The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 23
THE TRAITOR UNMASKED.
Shall I be the slave
Of—what? a word? which those of this false world
Employ against each other, not themselves,
As men wear daggers not for self offence.
But if I am mistaken, where shall I
Find the disguise to hide me from myself?
As now I skulk from every other eye.
One of the surest results of guilt is to deprive the criminal of belief in the goodness of others. Clifford was discovered. Even, if Richard continued true to his promise of pardon, his adherents and counsellors might force him to another line of conduct. A dungeon and death floated terribly before his confused vision. Flight, instant flight to England, where, by a full confession of many things he had reserved, and the disclosure of an important unsuspected name, he might still receive welcome and reward from Henry, was the only course left him to pursue.
His thoughts were chaos. Shame and indignation raged in his heart. He was a convicted traitor, a dishonoured man. "Oh, my envied father!" in his wretchedness he exclaimed, "you died gloriously for Lancaster. I live, steeped in obloquy, for the same cause. Abhorred Plantagenet! what misery has been mine since first your name came to drug me with racking poison! What have I not endured while I cringed to the fair-haired boy! Thank the powers of hell, that time is past! Devil as I have stamped myself, his arch crime, lying, is no more my attribute. To the winds and men's thirsty ears I may cry aloud—I hate Plantagenet!"
It was some relief to this miserable man to array his thoughts in tlieir darkest garb, soothing his evil passions with words, which acted on them as a nurse's fondling talk to a querulous child. His line of conduct was fixed: he remembered Neville's sudden appearance and departure the night before; he had brought the letter; he was waiting for him at Ostend to seize on him, to turn to mockery the prince's promised pardon. Those were days of violence and sudden bloodshed: the enemy a man could not visit with legal punishment, he thought himself justified in destroying with his own hand; the passions of the Yorkists, who found they had been driven into shambles instead of a fold, must be fierce and dangerous. Without delay, he resolved to embark in one of the vessels then in the roads; he hurried to the beach; the wind seemed fair; there was a poor kind of hostelry, the common resort of sailors near, from whence a signal could be given for a boat to be sent off for him. While waiting for it, he quitted the noisy vulgarity of the inn, and walked towards a kind of ruined tower, that once perhaps had served as a lighthouse. In all the panic of guilt, a roof, however desolate, appeared a shelter, and he sought it: it was dilapidated and dark; there were some rude, narrow stairs leading to the upper story,—these he ascended, and entered what had been a kind of guard-room, and started at the vision he beheld: leaning against the aperture that had served for a casement, looking on the wide green sea, was Monina. Her lustrous eyes turned on him—eyes before whose full softness his violence, his insolence quailed; till shame, despair, and rage, and the deep-seated arrogance of his nature, conquered his better feelings. She knew his crime, witnessed his disgrace; there was no more to lose in the world. What more could he win? His presence occasioned her much emotion. She had just quitted Neville, who somewhat angrily remarked upon the prince's ill-timed lenity, and spoke bitterly of all the ill Clifford, thus let loose, might do in England. And here he was, about to embark for that very island, where one at least, Sir William Stanley, was at his mercy. Gladly Monina seized on this opportunity to dive into his projects, and to inspire by her energetic words the traitor's bosom with some sense of right. She, alas! inspired passion only, and jealousy, that now at last his rival would see her love-lighted eyes turned affectionately on him; while all the reproach of which they were capable was his meed. What such men as Clifford feel is not love: he had no real friendship for the innocent girl; each feeling that expresses the sympathy of our intellectual nature was never associated to him with the name of woman. As she spoke therefore of his duties to God and man, violated, but not irretrievably, and with soft persuasion entreated him to spare those whose lives hung upon his word, he recovered his obduracy, and replied in a tone whose hollow vaunting was at discord with the music that fell from her lips—"My pretty maiden, I thank thee for thy good intentions, and if thou wilt wholly undertake my instruction, will prove an apt scholar. Honesty and I are too poor to be messmates; but if thou wilt join us—by God, Monina, I mean what I say—the priest shall say grace for us, and we will partake life's feast or fast together. I will sail with thee to thy Spain, to the Indies of the West. England shall be a forgotten name; the White or Red Rose, neither worse nor better in our eyes than any blooms that smell as sweet: if thou refusest this, here ends the last chance for honesty; and be the victim who it may, I care not so my fortunes thrive."
"Unworthy man!" cried Monina; "farewell! I go to England also: I to save, you to destroy. Bounteous Heaven will look on our several intentions, and shape our course accordingly. Henry will visit with poor thanks your blighted purpose, barren now of its ill fruit. Mine will be the harvest; yours the unlamented loss."
She would have passed him, but he seized her slender wrist. "We will run no race," he cried; "if we go to England, it will be together: listen to the splash of oars, it is my boat among the breakers. We enter it together; it is vain for you to resist; you are my prisoner."
