his penitent subjects into Whitehall, his grace had recently heard with regret of a renewed intercourse between Charles and his wayward favourite.

The Duke of Buckingham' had means of knowing with certainty that the proposed match between Charles and Donna Catherina di Braganza, strenuously promoted by his ally, Cardinal Mazarin, as a means by which succours might be forwarded to Portugal without compromising the existing amity between the courts of France and Spain, had met with vehement opposition from the Spanish party, whereof the Earl of Bristol, uncle to Lord Lovell, was a persevering upholder ; and while Hyde, Ormond, Southampton, and Nicholas, concurred in forcing upon the king's acceptance the offers made by Portugal through its ambassador, De Mello, of a dower that comprehended a footing in three quarters of the globe, (by the cession of Bombay in Asia, Tangier in Africa, and free trade with the Portuguese colonies in the New World,) Vatteville, the Spanish envoy, tendered, on the other hand, a dower of equivalent extent with the hand of one of the infantas of Parma. Buckingham had reason to suspect that the king, rendered personally averse to wedlock by the still ascendant influence of Lady Castlemaine, and the recent birth of her son, had commissioned Lovell to discover objections against the fair fame or fair persons of the princesses of Parma, just as he had empowered others to spread rumours of the probable infertility of Donna Catherina.

Eager that such might prove the case, and prepared to bury in oblivion his former enmity, provided he found that Lovell was opposed to his uncle the earl touching the eligibility of conceding to the views of Spain, the duke assumed at once the familiarity of a boon companion, when, long ere the well-frothed Barcelona chocolate was discussed, he heard Lord Lovell frankly assert the elder infanta of Parma to be the ugliest princess of her size, and the younger the biggest of her ugliness, extant in christian Europe.

“ 'Tis rumoured," cried the young lord, ripe with the flippant impertinence derived from foreign travel, “ that the stairs of the cathedral have been worn down an extra inch by the heavy ascents of this ponderous piece of piety, and her royal kilogrammes of 'too, too, solid flesh; while, as to her sister, (under your royal pleasure, my liege, who have the happiness to call cousins with her highness,) í have heard it sworn that Mignard, when employed at the court of Parma in copying Correggio's pictures for the cardinal, made sundry valuable studies from her royal hideousness for the faces of fiends and imps in his picture of the Temptation of St. Antony !"

Nay?". cried Buckingham ; “ I have heard it averred that the Duchess of Parma makes excuse for the uncouthness of her

progeny by protesting that she was frightened by

“ Enough, enough !” exclaimed Charles. “ No need to paint the devil or the infantas blacker than they are. Small persuasion is needful to determine me to adhere to my engagements with De Mello. Whatever cup we quaff from the dose of matrimony must have its bitters; but methinks I shall swallow my physic more patiently from the high-gilded Lisbon chalice.”

“ Which, I pledge my George and honour, will prove aught save a chalice of tears,” cried Buckingham gaily.

“But all this talk of wiving and wedlock must be wormwood to thine ears, friend Lovell," exclaimed the king, suddenly drawing upon the new-comer the attention of Buckingham, Lord Falmouth, and the young Earl of Arran, who formed the royal breakfast party. “I have a notion, Arthur, that nothing short of my sign-manual would have recalled thy wandering steps to a kingdom that contains thy malapert and bumpkin spouse ?”

“ Your majesty is ever happy in your guesses," replied Lovell, his cheek flushing with mortification at finding his private affairs thus exposed to comment. “ The words native country' have a tender and majestic sound; but when applied to a country containing within its limits no foot of earth we can call our own, and some five feet five of wife we could willingly call some other man's, i’faith the temptation to look upon its face is somewhat of the slightest. I beseech your majesty, however, to believe that I have been crying God save the king l’ for the last two years, with strength of lungs to be heard from Messina to Whitehall; and that nothing but virulency of wifehatred could have surmounted my desire to breathe the same ejaculation less audibly, but not less fervently, at your feet.”

Wife-hatred!" exclaimed the Duke of Buckingham, greatly surprised. “ Have I the sorrow to behold in Lord Lovell another martyre par l'Eglise ?"

