—It is thy merit
To make all mortal business ebb and flow
Homer's Hymn to Mercury.
And then, with you, my friends, and the old man,
We'll load the hollow depth of our black ship,
And row with double strokes from this dread shore.
Notwithstanding the promise Clifford made of a merry tale, both he and his auditor looked grave as he commenced. Richard expected, with some anxiety, an explanation from his friend, and the other assumed the self-consequence resulting from having achieved a victory. No two beings ever displayed, in their way, a greater contrast than these youths. The prince was many inches taller than his companion, and his slim make promised increase of height. His brow was smooth as infancy, candid as day; his bright blue eyes were lighted up with intelligence, yet there was a liquid lustre in them that betokened tenderness; nor did his lips, that nest of the heart's best feelings, belie his eyes. They were full, a little curled, can we say in pride, or by what more gentle word can we name a feeling of self-elevation and noble purpose, joined to benevolence and sweetness? His oval cheeks were rounded by the dimpled chin, and his golden hair clustered on a throat of marble whiteness, which, as the white embroidered collar thrown back over the doublet, permitted the outline to be seen, sustained his head as the Ionic flute rears its graceful capital. Clifford was shorter, but firm set and more manlike in form, his grey eyes were bright or dull as his soul spoke in them; his brow slightly scowled, pending over, and even thus early, lines were delved in it, hardly seen when he was in repose, but which, as he spoke, showed deep and distorted; his smile was tinctured by a sneer, his voice attracted no confidence, yet Richard now hung intently on it as he spoke:
"When I returned from doing my lord's bidding, I found him moving about the room, more like a parched pea than a stately noble; for now he stood still, and then shot off with a quick step, showing every sign of being ill at ease. Now, boy as I am, for I can number but sixteen summers, my lord more than loves me, he trusts me, and not without cause—for when at hazard—but my story will be too long—enough that ere now I have done him service. Had I not known the cause of his disquiet I should have asked it, but, believing myself fully aware of what this all meant, I went to my post, and busied myself in making some flies for angling, seeming most intent upon my work. My lord stood over me, and twice or thrice fetched a sigh, and then strode away, and came again, saying, "I am a fool, a dolt—the king can mean no ill to this lad—and yet—" I cannot tell you how long this indecision lasted, while I patiently toiled at a fly of green and gold, bright as those which trouts love to snap at in clear streams during May. At length he asked me, 'Robin, did you mark the boy that stood in the ante-chamber?' 'Aye, my good lord!' 'And what thought you of him?' 'Thought, my lord?' I spoke inquiringly, for it suddenly came across me that he did not know you, and it was not for me to betray your secret. 'Aye,' he replied, 'thought? Does he resemble any one you ever knew? Of what country do you divine him to be?' 'These Flemings are sandy-haired,' I said, 'yet he does not look of Flanders. Methinks he seems English born.'