Monina trembled in every joint: she felt that in very truth she was in Clifford's power. There rode her father's caravel; but he could not guess her pressing danger: he would behold her depart, ignorant of the violence she was suffering, ignorant that she was there. No help!—no form of words was there, that might persuade the ill-minded knight to free her: her proud spirit disdained to bend; her cheek was flushed; she strove to withdraw her hand. "Pardon me," said Clifford; "if my fingers press too roughly; the slight pain you endure will hardly counterbalance the fierce torture your words inflicted. Be patient, my fellows are already here. Let us not act a silly mime before them; do not oblige me to demonstrate too unkindly, that you are wholly in my power."
Hardly had he spoken the words when with a scream she sprang from him. He turned; but before even he could see the gigantic form of De Faro, a blow was struck which made him reel against the wall. It would have been instantly followed by another, but that Monina had flung herself on her father's breast, and he, supporting her, forgot his enemy, who recovered himself, and drew his sword. He met the fierce glare of the injured parent's eye, and shook. "We meet again, recreant!" were the only words spoken by De Faro; and, as an elephant might snatch a youngling antelope from the pursuit of a tiger, he took his daughter in his arms, descended the steps with her, and, as Clifford stood gazing on the sea, in such bitter mood as is the fruit of baffled malice, he saw the mariner lift his daughter into the boat. It pushed from the shore; and, with long, measured strokes, it swept the waves towards the caravel, whose sails were again unfurled, while everything bespoke the readiness and anxiety of the crew to depart.
Ere the Adalid had reached the open sea, Clifford in his vessel was but little astern. It was a race they ran. The caravel at first had the best. Night concealed them from each other's view; and, in the morning, already on the tranquil bosom of the Thames Sir Robert's vessel was sailing alone towards London. By one of those strange turns of fortune by which our purposes swim or are wrecked, De Faro, without a pilot, unacquainted with the coast, missed the channel; he grounded on a sand-bank at the river's mouth; and the tide which carried Clifford so swiftly towards London had several hours to run before it reached a height sufficient to float the other's vessel; the situation was not without peril, and no boat even could be lowered to carry the anxious Monina to shore.
The very day (it was now the month of January) that Henry heard of Clifford's arrival in London, he removed his court from Westminster to the Tower. Already he divined that his Lord Chamberlain was to be criminated by Sir Robert; and, as Stanley possessed considerable influence in the state, he wished to make his arrest as unexpected as possible. Another motive worked upon the avaricious sovereign; seized thus, without preparation or forethought, his jewels, his rich plate, his valuable moveables, which might otherwise be secreted, now fell the indiscriminate prey of confiscation; the Tower, at once a palace and a prison, favoured this purpose. Here he received Clifford; Urswick had already conversed with the traitor knight, and represented to him the necessity of ample confession. There was something in the priest's manner that, like iron, entered Clifford's soul; he felt himself, too truly, to be the abject slave, the despised tool of power; there was but little need to use cajoleries or bribes with him now; he was there, to be executed as a felon or pardoned as a spy, according as his disclosures satisfied or not the callous-hearted king.
For his greater punishment, there clung to this unfortunate man a sense of what he ought to and might have been, and a burning consciousness of what he was. Hitherto he had fancied that he loved honour, and had been withheld, as by a hair, from overstepping the demarcation between the merely reprehensible and the disgraceful. The good had blamed him; the reckless wondered at his proficiency in their own bad lessons; but hitherto he had lifted his head haughtily among them, and challenged any man to accuse him of worse than greater daring in a career all travelled at a slower and more timid pace.
But that time was gone by. He was now tainted by leprous treachery; his hands were stained by the blood of his deceived confederates; honour disowned him for her son; men looked askance on him as belonging to a pariah race. He felt this; and even Monina, who had last conversed with him in the summer-house of the inn at Ostend, would hardly have recognized him. He was then a bold-faced villain; his step was haughty; his manner insolent. Now his gait was shuffling, his appearance mean, his speech hesitating and confused. Urswick had known him a gay ruffler; he started back: was this Sir Robert Clifford? He was obliged to use with him the usual style of speech adopted towards men in his situation; to speak of his duty towards his liege; the propriety of delivering up the guilty to condign punishment: hackneyed phrases, which sounded cold to the unhappy man.
There was no resource. At Henry's feet, kneeling before a king who used him as a tool, but who hated him as the abettor of his rival, and despised him as the betrayer of his friend, Clifford spoke the fatal word which doomed the confiding Stanley to instant death, himself to the horrors of conscious guilt, or, what as yet was more bitter to the worldling, relentless outlawry from the society and speech of all, however depraved, who yet termed themselves men of honour.