66 Ten years

“Married—and how long, pray, my dear Lovell ?" demanded the Earl of Arran, equally astonished.

“ Somewhere as long as the besiegement of Troy, if my memory serve me,” interrupted the king.

! Why, you must have usurped the privilege of royalty, and been noosed in leading-strings !" cried the Duke of Buckingham, casting an envious glance upon the handsome person of the young lord.

“ And, now I remember me, you may even add two more to the cipher,” resumed the king. The match was made on the eve of Wor’ster, (was't not, my dear lord ?) where my friend's good service savoured little of leading-strings, though some year or two younger than the boyish and inexperienced prince he defended at the hazard of his life.”

" Your majesty's memory, like a poetical dedication, embellishes my poor deserts," said Lord Lovell, deeply touched by these proofs of recollection on the part of one, the great fault of whose easy nature was unimpressibility.

“ Married twelve heinous years, yet still retain that enviable freshness of complexion and evenness of brow !” exclaimed the flaunting Buckingham. “A blessed encouragement for the laudable designs of your majesty!"

“ Away with ye, George !" cried the king, with a hearty laugh. Oddsfish! I would not hesitate to wed with all the infantas of Spain, Portugal, and. Parma, (with De Vatteville's protégée, the red-headed Princess of Denmark, to boot,) so I might enjoy the connubial estate on the same free and easy terms upon which my friend Lovell yonder hath played the Benedict.”

“ So, so, so !" replied the duke, with awakened curiosity. “Have I then a lesson to learn in the art of ingenious deconjugation ? Never did it enter into my simple conjectures at Paris, Cologne, or Breda, that the modes or mien of my young Lord Lovell were those of a married man."

Un homme est fils de ses oeuvres," replied Lovell, with a sneer. “ My alliance was none of my own doing,ergo I am de facto, by no means a married man. I hold it doubly hard, moreover, that my Shropshire lands—mine from a dozen generations--should become escheated by my banislıment, and fall to the maw of such cormorants as Whalley and Pryme; while my wife, who, as part of my goods and chattels, ought to have been also an escheat, seems strapped to my shoulders everlastingly, without chance or hope of riddance."

“ And what is become of my old Wor’ster friend, Sir Richard ?" demanded the king, in an embarrassed manner, of Lord Lovell.

“ I should rather put that question to your majesty," he replied; “ seeing that, as he hath ever chosen to side with my crocodile of a wife, I have long discarded him as an uncle. I trust your majesty may not have discarded him as a subject; but 'tis some years since I heard mention of his name.”

“ Then I should say that the old fellow was gone dead,” cried the king, swallowing at a snap a bouchée aux huîtres, much as one of the spaniels at his side would have swallowed a fly;

I should most


assuredly have distinguished his rubicund face among the legion of musty cavalier visages that for twelve months after my accession beset the court. Lovell, thou wert a lucky knave to be spared the spectacle, and the sound of 'I that fought with your majesty!—I that bled for your majesty!'_' I that forfeited my lands l_ ' I that lost a leg !--I an arm ! - I everything in the world i'-Heaven save them!--not so much as the loyal old gentlewoman, who had been at the pains of preserving the currycombs

and leathers used in the royal stables of my late gracious father of blessed memory, but came down upon me with claims for pensions and indemnification! I who, God wot, had debts enough of my own upon my hands, was modestly requested to discharge the debts of some millions of my subjects !"

“ 'Tis to old Dick Lovell's credit that he disdained to make one of this ragged regiment,” said Lord Lovell, coldly.

“ We were on none of the smoothest terms on parting at Paris," cried the king. “ The old knight, when in good humour, used to fight me over that skirmish at Madeley Bridge till it became my Bridge of Sighs; and when in ill humour, never ceased from reprehending me for keeping loose company in the guise of Mistress Lucy, of virago memory, and his own still more graceless nephew."

“ I thank his kinsmanly affection," ejaculated the young lord, with a sneer: “ I have asked none of his news these five years past :, and if I sometimes take occasion to inquire touching the health of my mawkin of a wife, 'tis with a view to my personal deliverance. I have hopes afforded me, however, by the doctors of Bologna, (to whom t'other day I submitted translated copies of the deeds by which her meek-mouthed Barabbas of a father and his crop-eared attorney finessed me out of my Northamptonshire estates,) that the band may yet be broken."