"'You are right,' said he, 'English he is confessedly. This Frion calls him a natural son of De la Poole—of the late Earl of Lincoln. He says that he has knowledge of a secret treasure concealed by his father before this last rebellion, and the king wishes to get him into his hands, thus to secure the gold. The tale is not unlikely, for the Tudor ever loved the glitter—nay, the very dust of the precious metal,—and the boy resembles strangely the House of York. Yet, I care not for the task put upon me of kidnapping a child, and of betraying him into his enemy's hands—perhaps of delivering him up a prisoner for life, for the sake of—— Poor fellow! if he know aught of a concealed treasure, in God's name, let him confess it while on this side the fatal channel that now divides him from tyranny or death.' 'Let me deal with him,' I said, 'let me throw out some toy, such as is this gold and green thread to a silly fish, and learn the truth; if he discovers the hiding-place of this so coveted coin, we may spare him the trouble of his enforced journey.' 'I know not that,' answered my patron; 'Master Frion is earnest for his safe keeping; and no one is nearer our liege's inner wishes than this Provençal, who served him in exile, and who followed him in his expedition thence; and yet there is a noble daring in the boy, a mountain freshness in his cheek, a springy freedom in his gait, that it were a thousand pities to fetter and limit within narrow prison bounds.' Seeing that my lord was thus favourably inclined, I used all my poor eloquence to urge him further, and at last brought him to consent that I should converse with you; learn, if possible, your secret; inform you of your danger, and advise you to escape. One only difficulty remained: my lord had promised this master secretary that none should be admitted to talk with you; but when the subtle fiend, the double-dealing Frenchman entered, I told him with a long visage, that our noble host, the Sire de Beverem, had heard that we were carrying off by force a Fleming; and that, considering his hospitable mansion stained by the act, he had commanded strict watch to be kept on the morrow, that if any of the English suite were unwilling to go, or appeared in durance, he should be rescued. It was advisable therefore, that you should be kept in good-humour till fairly beyond the gates of Lisle; and this my wisdomship offered to do, if admitted to parlance with you. You look grave, sir prince, but had you seen Frion's sage look of hesitation, and heard his many exhortations that I would by no means betray my knowledge of who you really were; and how I, with a bow, careful as if my curls were white from years, promised discretion, you would laugh as I did, when, the mime over which I played before the servitor, I doffed my page's seeming equality, and in duteous phrase to his highness of York, offer my best services to liberate him."
"That seems already done," said Richard; "usher me to the Lord Fitzwater. I will declare myself to him; his compassion already excited——"
"Would then be cool as snow at Christmas. Wise young sir, Baron Fitzwater wears the blushing Rose; and for him there is wormwood in the name of York. Now, as a chance offshoot of the white thorn, he only sees in you a harmless boy, whom it were sin to injure; but give yourself a name whose very echo would bring St. Albans, Tewkesbury, Bosworth Field, and a thousand scaffolds streaming with his kinsmen's blood before him, and without remorse he would let Frion have his will of you. Even I, Duke Richard, I am sprung from those who fell for Lancaster——"
"Enough," replied the prince, haughtily. "I am content to stand alone, to achieve my freedom singly, or to submit to my fate."
"Not so, my noble, playmate," said the other. "I will not offer you my knee, my oath, my sword, for my allegiance belongs to the anointed King of England; but, I beseech you, suffer Robin Clifford to assist high-born Plantagenet to escape from a prison or from death; permit him to pay, if not the duty of a subject, yet that of a loving friend to the former companion of his childish sports."
Richard listened somewhat sullenly to these offers; he ill brooked the thought that any of English parentage should, knowing who he was, refuse to acknowledge him for his liege: but Clifford would not be refused; while it was hardly worth while to contend with his light spirit, which appeared incapable of a serious or profound idea. After a short resistance, therefore, the duke entered willingly into a discussion of the best means of effecting his escape in such a way, that he should have several hours the start of Frion, and be distant from danger before his seducer could discover that he was not still safe in his hands.
In the midst of this discussion, Frion suddenly entered. The stake for which he played was too momentous to trust it wholly to the stripling page, and distrust of the wily boy entered also into his calculations; he broke in, therefore, not only unannounced, but with such stealthy quiet as showed that he meant to pounce on his victim unawares. The youths sat, their stools drawn close; Clifford was leaning forward earnestly propounding his schemes, and Richard listened, his whole soul in his countenance. Frion was close upon them before he was perceived by either, his eyes glimmering with their usual suspicious look. The artless Richard started, and would with a conscious mien have drawn back; but Clifford, more used to the wiles and watchfulness of others, and his own double mode of action, continued to speak in the same tone the same words, without moving a muscle. The prince wondered, and regained his self-possession; not from entering into the deceit of his companion, but from the haughty sentiment of his own dignity, which even in danger refused to cower.
