The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 26
THE EARL OF SURREY.
So love did vanish with my state,
Which now my soul repents too late;
Then, maids and wives, in time amend,
For love and beauty will have end.
Ballad of Jane Shore.
Oh, it grieves my soul
That I must draw this metal from my side
To be a widow maker!
Seated in the rude gipsy-cart, guided, protected, by the uncouth being into whose hands he had so strangely fallen, Richard, for the first time, felt the degradation and low fortune to which his aspirations, at variance with his means, made him liable. With a strong effort he dismissed these painful ideas, and fixed his contemplation on mightier objects, which gilded his mean estate, or were rather the "gold o'erdusted" by such extraneous poverty. To rise from this lowliness to a throne were an emprise worthy his ambition. Was he not a few hours ago a prisoner in the terror-striking tower? And now he was free—free in his England; which, when the battle-day was come and past, would claim him for her own. A few words from Monina interrupted the silence: she sat at his feet, and they conversed in whispers in Spanish. Night had gathered round them; Monina, in all the innocence of her pure heart was supremely happy: to be near her friend in his disasters, united to him in his peril, was a more rapturous destiny to her than the world's best pomp, and he absent. No busy conscience, no untoward thought disturbed in her soul the calm of perfect bliss. She grew weary at last; her head sank on Richard's knee, and, overworn with watching, she fell into a deep sleep. Richard heard her regular breathing; once or twice his fingers played among her dishevelled ringlets, while his heart whispered to him what a wondrous creation woman was—weak, frail, complaining when she suffers for herself; heroic fortitude and untired self-devotion are hers, when she sacrifices herself for him she loves.
The cart moved on, Richard saw not whither; they almost stuck in some flat, low fields, and at last arrived at a solitary, miserable hut. Monina awoke, when they stopped, and the gipsy told them that this wretched dwelling was to be their asylum: the apartment they entered was poor beyond meanness—a bed of straw piled in one corner, a rude bench, formed the furniture; the walls were ragged and weather-stained, and the outer crumbling rafters were visible through the broken ceiling: there appeared to be neither food nor fire. The inhabitant of the hovel alone was there,—a white-looking, emaciated female; yet with a look of such sweetness and patience, that she seemed the very enshrinement of Christian resignation, the type of sorrow and suffering, married to meek obedience to the supreme will. She had roused herself from slumber at the voice of the gipsy, and gathered her scant garments around her—scant and poor they were; her coarse woollen dress was tied by a girdle of rope round her slender waist; her head was wrapped in a kerchief; her feet were bare.
"Jane," said the old woman, "you will not refuse the shelter of your roof to these poor wanderers?"
Such an address seemed strange, for the rich attire of her guests ill-accorded with her poverty-stricken home; but she turned with a smile—she spoke—and then a throb of agony seemed to convulse her frame—her head swam; Richard rushed forward to prevent her falling, but she shrunk from him, and leaned on the old woman, who said with a look of triumph, "I knew how it would be; it is vain to hide a bright light behind a veil of gauze! Yes, Jane, this is his son; and you may save him from danger and death."
Jane Shore, the once lovely mistress of King Edward, now the miserable outcast of the world's scorn, heard these words, as if they had been spoken to her in a dream. After the death of her royal lover, she had obeyed the impulse that made her cling to the soft luxuries of life, and yielded to solicitations which tended to guard her from the sharp visitation of the world. She had become the mistress of the marquess of Dorset; but sorrow and penury were destined to pursue her in their worst shape—and wherefore? She had been good and humane; and in spite of her error, even the sternest moralist might have pitied her. But she was all woman,—fearful of repulse, dreading insult; more willing to lie down and die, than, fallen and miserable, to solicit uncertain relief: squalid poverty, famine, and lonely suffering, were hers; yet in all she preserved an unalterable sweetness of disposition, which painted her wan face with, its own soft colouring.
