THE TRAITOR PUNISHED.
This friar boasteth that he knoweth hell,
And God it wot that is but litel wonder;
Friars and fiends ben but litel asonder.
Richard meanwhile sailed fearlessly, with treachery for his nearest mate. Trangmar had at once exhibited audacity and prudence in the arrangement of his plan. He had made no great preparation, nor confided to any the real object of his intents. His only care had been, that the duke should sail on board an English vessel; and chance had brought into the Tagus one whose captain was inclined to the party of Lancaster. He also contrived to have two hirelings of his own engaged on board as part of the crew, who knew that it was their employer's design to carry to England a prisoner for the king. He was besides provided with a warrant from Henry, empowering him to seize on his rebel subject—the name a blank, for the monk to fill up—alive or dead. The paper ran thus; so, in case of struggle, to afford warranty for his darker purpose.
Richard was now a prisoner. The vessel belonging to any country is a portion of that country; and the deck of this merchantman was virtually a part of the British soil. The prince, not heeding his position, was so far from fearing his enemy's power, that he felt glad to find himself among his countrymen. He looked on the weather-beaten countenances of the honest sailors, and believed that he should find friends and partisans in all. He spoke to Trangmar of his purpose of declaring himself, and gaining them over; making this tiny offshoot of wide England his first conquest. Trangmar had not anticipated this. He was ignorant of the versatile and active spirit of the youth with whom he had to deal; nor had he, by putting himself in imagination in the prince's place, become aware how the project of acquiring his own was his sleepless incentive to every action, and how he saw in every event a stepping-stone in the prosecution of his enterprise. He started at the proposal, and in his own heart said, "I must lose no time; that which I thought to do next week, were better done to-morrow." With Richard he argued against this measure: he showed how the captain was bound to the present English government by his fortunes; how far more likely it was that, instead of gaining him and his crew, he would be made a prisoner by them, and delivered up to his enemy. Richard lent no great credence to this, but he yielded to the authority of the elder and the priest.
It was not in the power of his wily adversary to prevent him from ingratiating himself in the hearts of all around him. Besides his gentleness, his unaffected sympathy, and noble demeanour, his gay and buoyant spirit was congenial to the reckless sailors, who, during the dead calm that succeeded their first day's sail after quitting the Tagus, were glad of amusement to diversify their monotonous lives. He interceded with their captain when any fault was committed; he learned their private histories, promised his assistance, and scattered money among them. Sometimes he called them around him to teach him their art, discoursing about the stars, the magnet, the signs of the weather; he climbed the shrouds, handled the ropes, became an adept in their nautical language. At other times he listened to tales of dreadful shipwrecks and sailors' hardships, and recounted in turn De Faro's adventures. This made them talk of the new African discoveries, and descant on the wild chimeras or sage conclusions of Columbus, who at last, it was said, was to be sent by the sovereigns of Spain in quest of the western passage to India, over the slant and boundless Atlantic. All this time, with flapping sails, they lay but a short distance off the mouth of the Tagus; and Trangmar, impatient of delay, yet found it prudent to postpone his nefarious purpose.
After the calm had continued for nearly a week, signs of bad weather manifested themselves; squalls assailed the ship, settling at last in a gale, which grew into a tempest. Their little vessel was decked, yet hardly able to resist the lashing waves of the Bay of Biscay. A leak, which had shown itself even during the calm, increased frightfully; the men were day and night employed at the pumps, exposed to the beating rain, and to the waves, which perpetually washed the deck, drenching their clothes and bedding; each hour the wind became more furious, dark water-spouts dipping into the boiling sea, and churning it to fury, swept past them, and the steep sides of the mountain-high billows were ready at every moment to overwhelm them. Their tiny bark, which in these days would scarcely receive a more dignified name than a skiff, was borne as a leaf on the stream of the wind, its only safety consisting in yielding to its violence. Often at the worst the men despaired. The captain himself, frightened at the danger—and, strange inconsistency, still more fearful of the ruin that must attend him if his vessel were wrecked—lost all presence of mind. The prince displayed, meanwhile, all his native energy; he commanded the men, and they obeyed him, looking on him as a superior being; when, by following his orders, the progress of the leak was checked, and the tossed bark laboured less among the surges. "Sailors have short prayers," he said; "but if they are sincere ones, the saints will not the less intercede for us before God. Join me, my men, in a pious vow. I swear, by our Lady's precious name, to walk barefoot to her nearest shrine the first land we touch, and there to make a gift of incense and candles at her altar. This, if we escape; if not, here is Father Meiler, a holy Franciscan, to give us short shrift; so that, like devout Catholics, we may recommend our souls to the mercy of Jesus. And now to the pump, the ropes; bring me a hatchet—our mast must overboard."
