She was most beautiful to see,
Like a lady of a far countree.
While in attendance on the king at his palace of Shene, the the lord chamberlain, Sir William Stanley, was informed that a young and foreign lady requested an audience with him. Monina was ushered in—her extraordinary beauty—her large soft eyes—the fascinating sweetness of her manner, at once charmed the worthy gentleman. She spoke in good but accentuated English, and informed Sir William that she came from the death-bed of the queen of England.
"I know," said Stanley, "that her grace has long been ill, but ——"
"God take her to his mercy," interrupted Monina, "she died last night."
"Is his majesty informed of this event?" Sir William asked.
"It is not yet noon," replied the maiden; "by that hour the messengers from the convent will arrive. I have reasons for greater speed. I bear the royal lady's last words to her daughter, the queen Elizabeth; you, my lord, will favour me by procuring an immediate interview with her majesty."
Stanley knew the aversion the king had to any private intercourse between Elizabeth and her mother. He informed his visitor that she must first obtain the king's permission for this audience, which he did not believe would be granted; but Monina, without hesitation, declared that she would apply for it to the king, and requested the chamberlain to introduce her. Stanley, good-natured but timid, hesitated—she would not be denied—at last he hit upon an expedient. Henry had gone out hawking in the park: if she would place herself at the gate on his return, she might prefer her prayer—he would be near to insure her being heard.
Noontide was approached. The sport was over, and the royal party on their return. Henry rode foremost with Morton, while his retinue followed at a slower pace, conversing gaily about the birds; now and then hazarding a remark on the war, so oft delayed, at last declared. They were interrupted by the arrival of Sir William Stanley, who communicated to the king the tidings of the dowager queen's death. Six long years had passed since the battle of Stoke, and the commencement of Elizabeth Woodville's imprisonment. She was forgotten at court. Many there had never seen her; few remembered her as the reigning queen of England. Her history was almost like a romance of the olden time; yet, forgotten during life, her death clouded the hilarity of those who heard it. Among those most affected by these tidings, as was natural, was her son, the marquess of Dorset; he hastily rode up to receive from Stanley's own lips confirmation of the news. Feeling that of late he had almost forgotten and wholly neglected his mother, a sudden visitation of remorse was blended with the grief that choked his voice, and blinded his eyes with tears. Henry, who was attached to him, viewed with pity the bitter regret of his gay, unheeding kinsman, and bade him, ere ruder tongues proclaimed it, bear the melancholy tidings to his royal sister. Dorset, gladly escaping from the throng, rode swiftly forward. Meanwhile the order of the ride was disturbed. The nobles conversed earnestly together. After a few questions, Henry remained lost in thought: eager perhaps to know whether her secret had died with her; and viewing in her demise one master testimony the less in favour of his young competitor. Stanley awaited with some inquietude for the moment when they should encounter Monina. They passed the park gate. She was not there. Henry pursued his way, and entered the palace. Still she did not appear.
Lord Dorset had ridden on with the speed of a man who seeks to escape from himself. Death has more power in its mere sound, than the enchanting touch of a wizard's rod. She was dead—how awful was that word!—the unfailing friend, his mother! All his remissness towards her took a monstrous form: he felt that if he had wearied Henry with prayers, he might have extorted some mitigation of her suffering; and it would have consoled her in her solitude, to have received the balmy medicine of filial tenderness, which he had neglected to pay. At that moment he would have given his marquisate to a beggar, to have purchased the memory of one action done to soothe her end. The pomp of a funeral—masses for her soul—these were small compensations, which her arch enemy, even Henry himself, could, and probably would concede. The voice of affection—the duteous affection of a child—he only could have afforded; and he had withheld it.
Monina stood at the park gate, attended by her Spanish domestic, whose singular costume alone must attract regard. "What do you here, maiden?" cried Dorset; "the king and his court will speedily pass this way: this is no fitting place for you."
"I am here," she replied, "to see and speak to your king. I come to prefer a request in the name of one whom God take to his place; she can disturb him no more."
"You are from Bermondsey—from——" The words choked Dorset. Monina continued:—"I come from the death-bed of the Lady Elizabeth of England."
