Oh, what excuse can my invention make?
I do arrest ye of high treason here!
Henry's ambassadors had wrought little change on any except Clifford. His words had been interrupted; they were nothing in themselves; but their spirit, the spirit of treason, was in his heart. He made up his mind to nothing; he looked forward to no certain project; but he felt that hereafter he might betray his present associates to their arch-enemy. As yet his conscience was not seared; the very anticipation of guilt tortured him, and he longed to fly from thought. Another blind impulse drove him on. He hated the prince, because he was his opposite; because, while he was a cankered bloom, his heart a waste, his soul crusted over by deceit, his very person sullied by evil deeds and thoughts, Duke Richard stood in all the pride of innocence. Could he degrade him to his own level, there would be a pang the less in his bosom; could he injure him in the eyes of his friends, render him, as he himself had ever been, an object of censure, he would satisfy the ill-cravings of his nature, and do Henry a wondrous benefit by tarnishing the high character his rival bore, causing him whom his adherents set up as an idol, to become a reproach to them.
Clifford thought that it would be an easy task to entice a gay young stripling into vice. Richard loved hawking, hunting, and jousting in the lists, almost more, some of his elder friends thought, than befitted one on the eve of a perilous enterprise. Governed by Edmund, attended by Neville, watched by the noble duchess and vigilant Lady Brampton, it was no great wonder that he had hitherto escaped error; but Clifford went wilily to work, and hoped in some brief luckless hour to undo the work of years. Richard was glad to find in him a defender of his inclination for manly sports; an intimacy sprung up between them, which it would not be the knight's fault, if it did not bring about the catastrophe he desired.
What then perpetually opposed all his measures? "What, when he thought he had caused the tide of temptation to flow, suddenly made it ebb and retreat back to its former banks? Clifford, an adept in every art, moulded himself to every needful form, and at last won the secret from the deep recess of Richard's heart; he loved—he loved Monina, that living emblem of innocent affection; never, he had vowed, would he disturb the sacred calm that reigned in her young heart, nor gift ignorance with fatal knowledge. She knew not the nature of her own feelings, and he would not withdraw the veil; but he was himself conscious of being swayed by the tenderest love. He could not marry her; his own misfortunes had arisen from the misalliance of his father; she herself would have refused to injure thus his cause, and have disdained him, if for her sake he had been inclined to abdicate his rights; he would be her friend, her brother. With passion came; he fled from sad reflection to the chase, to the exercise of arms. But other temptation became blunted by this very sentiment; his love grew more ardent by restraint; if he yielded in her absence to the contemplation of her image, his soul was filled with a voluptuous languor, from which he roused himself by attention to his duties or hardy pastimes; but to every other form of pleasure he was cold. This was a strange, incomprehensible picture to present to the world-worn Clifford; he fancied that it must be a delusion, but he found all the resistance of firm reality. To embitter his defeat came his own fierce passions, and the knowledge that Monina loved his rival; they would see each other, be happy in each other, and laugh him to scorn! He concealed his jealousy, his disappointment; but double treble rage gnawed at his heart; hatred awoke in her most viperous shape, fanged by a sense of inferiority, envenomed by envy, sharpened by the torture of defeat. How little did any know—above all, how not at all did his innocent victim suspect—the storm that brooded in his heart! There was something in the very slightness and grace of his figure that was at variance with the idea of violence and crime; and his glossing tongue added to the deceit. Lady Brampton feared him a little; Frion saw something in him, that made him pay greater court to him than to any other—these were the only indications. Sunshine and calm brooded over the earthquake's birth.
Meanwhile, Henry was not sleeping at his post. He saw the full extent of his danger, and exerted all his energy to provide against it. His immediate attention was chiefly directed to two points. In the first place it was desirable to forge some tale, to account for the circumstances that spoke so loudly for the truth of York's story, and thus to degrade him from the high esteem in which he was universally held; secondly, it became necessary to certify to the public the death of Edward the Fifth and his brother in the Tower. We may well wonder at his ill success as to the first point;—there never was concocted so ill-fangled, so incongruous, and so contradictory a fable, as that put together by Henry, purporting to be the history of the pretender. He was himself ashamed of it, and tried to call it in. History has in its caprice given more credence to this composition, than its contemporaries gave; it was ridiculed and despised at the time even by the partisans of Lancaster.
He was equally unfortunate in his second effort. To explain his attempts we must go back to the time of Richard the Third. On repeated reports being made to him of his unhappy imprisoned nephew's illness, this monarch had commissioned Sir James Tirrel to visit him. The young prince had languished without any appearance of immediate danger, and then suddenly drooped even to the grave. Tirrel arrived at the Tower late in the evening, and the first intelligence he received was, that the Lord Edward was dying. At the midnight hour he was admitted into his sick-room; his two attendants followed him no further than the antechamber. He entered. The glazed eye and death-pale cheek of the victim spoke of instant dissolution; a few slight convulsions, and it was over—Edward was no more! With wild, loud cries poor little York threw himself on his brother's body. Tirrel's servants, affrighted, entered; they found one of the princes, whose illness had been represented as trivial, dead; the other was carried off, struggling and screaming, by their master and an attendant priest, the only two persons in the chamber. They departed two hours afterwards from the Tower. Tirrel seemed disturbed, and was silent. They would perhaps have thought less about it; but hearing subsequently of the disappearance and supposed death of the young duke, wonder grew into suspicion, and in thoughtless talk they laid the foundation of a dire tale out of these fragments. Henry had heard it before; now he endeavoured to trace its origin. Tirrel, who for some time had lived obscurely in the country, came to London—he was immediately seized, and thrown into prison. Emissaries were set to work to find the three others, the priest and Sir James's two servants. Only one was to be found; and when Tirrel was asked concerning this man, by name John Dighton, he told a tale of ingratitude punished by him, which was soothing sweet to King Henry's ear; he was speedily discovered and imprisoned. Both master and follower underwent many examinations: and it was suggested to each, that reward would follow their giving countenance to a tale of midnight murder. Tirrel was indignant at the proposal; Dighton, on the contrary—a needy, bad man—while he told the story so as to gloss his own conduct, was very ready to inculpate his master; and it grew finely under his fosterage. Henry saw that without Tirrel's connivance he could not authenticate any account; but he gave all the weight he could to these reports. Few persons believed them, yet it served to confuse and complicate events; and, while people argued, some at least would take his side of the question, and these would be interested to spread their belief abroad;—Duke Richard must be the loser in every way.