Three days and nights they worked unremittingly; the lull that then succeeded was followed by another tempest, and the exhausted mariners grew desperate. They had been borne far into the Atlantic, and now the wind shifting, drove them with the same fury into the Bay of Biscay. Every moment in expectation of death, the heart of Trangmar softened towards his victim in spite of himself; he was forced to admire his presence of mind, his unvanquishable courage; his light, yet gentle spirit, which made him bear up under every difficulty, yet pity those who sunk beneath, cheering them with accents at once replete with kindness and fearless submission to the decree of Providence. Feeling the crew bound to him as his natural subjects, he extended towards them a paternal love, and felt called upon to guard and save them. After, for a fortnight, they had thus been the sport of the elements, the gale decreased; the violent breakers subsided into one long swell, which bore them into a sheltered cove, in the wild coast that surrounds the Bay of Biscay. The men disembarked, the vessel was drawn up; all hands were employed in unlading and repairing her. "Ye do ill," said Richard; "do you not remember our vow? Doubtless some village is near which contains a shrine where we may pay it."
This piety was in accord with the spirit of the times; and the men, rebuked, revered still more the youth who had saved them in danger, and who now in safety paid, with religious zeal, the debt incurred towards their heavenly patroness. A little village lay secluded near the creek, and above it, on a high rock, was a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary of the Ascension, erected by a noble, who had vowed such offering on escaping, as the prince of England had, from death on those perilous seas. Bareheaded, barefooted, bearing lights, following the Franciscan who led the way, the crew of the St. George proceeded towards the shrine. Next to the Blessed Virgin, Richard claimed their gratitude; and after due Aves had been said at the altar, still in the sacred place they gathered round him, offering their property and their lives, imploring him to accept from them some pledge of their thankfulness. The heart of the outcast sovereign swelled within him. "I reign here, in their breasts I reign," was the thought that filled his bright eyes with a dew springing from the fulness of his soul. With a smile of triumph he looked towards Father Meiler, as if to appeal to his judgment, whether now he might not declare himself, and claim these men's allegiance. He was startled by the dark and even ferocious expression of Trangmar's countenance. His coarse brown Franciscan dress, belted in by a rope; the cowl thrown back, displaying the monkish tonsure; the naked feet: these were symbols of humility and Christian virtue, in strong contrast with the deep lines of his face, and the glare of his savage eyes. He met the glance of his victim, and became confused, while the prince in wonder hastened to ask what strange thoughts occupied him, painting his visage with every sign of fierce passion.
"I was thinking," said Trangmar, hesitating; "I was deliberating, since God has cast us back on the land, whether it were not wiser to continue our journey through France, bidding farewell to the perils of the ocean sea?"
"That will I not," cried the prince. "Father Meiler, I watched you during the storm; you acted no coward's part then; why do you now?"
"When danger is near, I can meet it as a man of courage," said Trangmar; "when it is far, I can avoid it like a prudent one."
"A good clerical distinction, fit for a monk," replied the duke; "but I, who am a cavalier, father, love rather to meet danger, than to avoid it like a woman or a priest."
"Insulting boy!" cried Meiler; "dare you taunt me with cowardice? That I was a soldier ere I was a monk, some of your race dearly rued!"
Before these words were fully uttered, Trangmar recollected himself; his voice died away, so that his last expression was inaudible. The duke only beheld his burst of passion and sudden suppression of it, and said gently, "Pardon me, father; it is my fault that you forgot the respect due to me. I forgot the reverence meet from youth to age—most meet from a sinful boy to a holy monk."
"I thank your highness," said the friar, "for recalling to my memory a truth that had half escaped it. Henceforth be assured that I will not forget that you are the undoubted offspring of the earl of March—of Edward of England."
Fate thus urged this wicked and miserable man to his fiend-like purpose. Awakened again to deadly vengeance, he resolved to delay no longer; to trust no more to chance: he saw now all the difficulties of his former scheme of taking his enemy a prisoner to England; and this soothed his conscience as he recurred to more fatal designs. During the short delay that intervened before they again put out to sea, he watched an opportunity, but found none. At length they weighed anchor; and with a favourable wind, bore down the coast of France. The time was come, he surely thought: for during this long voyage he could frame an opportunity; during some dark night, when the ship sailed cheerily before a fair breeze, he would engage the prince in engrossing talk concerning the conduct he should pursue when in England, taking advantage of his victim's incautiousness to allure him near the brink, and then push him overboard. His single strength was more than a match for his slight adversary; but to render his scheme doubly sure, he would have the two men in his pay near him, to assist, in the case of struggle, and vouch for his innocence if he were accused of foul play.