"What demand would you make on his majesty?" said the marquess; do you seek a guerdon for your pains? Speak, then, to me—I am her son."
He was about to draw forth his purse; but her look, which grew animated, prevented him, as she said, "I come on a holy errand. The dying lady commanded me to convey her last words to her royal daughter. I seek permission from your king to fulfil her wish."
Dorset was thoughtless and eager. He saw no objection that Henry could have that his sister should have the last message from her now dead parent; so without hesitation he told the maiden that by Henry's permission he was now about to communicate the sad intelligence to the queen, and that she might accompany him.
It is thus by small invisible threads that Fate weaves the intricate web of our lives. All hung by the slenderest tissue: had Monina seen Henry, most assuredly he would have prevented the interview she sought, and have used his utmost craft to discover whether the fatal secret made a part of the queen's message. Now his sagacity, his caution, his severity were of no avail. Monina stood in the presence of his wife.
Six years had considerably altered Elizabeth; habitual fear had engendered a moral timidity, which was not natural to her, for she was the daughter of a proud race: her sweetness, her affectionate disposition still remained; but her soul was sad, and she looked pale and inanimate. The news of her mother's death moved her to tears. One expression of bitter regret burst from her lips; it was mingled with blame of her consort; and she checked herself, while she wept still more abundantly. Dorset felt uneasy at the sight of female tears; he longed to escape. Monina's request for a private interview came to liberate him; he presented her to his sister, and hurried away.
Elizabeth eagerly asked many questions concerning her mother's dying moments. The Spanish maiden, wondering at her own success, fearful of interruption, presented the missal, and then hastened to declare the motive for which it was sent. She opened the jewelled clasps, and showed the queen the prayer written in her mother's hand on a blank leaf of the brilliantly-illuminated pages. Rapidly the enthusiastic girl detailed the escape, the exile of the duke of York, while Elizabeth, not daring to believe her own senses, astounded, terrified, looked with largo open eyes on the animated he cried, "Whither so fast and fearfully, my good lord? Does her grace deal in contraband; and art thou the huckster?"of her lovely visitant. Before Monina paused, or gave time for an answer, they were interrupted by the entrance of Sir William Stanley. He started when he saw Monina, nor did the confused look of his queen, as she hastily closed the fatal volume, tend to re-assure him. He came to announce a visit from Henry to Elizabeth. Frightened at what he saw, he hardly permitted a slight interchange of greeting, but hurried Monina away, through a door hid by the tapestry, down a narrow staircase into a garden, and then by a small gate that opened on a court. In this court was placed the entrance to the apartments of the pages and esquires of the king. Stanley unlocked the gate cautiously, hesitating before he permitted his fair companion to pass on, in the fear that some mischievous boy or prying servitor might be there to wonder at and question wherefore he led the maiden from the queen's garden through a door, sacred, and never opened, into the resort of wild and dissolute youth. As he unclosed the wicket, at its very entrance, standing so that in spite of every caution a full view of Monina was at once afforded, stood a young man, whose countenance bespoke him to be ever on the alert for gamesome tricks or worse mischief. His first aspect was that of recklessness; his second spoke of baser habits; and athwart both broke gleams now of better feelings, now of desperate passion. He had heard the rusty bolts move, and perceived the slow opening of the door. Knowing how sacred was the respect enforced towards this ingress to the queen's retirement, he stood close to discover and shame any intruder. "In good season, my Lord Chamberlain!" he at first exclaimed, vexed to find no cause for taunt, till perceiving his fair companion, the expression of his countenance changed to irony, as
"As ill luck will have it, wild Robin Clifford!" cried Stanley, angrily.
"Nay, we are brothers in wildness now, fair sir," retorted the other; "and I claim my part here."
Clifford approached Monina; but Stanley interposed. "Waste your ribaldry on me, good knight, but spare this child. Let us pass in all speed, I pray you."
Monina drew back; but Clifford still followed. "Child! In good hour she is young; and but that burning suns have made her cheek tawny, I might call her fair. She is well worth your pains, and I praise them. Sweet mistress, I am beholden to my Lord Chamberlain for making us friends."