The spies, the traitor-emissaries of the fear-struck monarch, were all busy; there was a whole army of them dispersed in England and Flanders—none could know the false man from the true. To obviate every suspicion, he caused his own hirelings to be proclaimed traitors, and cursed at St. Paul's cross.
The priests, ever his friends, were impiously permitted to violate the sacrament of confession; and thus several unsuspecting men betrayed their lives, while they fancied that they performed a religious duty. A few names still escaped him—he tampered with Clifford and Frion for them: the former was not yet quite a villain; the latter found that he enjoyed more credit, honour, and power as the duke's secretary than he could do as Henry's spy; besides, his vanity was hurt—he wished to revenge himself on the master who had discarded him.
In nothing did Henry succeed better than in throwing an impenetrable veil over his manoeuvres. Most people thought, so tranquil and unconcerned he seemed, that he did not suspect the existence of an actual conspiracy, fostered in England itself, containing many influential persons among its numbers. All were sure that he was entirely ignorant of their names and actual purposes. The many months which intervened while he waited patiently, corroborated this belief, and the conspirators slept in security. The winter passed, and they continued to scheme, apparently unobserved; spring came—they prepared for York's landing—for a general rising—for a sudden seizing on many walled towns and fortresses—for the occupation of London itself. A few brief weeks, and Henry's prosperity would be shaken to its centre—his power uprooted—he and his children would wander exiles in a foreign land; and another king, the gallant descendant of the true Plantagenets, reign in his stead.
Thus occupied, thus prepared, were the Yorkists in England; at Brussels, things were carried on more openly, and wore a more promising appearance. The duchess, Lady Brampton, Plantagenet, triumphed. Sir George Neville anticipated with proud joy a restoration of the fallen race of Warwick, and regarded himself already as another king-maker of that house. Every exile looked northward, and grew joyful with the thought of home. Frion became more busy and important than ever; he had lately gone disguised to England, in pursuance of some project. In another week they expected Lord Barry to join them from Ireland: Clifford was amazed, vacillating, terrified. He knew that Henry was far from idle; he was aware that some of the loudest speakers in Richard's favour in Brussels were his hirelings, whom he would not betray, because he half felt himself one among them, though he could not quite prevail on himself to join their ranks. He believed that the king was in eager expectation of his decision in his favour; that nothing could be done till he said the word; he proposed conditions; wished to conceal some names; exempt others from punishment. Messengers passed continually between him and bishop Morton, Henry's chief counsellor and friend, and yet he could not determine to be altogether a traitor.
Thus stood affairs; a consummation all thought to be nigh at hand. It was the spring of 1494, and the coming summer was to decide the fate of York. A ball was given by the duchess, in honour of her nephew; it was splendidly and gaily attended. Clifford had been conversing with the prince, when suddenly he left the apartment: it was long ere he came back, and slowly joined the principal group in the room, consisting of the duchess, the prince. Lady Brampton, Neville, Plantagenet, Taylor, and several others. Clifford's countenance was marked by horror and surprise; so much so, that Lady Brampton looked at him a moment without knowing him. Suddenly she started up and seized his arm—"Holy Virgin!" she cried, "what had dressed your face, Sir Robert, in this pale livery? what tale of death have you heard?"
The brow of Clifford became flushed, his lips grew whiter, as quivering they refused to form the words he attempted to utter. Barley had before this quitted the apartment: he rushed in now, crying aloud, "Treason!"
"Treason!" Neville repeated, laying his hand heavily on Clifford's shoulder; "hear you that word, sir knight? Where is the traitor?"
Clifford in a moment recovered himself, answering, composedly, "Ay, would I could point out the man—would that I could drag him forth, the mark, the very target for the shafts of vengeance. We are lost; the cause is lost; our friends; the good Lord Fitzwater. I would have hid his name in the bowels of the earth!"
Already the festal hall was deserted; already the guests were dispersed, to learn how wide the destruction had spread. By the prince's orders, the messenger from England was introduced before himself and his principal friends: it was Adam Floyer, Sir Simon Mountford's chaplain; escaped himself, he was the bearer of a frightful tale. On one day, almost at the same hour, the Yorkist conspirators were arrested. Lord Fitzwater, Sir Simon Mountford, Sir Thomas Thwaites, Robert Ratcliffe, William Daubeny, Thomas Cressenor, Thomas Astwood, two dominicans, by name William Richford and Thomas Poyns, Doctor William Sutton, Worseley the dean of Saint Paul's, Bobert Langborne, and Sir William Lessey, were all seized and cast into prison. Others had escaped: young Gilbert Daubeny, brother of Wilham, and Sir Edward Lisle, had arrived in Flanders. Others made good speed and had fled to Ireland.