It is the fortune of those hurried into crime by violent passion, that they can seldom find accomplices as wicked as themselves. Thus was it with Trangmar. The men whose assistance he relied upon, the enthusiasm of their fellow-sailors for their noble passenger. After they had again set sail, the wind blowing gently from the south, bore them onwards with a favourable navigation, till, shifting a few points eastward, it began to freshen. It was then that the Franciscan, not wholly betraying his purpose, but hinting that their presence would be necessary, ordered his men to contrive that the rest of the crew should be below, and they near at hand, while he that night should be alone with Richard upon deck. One of the men replied by stoutly declaring that if any evil was threatened the prince, he would not be a party in it. "You possess King Henry's warrant," he said, "to make this Fitzroy a prisoner. I will not oppose his majesty's command. You have him safely; what would you more?"
The other apparently yielded an assent to his employer's commands, and then found a speedy opportunity to warn Richard of his danger A veil fell from the prince's eyes. "Surely I knew this before," he thought; "ever since I was in Saint Mary's Chapel, I must have known that this dastard monk was my enemy. I am indeed betrayed, alone, friendless, on board an English vessel, surrounded by an English crew. Now let the trial be made, whether simple honesty be not of more avail than cruelty and craft. But first let me fathom the full intention of this man, and learn whether he have a worse design than that of delivering me over defenceless to my adversary. It cannot be that he would really murder me."
The breeze had rather sunk towards sunset, but it arose again with the stars; the vessel's prow struck against the light waves, and danced gaily on through the sea. One man stood at the helm; another, one of the friar's hirelings, loitered near; the other kept out of the way. Still, beneath the thousand stars of cloudless night, the little bark hurried on, feeling the freshening of the wind; her larboard beam was deep in the water, and close at the deck's leeward edge, Meiler and his intended victim paced. One thoughtless boy, high among the shrouds, whistled in answer to the winds. There was at once solitude and activity in the scene. "This is the hour," thought Richard; "surely if man's sinful heart was ever touched with remorse, this man's may now. God's throne, visible in all its beauty above us—beneath, around, the awful roaring waters, from which we lately so miraculously escaped." He began to speak of England, of his mother, of the hopes held out to him by his companion; eager in his desire of winning a traitor to the cause of truth, he half forgot himself, and then started to find that, ever as he walked, his companion got him nearer to the brink of the slant, slippery deck. Seized with horror at this manifestation of the worst designs, yet scarcely daring to credit his suspicions, he suddenly stopped, seizing a rope that swung near, and steadying himself by winding his arm round it, an act that escaped his enemy's observation, for, as he did it, he spoke: "Do you know, Father Meiler, that I suspect and fear you? I am an inexperienced youth, and if I am wrong, forgive me; but you have changed towards me of late, from the kind friend you once were. Strange doubts have been whispered: do you reply to them. Are you my friend, or are you a treacherous spy?—the agent of the noble Yorkists, or Henry Tudor's hireling murderer?"
As he spoke, the friar drew still nearer, and the prince recoiled farther from him: he got on the sheer edge of the deck. "Rash boy!" cried Trangmar, "know that I am no hireling: sacred vengeance pricks me on! Son of the murderer! tell me, where is sainted Henry? where Prince Edward? where all the noble martyrs of his cause? where my brave and lost sons? There, even where thou shalt be: quick, look back, thy grave yawns for thee!"
With the words he threw himself furiously on the prince: the stripling sprung back with all the force lent him by the rope he held, and pushed at the same time Trangmar violently from him, as he cried aloud on the sailors, "What, ho! treason is among us!" A heavy splash of the falling Meiler answered his call: the strong man was cast down in his very pride; the waters divided, and sucked him in. In a moment the crew were on deck; Trangmar's hireling, scared, cried out, "He is King Henry's prisoner! seize him!" thus increasing the confusion. The friar, his garments floating, now appeared struggling among the waves; a rope was thrown to him; the vessel sped on meanwhile, and it fell far short; Richard, horror-struck, would have leapt in to save his enemy; but the time was gone. One loud shriek burst on the ear of night, and all was still; Trangmar, his misery, his vengeance, and his crimes, lay buried in the ocean's hoary caves.
What explanation could follow this tremendous incident? The prince spoke of his life attacked; the men of the warrant their master had for his seizure: what was his crime none knew. "That will I declare freely," said the royal youth; "that unhappy man has sealed my truth by his death. In my childhood I was nurtured in a palace, and bore the title of the duke of York. Edward the Fourth was my father, Edward the Fifth my brother."
"Why this is foulest treason," cried the trembling captain.
"Ay, or fairest loyalty; speak, my friends; which of you will lay hands on your liege, on Richard the Fourth of England?"