Henry heard him with feigned amazement; and with grating words of insulting unbelief, demanded evidence of his chamberlain's treason: these were easily furnished, yet such as they were, they comprised such irrefragable proof of the identity of the outcast duke, that Henry found, that while they confirmed him more than ever in his resolve that Stanley should suffer the severest penalty of his crime, it made it difficult to bring forward the testimonials of his guilt. This was for after consideration: Clifford was dismissed with cold thanks, with promise of pardon and reward, and a haughty command neither to obtrude himself again into the royal presence, nor to depart from London without especial leave.
Henry's first act was to command Stanley not to quit his chamber in the Tower. The next day before the hour of noon, the Bishop of Durham, Lord Oxford, Lord Surrey, Urswick, and Lord Dawbeny, met in the fallen chamberlain's apartment, for the purpose of examining him. A thousand opposing feelings operated upon Stanley: accustomed to pay deference to the king, even now he said nothing to displease him; and his expressions rather spoke of compassion for him who very possibly was duke of York, than any falling off from his allegiance to the then king of England.
This monarch was tormented by no doubts,—to be actuated by no pity. Stanley's acknowledgment of the truth of the Burgundian pretender roused his bitterest feelings. In addition, he was rich booty—which weighed heavily against him; so that, when Bishop Fox remarked on the villany and extent of his treason, Henry, off his guard, exclaimed—"I am glad of it; the worse the better: none can speak of mercy now, and confiscation is assured;"—nor did he in the interval before his trial, nor after it, express one regret that the man was about to forfeit his head, who had encircled his own with the regal diadem.
Tried, condemned; but a few days remained before on the fatal block the rich, noble, prudent, royally-connected Sir William Stanley would expiate his guilt to Henry. All wondered; many pitied; few thought of soliciting for or aiding the fallen man; yet one or two there were, whom this last blow against York filled with bitter regret. In a secluded part of London Lord Barry, who had just arrived, Frion, and Monina met. Barry came with intelligence that there had appeared in Ireland a gentleman from Scotland, commissioned by its young monarch to inquire into the truth of Richard's story; and, if indubitably he were the man he pretended, to counsel him to visit Scotland, where he would find friendship and aid. The Earl of Desmond also had just arrived in London, and Lord Barry was in his company. This downfall of Stanley called their minds from every other consideration. Monina was peculiarly agitated and thoughtful. One evening she joined them late: she was full of some project. "I can, I do believe, save our friend," she said: "the assistance I need is small—you, Master Stephen, will hasten on board the Adalid, and bid my father have all in readiness, for sailing, and to drop down the river as far as Greenwich: you, my dear lord, must also take a part in my scheme—keep watch on the river, right opposite the Tower, during the coming night and the following: if you see a light upon the shore beneath its dark walls, come towards it with a boat; the blessed Virgin aiding my design, it shall be freighted with disappointment to the Tudor, joy to us."
Lord Barry and Frion promised obedience, though they would have dissuaded her from the risk; but she was devoted, enthusiastic, firm: she left them, nor did they delay to execute her commission, and both went down the river to De Faro's caravel. Here a new surprise awaited them. The duke of York and his friends had not been idle in the interim. Each design, as it failed, gave place to another. They were diminished in numbers, but now no traitors were among them. Their hopes were few; but, unless the present time were seized, there would be none. The false expectations Clifford had held out to them of coalition and succour in England were lost, but attachment to York was alive in many an English bosom: the preparations of arms they had made still existed; it was resolved therefore in early spring to descend on the English shores.
The duke of York, deeply grieved by the ruin that visited his friends, stung to the heart by Clifford's treachery, resolved meanwhile to seek relief in action. Could not his presence do much? Unknown in England, he might visit the Yorkists, rouse their affection, and form such a union, as, assisted afterwards by his friends and their little fleet, would contribute to insure success. His friends did not approve of the hazard to which he exposed himself; but everything they alleged on this score, only confirmed his purpose. "All endanger themselves—all die for me," he cried; "shall I alone be ingloriously safe?" The first sight therefore that presented itself to Lord Barry and Frion on the deck of the Adalid, was Prince Richard and Edmund Plantagenet.
The duke's presence did not change the purpose of Frion's visit. De Faro got his vessel in readiness for the voyage; and Lord Barry, as evening closed in, prepared to take his stand—not singly: Richard insisted on sharing his watch; docile as he usually was, remonstrance had now no effect; hitherto he had given himself up to guarded safety, now he seemed in love with peril, resolved to court her at every opportunity. The risk to which Monina exposed herself, made him obstinate. He would have thought himself untrue to the laws of chivalry, a recreant knight, had he not hastened to protect her; and, more than this—for the inborn impulses of the heart are more peremptory than men's most sacred laws—he loved; and a mother draws not more instinctively her first-born to her bosom, than does the true and passionate lover feel impelled to hazard even life for the sake of her he loves, to shield her from every danger, or to share them gladly with her.