“ Northamptonshire !” exclaimed the young Earl of Arran, with a start that all but dislodged the rosewater of his rince-bouche into the yawning morocco boot of the Duke of Buckingham, beside whom he was seated. “ Does your lordship mean that the “mawkin,' • bumpkin,' and what other opprobrious names you have assigned to your lady-wife, can be the self-same lovely Lady Lovell of Lovell House, by Thrapstone, whose charms have set the midland counties into a ferment?"

I confess to Lovell House and Thrapstone," replied his lordship; “ of the ferment I know nothing more than is reported by the gallantry of my Lord Arran.”

“ İmpart, impart, Dick,” cried Charles, eagerly, addressing the earl. " What can’st tell us concerning Lovell's Elfrida ?-hast seen her ? What knowest thou of her by person or renown?”

“ By both wonders, my gracious liege. Lady Lovell's renown is that of the most beauteous, most beneficent, most prudent of her sex. For her person, I would, sire, you had been present when I beheld it for the first time.”

“Ay l" cried the king, in a tone of interest, encouraging him to further disclosure.

“ It happened," resumed Lord Arran, " that soon after the marriage of my sister with Chesterfield, I was proceeding post to Bretley on a


visit of congratulation, when, having taken my rest at a villanous country inn, whereunto the unsavouriness of a Spanish posada were a banquet, I was proceeding by a short cut across the country, per counsel communicated to my grooms by the filthy Boniface by whom

had been entertained, poisoned, and robbed on the king's highway, when lo ! as I entered certain pastures of a plain betwixt Thrapstone and Arundel, there came upon me a train of gentles with grayhounds in leash, and a sufficient array of mounted serving-men to assure me of the quality of the party. A hearty-looking young country gentleman was at its head, who doffed his beaver to me courteously in passing. Then came a pretty blushing thing, in a sad-coloured ridingsuit : and lastly, a fair creature, mounted on a thorough-bred mare, 'as black as jet, in the highest condition, and with a cross of the Arabian

“ Curse the mare!- the lady, the lady 1” cried King Charles, really interested in the narrative.

“ The lady, sire, habited in a velvet skirt of Lincoln green, with a sable riding-hat and feather, which, as her impatient mare pressed on, streamed wildly in the wind, was in person and bearing all that your majesty can conjecture of the fair Hippolita, when side by side with Theseus.”

“ Tụt, man ! my majesty can conjecture no such apocryphal divinity,” cried Rowley, impatiently; “ describe her, with your leave, in unmetaphorical flesh and blood.”

Figure to yourself then, sire, the bloom of my sister Chesterfield, the liquid glances of my Lady Shrewsbury—the fine bust and shoulders of fair Mistress Palmer--the graceful dignity of her Royal Highness the Duchess - the freshness of Mistress Robarts-the

“ On my royal word, I'll do no such thing," cried Charles; “the very surmise of such an angel on horseback would carry me straight down a coursing to the good shire of Northampton, against which Fotheringay Castle and the fate of my fair great grandame supply me with an ugly prejudice."

“The face of the young Lady Lovell, my liege, would obliterate impressions twice as gloomy," cried Arran, with enthusiasm.

« And you are satisfied of a surety that this said young Lady Lovell is no other than the wife of his sullen lordship there?”

“ I am certain only, sire, that the lady is resident at Lovell House. More I would fain have learned of her; but


brother Chesterfield (who is an occasional visiter at Laxton, within reach of her domicile) informed me that she was a lady of rare merit, who, on family troubles arising out of the civil wars, chose to live in strict seclusion.

Above all, he protested that a giddy-pated courtier like myself (as the earl was ungraciously pleased to define me) would find no favour in her sight.”

Umph! Methinks the adventure might have been worth the attempting,” said Buckingham, coolly.

“ My life on't, it had been tried in vain !". cried Lovell, reddening ; “ this woman hath neither heart nor soul, but only a fair body inspired by the very incarnate demon of obstinacy."

“ With your lordship's good leave, no woman is conscious of having

« السابقةمتابعة »