The reckless and ignorant sailors, riotously and with one acclaim, swore to die for him; but their commander shuddered at the peril that beset him: while his men were hanging round their idolized prince, he retired with his mate to lament the ugly chance of Trangmar's death, and to express terror at the very name of York. If the captain was a coward-friend of Tudor, the mate was a sturdy Lancastrian; he recommended his chief to seize the boy, and convey him a welcome gift to his sovereign; the clamours of the delighted crew showed that this was vain advice. He had said to them, with all the ingenuousness of youth, "My life is in your hands, and I know that it is safe." Yet, when they spoke of seizing their unwilling commander, and of delivering the vessel in his hands, he said, "My good friends, I will not make lawless acts the stepping-stones to my throne; it is grief enough for me that my young hands have unwittingly destroyed the life of one who, not as an armed knight, but in holy garb set himself against me. I myself will persuade your captain to do me all the service I require."
This poor man was willing enough to hear what he called reason; at first he would fain have entreated Richard to suffer himself to be carried a prisoner to England; and, when he found his discourse vain, he yielded timid obedience to York's wishes, in spite of the lowering brow of his mate: thus, at least, his cargo would be saved, and his crew preserved from mutiny. Richard simply requested to be set on shore in Cork harbour, suddenly relinquishing every thought of England, now that he saw the treachery that awaited him there, and recurring to the former plans of Lord Barry. In Ireland, in the county of the Desmonds, he should find friends, adherents, almost prepared for his arrival; and there also, if Barry forgot not his promise, this stanch partisan would speedily join him: the captain gladly assented to any project that did not force him to land this dangerous pretender on the English shores.
For one week they ran before the wind; and Ireland, far and low, was discernible on the horizon; the dear land of promise to the weary exile, the betrayed, but high-hearted prince: during this short navigation it had required all his fortitude to banish from his mind the image of the friar struggling in the waves, of a man precipitated in the very act of crime "unhouseled, unanointed, unannealed," into the life-quenching waters. Besides all other expectations, Richard longed to get on shore, that in a confessional he might lift this burthen of involuntary guilt from his soul.
At length the iron-bound coast was right ahead; the ponderous rocky jaws of the creek were open, and they sailed up Passage, past beautiful and woody islands, under forest-crowned hills, till they cast anchor before the picturesque and hill-set city of Cork, whose quay was crowded by multitudes, gazing on the newly-arrived vessel.
The duke of York stood on the prow of his skiff, reflecting on the first step he ought to take. He knew little of Ireland, and that little had been gleaned from Lord Barry: he heard from him of its warlike chiefs, its uncivilized septs, and English settlers, scarce less wild, and quite as warlike as its aboriginal inhabitants. He called to mind the names most familiar to him—the earl of Kildare, abettor of Simnel, pardoned by Henry, and continued in his office of Lord Deputy; the earl of Desmond, whom Lord Barry had particularly interested in his favour, who affected the state of an Irish chieftain, or rather king, and who, in his remote abode in Munster, disdained to attend the Dubhn parliament, or to make one of the lawful governors of the land. Other names he remembered of less note: Plunket, the lord chief justice, whom, with infinite reluctance, Henry had pardoned; Keating, prior of Kilmainham, who had been constable of Dublin Castle, and who, ejected from his office after the battle of Stoke, had saved himself by flight, and was now concealed in an abbey near Buttevant. Much, however, of what he had heard, escaped his memory; and he stood on the threshold of this unknown land, vainly seeking in his recollection for the dim and shadowy forms which were to guide him in the new and unexplored world before him. Another reflection also presented itself: Lord Barry had quitted Ireland the year before, and communication there had been none since then—Was Kildare still deputy? did incursions of the natives, or turbulence among themselves, occupy the lords of the Pale? Should he find a band of nobles and their followers ready to assist him, or the motley population of a barbarous wild, whose sole ideas were internal struggles for power, whose watchwords for enterprise were names and things in which he had no portion?
In a hurried manner, York resolved on his plan of action. He had, on their approach to land, arrayed himself in gay and rich apparel. The Spain from which he came was parent of this act: there embroidery, housings inlaid with gold, and arms encrusted with jewels, formed the pride of the high-born cavaliers. He stood prepared to land; he thanked the captain for his enforced courtesy; he held out his hand to the crew, who gathered round him with their prayers and blessings. "My own!" was his first thought as he set his foot on shore: "Hail, realm of my fathers! Hear the vow of the fugitive who claims your sway! Justice, mercy, and paternal love, are the gifts with which I will repay your obedience to my call; your submission to my rule."
"Heave the anchor, and away!" thus spoke the captain of the craft he had left.
"For England; to warn our king of this springal's insolent presumption," said the mate.
"To any quarter of the wide world, save England," replied the timid captain: "Would you have me run my neck into the noose for not having clapped under hatches this mercurial spark? Master mate, learn from an old sailor, that the best you can do with kings and grandees, is to have nought to do with them."