The old woman went forth to seek for food, and the two friends were left for several hours alone with Jane. She gazed affectionately on the youthful duke; she looked more timidly on Monina, whose sex could not be said to be disguised by her page's dress: the fallen woman fears women, their self-sufficient virtues and cold reprobation; yet the sensibility of Monina's countenance, and the soft expression of her eyes, so all-powerful in their sweetness, could not be mistaken; and her first shrinking from censure was exchanged for even a more painful feeling. They were a lovely pair, these lone guests of poverty; innocence sat on the brow of each, yet love beamed in their aspect:—love! the two-edged sword, the flower-strewn poison, the dread cause of every misery! More than famine and sickness Jane feared love; for with it in her mind were linked shame and guilt, and the world's unkindness, hard to bear to one, whose heart was "open as day to melting charity;" and she feared that she saw in this sweet girl a bright reflex of her early days. Oh, might the blotted mirror ne'er pourtray a change like hers! "I am a living lesson of the woes of love," thought poor Jane; "may this chance-visit to my hut, which saves young Richard's life, insure her innocence!" Thus impelled, she spoke: she spoke of the danger of their solitary companionship; she adjured York to fly the delusive charm—for love's own sake he ought to fly; for if he made her his victim, affection would be married to hate—joy to woe—her he prized to a skeleton, more grim than death. Richard strove to interrupt her, but she misunderstood his meaning; while Monina, somewhat bewildered, fancied that she only alluded to the dangers she incurred in his cause, and with her own beaming look cried, "Oh, mother, is it not better to suffer for one so noble, than to live in the cold security of prosperity?"
"No, no," said Jane, "Oh, does my miserable fate cry aloud, no! Edward, his father, was bright as he. Libertine he was called—I know not if truly; but sincere was the affection he bore to me. He never changed or faltered in the faith he promised, when he led me from the dull abode of connubial strife to the bright home of love. Riches and the world's pleasures were the least of his gifts, for he gave me himself and happiness. Behold me now: twelve long years have passed, and I waste and decay; the wedded wife of shame; famine, sorrow, and remorse, my sole companions."
This language was too plain. The blood rushed into Monina's face. "Oh, love him not," continued the hapless penitent; "fly his love, because he is beautiful, good, noble, worthy—fly from him, and thus preserve him yours for ever."
Monina quickly recovered herself; she interrupted her imprudent monitress, and calmly assured her that her admonition, though unnecessary, should not prove vain; and then both she and York exerted themselves to engage Jane's attention on topics relative to his cause, his hopes, his partizans, thus exciting her curiosity and interest.
Richard passed the whole of the following day in this abode of penury and desolation. That day, indeed, was big with dire event. The morning rose upon Stanley's death. In Jane's hut the hollow bell was heard that tolled the fatal hour. The ear is sometimes the parent of a livelier sense than any other of the soul's apprehensive portals. In Italy, for three days in Passion week, the sound of every bell and of every clock is suspended. On the noon of the day when the mystery of the Resurrection is solemnized, they all burst forth in one glad peel. Every Catholic kneels in prayer, and even the unimaginativefeels the influence of a religion which speaks so audibly. And, in this more sombre land, the sad bell that tolls for death strikes more melancholy to the heart than the plumed hearse or any other pageantry of woe. In silence and fear the fugitives heard the funereal knell sweep across the desolate fields, telling them that at that moment Stanley died.
Women nurse grief—dwell with it. Like poor Constance, they dress their past joys in mourning raiment, and so abide with them. But the masculine spirit struggles with suffering. How gladly, that very evening, did the duke hail Frion's arrival, who, in the garb of a saintly pardoner, came to lead him from Jane's dim abode. In spite of his remonstrances, Monina refused to accompany him: she should endanger him, she said; besides that, his occupation would be to rouse a martial spirit among the Yorkists—hers to seek the Adalid and her dear father's protection.
Frion procured a safe asylum for the prince: and here, no longer pressed by the sense of immediate danger, his head was rife with projects, his spirit burning to show himself first to the Yorkists, in a manner worthy of his pretensions. The choice was hazardous and difficult: but it so happened that it was notified that in a few weeks Lord Surrey's eldest sister was to marry the Lord de Walden, and the ceremony was to be graced with much feasting and a solemn tournament.
There was magic in all the associations with this family for Richard. In his early infancy, Thomas Mowbray, the last of the dukes of Norfolk of that name, died. It almost was beyond his recollection that he had been married to the little Lady Anne, the duke's only child and heiress. She died soon after; and the representative of the female branch of the Mowbrays, John Howard was created duke of Norfolk by Richard the Third. He fell at Bosworth; and his son, the earl of Surrey, though attaching himself to Henry the Seventh, and pardoned and taken into favour, was not permitted to assume his father's attainted title.
At this marriage-feast the mother of his Anne, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, daughter of Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, so famous in the French wars, would be present; and others of the Howard and Berkeley families, all Yorkists once. The prince could not resist the temptation of appearing on the lists that day, where, if success crowned him, as surely it would, he could with prouder hopes call on Surrey to maintain his claims. Friou got gallant armour for him, and contrived to have him, under another name, inserted in the list of combatants.