Clifford had been saying—"I will hence to the sire: a word to him of whose secretary this Provençal is, and insinuation that he is now on a secret expedition to the Flemish towns, will awaken his curiosity; he will send for him; fortunately the good knight speaks so slow that a mass can be said while he is introducing the subject of his inquiries; as each word expires, he pauses while a requiem might be sung for its death; our antagonist will writhe and—" and a glance askance informed the speaker that this man was at his side: he continued—"and strive vainly to escape; the heavy weight will be too much for him, he must submit. Such feints suit well us boys who have not strength nor skill for more declared warfare. To-morrow's dawn I will practise with you in the court of the castle ere you depart. But, indeed, my gossip, you must promise to be at Calais on the sixteenth, when we shall see a combat of good knights fit for royal princesses to look on. And now, fair sir, farewell; here is your friend. The Sire de Beverem commanded my presence at this hour. If I see you not again to-night, the saints have you in their keeping!"
When Clifford, with his pagelike vivacity, ran from the room singing a gay romance, Frion felt himself embarrassed; and more so when Richard said,—"My guest, it is hard, after giving you harbourage last night, that I should be forced, whether I will or not, to tarry here, leaving my kinswoman in dread and doubt. Make you my excuse to the chevalier, and delay me no longer, I beseech you."
Frion, without directly replying, said, "Anon I will speak of that; meanwhile, I have news for you." And he entered into a long account of an expected sedition in Flanders, and how the Sire de Beverem had promised to enlist Perkin Warbeck in his particular troop, when with courage and good fortune, he could not fail to rise. While he was talking, one of the men-at-arms of the noble entered, and notified to Frion that his lord desired an instant interview with him. The secretary hastened to obey; he thought that good fortune itself provided this excuse for him to escape from his victim, and resolved not again to present himself before him. He was scarcely gone when Clifford returned. "Now quick," he cried, "down the back staircase! My own steed stands saddled for you; ride fast and far—but whither—whither do you intend to go?"
"In the first place, to Dame Madeline's cottage."
"That were midsummer madness," cried Clifford; "Frion will never rest till he ensnares his bird again; nay, though I trust he will not discover your escape till to-morrow morning, that part of my scheme may fail; and his papers from the king are such, that my lord could not refuse to aid him, I pray you set space and cloudy mystery between you."
"It shall be so. Probably I shall seek refuge at Brussels; but I must see my gentle guardian and my sweet cousin, calm their fears, and bid them farewell."
They had descended a narrow winding staircase; Clifford unlocked a postern, opening on a dark alley. A small light-limbed horse stood without, held by a stout, almost gigantic fellow. "Here, Bryan," said Clifford, "this is the smuggled article of which I spoke. Convey it in safety to the gate; once without, the road is known. How now, sweeting! you sit your steed as if you were used to this gear—in truth thou art a false one—yet take care—fold your cloak thus. Not one kiss ere we part?" He sportively snatched the prince's hand, and pressing it to his lips, continued, "No weeping, lovely: my merry heart hates tears like verjuice. The blessed Virgin protect you; I must in. Remember, in every ill, Robert Clifford is your fast, your sworn friend. Look at her, Bryan; one would swear by her bearing it were a beardless page, and not a long-haired girl; remember, though gamesome, she is gentle, and respect her on your life."
Laughing at his own deceits, the guileful boy re-entered the mansion; nor could Richard avoid smiling at the merry and ready subterfuges which his friend had at command on every occasion. Brian demurely held the rein, and hardly hazarded a look or covert joke, as, with a pace that put the pony to a trot, he led the prince through the narrow streets to the western gate. The youth breathed freely when, after having passed the hollow sounding drawbridge, he saw the dark .wall of the town behind him, and before, the green plain. In his haste he scarcely bestowed a benison on his guide; but snatching the rein from his hand, and with the other throwing some money at his feet, and exclaiming, "Beware of prating, as thou art willing to save thyself from the whipping-post!" he impatiently struck his unarmed heel against the horse's sides, and bounded swiftly forward. Bryan picked up the angels, and told them slowly, as he said "I meant to have paid myself in other coin; but, by St. Julian, she rides more like a trooper than a gentle dame—and her speech—Master Robert has before now entrusted a damsel to my guidance, but they ever spoke me lovingly, with 'fair Sir,' and 'sweet Bryan!' Forsooth, Flemish girls ruffle more like pranksome pages than soft-cheeked wenches."