He was running on thus; but Monina, collecting her spirits, raised her large eyes on him. His name had caught her ear; she remembered partly having seen him on the night of their flight from Tournay; and frequent mention had subsequently been made of him by the cousins. She began—"Sir Robert Clifford, I know you will not harm me."
"Thanks for that knowledge, pretty one," cried the youth; "old grey-beards only, with frozen hearts (pardon me, Sir William!), could injure thee; thou art sure of good from tall fellows (though in troth tall I am not) like me."
Sir William writhed with impatience; again and again he would have interrupted the intruder. Monina replied:—"We have met before—when you served him I now serve. I speak in his name: for the sake of Perkin Warbeck, detain me no longer. Noble sir, I attend you. Sir Clifford yields respect to the words I have spoken."
"They are strange indeed, maiden," he replied, "and I must hear more of this. We have met before, I now believe; and we must meet again. Meanwhile, I will keep off birdcatchers till you and his reverence get clear of these limed twigs. Ah! I see a gallant; I will go draw William d'Aubigny aside while you pass forth."
And now again Sir William proceeded on his expedition, and conducted his gentle companion beyond the precincts of the palace. As they parted one from the other, Monina, in a brief, energetic manner, delivered the message of the departed queen to the good chamberlain: he was more disconcerted than surprised, and the reflection that Clifford was a party to the secret, added to his consternation. He felt how far he was compromised by the introduction of Monina to the young queen; fear for a while palsied his better feelings: he replied only by entreating her not to remain longer in London, but to embark in all haste for France: he then quitted her, yet again came back to ask where she sojourned in town, and turned away a second time, as if to escape from his better self, and from the interest he felt in King Edward's son, which impelled him to ask a thousand questions.
He returned to the courtyard of the palace, and found Clifford pacing its length in deep thought. Monina's words had awakened a thousand ideas in his unquiet bosom. Since the event to which she referred, when he delivered Richard from Frion's hands, he had run a headlong, ruinous course. No character can be wholly evil; and Clifford's was not destitute of good, though overgrown and choked up by weedy vices, so that his better nature too often served but as a spur and incentive to folly and crime. He was generous; but that led to rapacity; since, unable to deny himself or others, if he despoiled himself one day, on the next he engaged in the most desperate enterprises to refill the void. He was bold—that made him fearless in doing wrong; and to drown the gentle spirit of humanity, which, too often for his own peace, sprung up in his heart, he hardened himself in selfishness; then, as his sensitive, undisciplined nature received new impressions, he was cowardly, cruel, and remorseless. He had never forgotten the princely boy he had saved: he turned to that recollection as to one of the few oases of virtue in the far extended desert of ill, over which, in hours of satiety or despondency, his sickening memory wandered. Indeed, he was yet too young to be decidedly vicious: for at one-and-twenty a thousand mere human impulses, unrepressed by worldly wisdom, occasion sallies of kindly sympathy. The worst was, that Clifford was a ruined man: his fortunes were nought, his reputation shaken on its base; he veiled, by an appearance of hilarity and recklessness, the real despair that gnawed at his heart, when he considered all that he might have been—the worse than nothing that he was. Hitherto he had, to a great degree, blinded the world, and he longed for some adventure, some commotion, either public or private, that should refill his emptied money-bags, and paint him fair in men's eye's: all these considerations mingled incongruously to make him wish to know more of the outcast duke. He awaited the return of Stanley—he learned the name of the Spanish girl: as they spoke, both became aware that the other possessed a secret each dreaded to avow. Clifford first dashed through the flimsy barrier of useless discretion, and related his adventure at Lisle; meantime Sir William broke forth in lamentation, that young Richard should have been induced to quit the security of private life, to enter on an unequal and bloody contest, which could only end in destruction to himself and his partizans, while England would again be made the tomb of the Irish (the landing of Richard at Cork was all that was then known), whom he might allure from their woods and bogs to ravage the more gifted sister isle. A new light was let in on Clifford at these words. Was the game already playing—the box shaken—the die about to fall? This required his attention, and determined his half-formed purpose of visiting, that same night, the daughter of de Faro.