The thought of his conductor had passed as swiftly from the prince's thoughts, as he made the ground fly from under his horse's hoof. He was aware that he did neither the safest nor best thing in seeking, like a hunted hare, the form from which he had been roused in the morning; but the desire of calming Madeline's anxiety, and imprinting a farewell kiss on the sweet lips of her daughter, prevented him from altering his first purpose. The night was cloudy and very dark, but the road was known to him, and he continued at full speed till a voice, calling aloud, attracted his attention—the words could not be mistaken—his own name, "Perkin Warbeck!" sounded through the night. His first thought was, that he was pursued, but reflection told him that assuredly his pursuers would not halloo to him, while any sent in search of him by Madeline, might naturally so. try to stop him as he rode so fast through the dark. He checked his speed, therefore, and in a few moments a cavalier, a stranger was at his side, mounted on a tall black horse; his form seemed gigantic, and little else could be discerned; the stranger spoke to him in French, with a foreign accent. He asked him, "Are you not he they call Perkin Warbeck?" This address was sufficiently startling; and the youth haughtily replied, "My name imports not to you, while to me this interruption is unseasonable."
"Enough; you go towards the cottage of Madeline de Faro: I follow your highness thither."
Richard grasped the small poniard which hung from his belt; yet how could he, a child, contend with the tall and muscular form beside him? "Whoever thou art," he cried, "and whoever I may be, follow me not; I am no serf to be seized and carried back to his suzerain. Depart in God's name, that the fingers of neither may receive an ill stain!"
"Thou art a gallant boy!" cried the stranger, as placing his hand on the youth's arm, his most gentle touch was felt as an iron vice pressing on his flesh: "Pardon, my lord, the interference of one unknown to you, though I will not call myself a stranger. I am Hernan de Fero, the husband of Dame Madeline; now stay not your speed, while we hasten to relieve her thousand fears. I am come in search of you."
The heart of Richard warmed towards his new friend; he felt, that with him on his side, he might defy Frion, Fitzwater, and all their followers; for there was something in De Faro's mien, which spoke of a thousand combats, and as many victories; his deep voice out-roared the elements; his hand might arrest a wild horse in mad career. "When they arrived at the wicket entrance to the cot, he lifted the boy from the saddle, as a child would handle a toy, and shouted aloud in his own language, "Viva el Duque de Inglatierra y el Marinero, Hernan de Faro."
The dangers Richard had run, and the delight she experienced in seeing him, when again under her roof, stopped all Madeline's reproaches. "Is he not worthy all my fears?" she said to her husband, who stood eyeing the boy as he caressed his daughter. De Faro stretched out his hand, saying, "Will you, Señor Don Ricardo, accept my services, and my vow to protect you till the death, so help me the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Trinity."
De Faro was a mariner who had sailed in the service of the king of Portugal, along the unsounded shores of Africa, and sought beyond the equator a route to the spicy Indian land. His dark skin was burnt to a nearly negro die; his black curled hair, his beard and moustachios of the same dusky hue, half hid his face; his brow somewhat lowered over eyes dark as night; but, when he smiled, his soft mouth and pearly teeth, softened the harshness of his physiognomy, and he looked gentle and kind. Every nerve, every muscle, had been worn and hardened by long toilsome navigation; his strong limbs had withstood the tempest, his hands held unmoved the cordage, which the whirlwind strove vainly to tear from his grasp. He was a tower of a man; yet withal one, to whom the timid and endangered would recur for refuge, secure of his generosity and dauntless nature. He heard the story of Richard's dangers; his plan was formed swiftly: he said, "If you choose, Sir Prince, to await your foes here, I am ready, having put these girls in safety, to barricade the doors, and with arquebus and sword to defend you to the last: but there is a safer and better way for us all. I am come to claim my Madeline and our child, and to carry them with me to my native Spain. My vessel now rides off Ostend. I had meant to make greater preparation, and to have laid up some weeks here before we went on our home-bound voyage; but, as it is, let us depart to-night."
The door suddenly opened as he spoke—Madeline shrieked—Richard sprang upon his feet, while De Faro rose more slowly, placing himself like a vast buttress of stone before the intruder. It was Clifford.
"All is safe for the night," he cried; "your grace has a few hours the start, and but a few; dally not here!"
Again the discussion of whither he should fly was renewed, and the duke spoke of Brussels—of his aunt. "Of poison and pit-falls," cried Robert; "think you, boy as you are, and, under pardon, no conjuror, that the king will not contrive your destruction?"
Probably self-interested motives swayed Clifford; but he entered warmly into De Faro's idea of hastening to the sea-coast, and of sailing direct for Spain. "In a few years you will be a man—in a few years——"
"Forgotten! Yes—I may go; but a few months shall mark my return. I go on one condition; that you, Clifford, watch for the return of my cousin, Sir Edmund, and direct him where to find me."
"I will not fail. Sir Mariner, whither are you bound?"
And now, urged and quickened by Clifford, who promised to attend to all that this sudden resolve left incomplete, the few arrangements for their departure were made. Favoured by night, and the prince's perfect knowledge of the country, they were speedily on their way to Ostend. Clifford returned to Lisle, to mark and enjoy Frion's rage and Fitzwater's confusion, when, on the morrow, the quarry was found to have stolen from its lair. Without a moment's delay, the secretary followed, he hoped, upon his track: he directed his steps to Brussels. A letter meanwhile from Ostend, carefully worded, informed Clifford of the arrival and embarkation of his friends; again he was reminded of Plantagenet; nor had he long to wait before he fulfilled this last commission.
Edmund had found the Lady Margaret glad to receive tidings of her nephew; eager to ensure his safety and careful bringing-up, but dispirited by the late overthrow, and deeply grieved by the death of the noble and beloved Lincoln: no attack could now be made; it would be doubly dangerous to bring forward the young Richard at this juncture. She commissioned Plantagenet to accompany him to Brussels that she might see him; and then they could confer upon some fitting plan for the privacy and security of his future life, until maturer age fitted him to enter on his destined struggles.
Edmund returned with brightened hopes to Tournay, to find the cottage deserted, his friends gone. It may easily be imagined that this unexpected blank was a source of terror, almost of despair to the adventurer. He feared to ask questions, and when he did propound a few, the answers only increased his perplexity and fears. It was not until his third hopeless visit to the empty dwelling, that he met a stripling page, who, with an expression of slyness in his face, spoke the watchword of the friends of York. Edmund gladly exchanged the countersign, and then the boy asked him, whether he called himself cousin to the fugitive duke of York, laughing the while at the consternation his auditor exhibited at the utterance of this hidden and sacred word: "You come to seek your prince," he continued, "and wonder whither he may be flown, and what corner of the earth's wilderness affords him an abode. He is now, by my calculations, tossing about in a weather-beaten caravel, commanded by Hernan de Faro, in the Bay of Biscay; in another month he may anchor in the port of Malaga; and the dark-eyed girls of Andalusia will inform you in what nook of their sunny land the fair-haired son of England dwells. The king is defeated, Master Frion balked, and Lord Fitzwater gone on a bootless errand: the White Rose flourishes free as those that bloom in our Kentish hedges."
Without waiting for a reply, but with his finger on his lip to repel further speech, the youth vaulted on his horse, and was out of sight in a moment. Edmund doubted for some time whether he should act upon this singular communication. He endeavoured to learn who his informant was, and, at last, became assured that it was Robert Clifford, a young esquire in Lord Fitzwater's train. He was the younger son of the Lord Clifford who fell for Lancaster, at the battle of St. Alban's. By birth, by breeding, he was of the Red Rose, yet it was evident that his knowledge was perfect as to the existence of the duke of York; and the return of Lord Fitzwater and King Henry's secretary to Lisle, disappointed and foiled, served to inspire confidence in the information he had bestowed. After much reflection, Plantagenet resolved to visit Paris, where he knew that the brother of Madeline, old John Warbeck, then sojourned; and, if he did not gain surer intelligence from him, to proceed by way of Bordeaux to Spain.