York's bosom swelled with pride and exultation when he saw himself among his countrymen—his subjects—with lance in rest and bright shield upon his arm, about to tilt with England's noblest cavaliers. It seemed to him as if he had never asked more of fortune—and the herald's voice, the clarion's sound, the neigh of steeds, the gallant bearing of the knights, and charmed circle of joyous beauty around, were like a voice from beyond life, speaking of a Paradise he had left,—his own native home. But one emotion of disquiet crossed him: as about to pass the barrier, Frion put his hand on his rein, and whispered, "Beware of Clifford!" The duke threw his eyes round the vizored throng. With what gladness would he have singled him out, and met him in fierce, mortal combat! A second thought told him that the dishonoured man could not find place in this gallant company.
We will not dwell on the tilt, the thrust, and the parry, the overthrowing of horses, and defeat of knights. Richard gloried in the recollection of his Spanish combats, and the love he bore for martial exercises, which made him, so boyish in figure, emulate the strong acts of men. Fortune had varied: but, when at noon the pastime of that day ended, the prince remained victor in the field. From the hand of the queen of the feast he was receiving his reward, when Surrey, who had led him to her throne, was suddenly called away. The assembly broke up; and Richard was half occupied by polite attention to the countess, and half by recollecting his peculiar situation, when the marshal of the lists whispered him to follow—he led him to a gallery, where Surrey alone was pacing backwards and forwards in great agitation. He stopped when the prince entered—motioned the marshal to leave them, and then, in a voice of suppressed passion, said, "I will not ask thee why with a false appellation thou hast insulted the feast of nobles?—but well may I ask, what fiend possessed thee to do a deed that affixes the taint of disloyalty to King Henry's liege subject?"
"My good sword, my lord," said Richard, colouring, "were eloquent to answer your questioning, but that you are much deceived; I am not indeed that which I called myself; but honour, not disgrace, attaches itself to my presence. I came to tell you this, to rouse the old fidelity of the Howards; to bid Lord Surrey arm for the last of the true Plantagenets."
"Saint Thomas speed me! Clifford then spoke true—thou art Perkin Warbeck?"
"I would fain," said the duke haughtily, "ask a revered lady, who claims kindred with thee, what name she would give to her sainted daughter's affianced husband?"
The language of truth is too clear, too complete, for the blots and flaws of incredulity; the very anger Lord Surrey had manifested, now turned to his confusion; the insult he had offered demanded reparation; he could not refuse his visitant's earnest demand to be led to the widow of Mowbray, duke of Norfolk.
Elizabeth, daughter of the gallant Talbot, was proud of her ancestry, and disappointed in the diminution of her house. When her Anne was affianced to the little duke of York, and the nobility of Norfolk was merged in the royal style of England, she had gloried; since then, attainder and defeat had eclipsed the ducal honours of her race; nor could she forgive the allegiance of its heirs to Lancaster. Often had she pondered on the reports concerning Margaret of Burgundy's White Rose; it was with agitation therefore that she heard that he was to be brought for her to decide on his truth.
The duke had doffed his helm: his golden hair clustered on the almost infantine candour of his brow, and shaded to softer meaning the frank aspect of his clear blue eyes. The aged duchess fixed her dimmed but steady gaze upon him, and at once became aware that this was no ignoble pretender who stood before her. His dignity inspired Surrey with respect: he hesitated as he introduced the subject of his identity with Edward the Fourth's youngest son. The duke, with a half-smile, began to speak of his boyish recollections, and his little pretty playfellow, and of one Mistress Margery, her governante; he spoke of a quarrel with his infant bride on the very wedding-day, and how nothing would bribe him to the ceremony, save the gift of a pretty foal, White Surrey, which afterwards bore his uncle Gloucester in the battle of Bosworth. As lie spoke, he saw a smile mantle over the aged lady's countenance; and then he alluded to his poor wife's death, and reminded the duchess, that when clad in black, an infant widower, he had visited her in condolence; and how the sad lady had taken a jewel-encircled portrait of her lost child, garnished with the blended arms of Plantagenet and Mowbray, from his neck, promising to restore it on an after-day, which day had never come. Tears now rushed, into the duchess's eyes; she drew the miniature from her bosom, and neither she nor Lord Surrey could longer doubt, that the affianced husband of the noble Anne stood before them.
Much confusion painted the earl's countenance. The duke of York's first involuntary act had been to stretch out his hand; but the noble hesitated ere he could bestow on it the kiss of allegiance. Richard marked his reluctance, and spoke with gallant frankness: "I am an outcast," he said, "the victim of lukewarm faith and ill-nurtured treason: I am weak, my adversary strong. My lord, I will ask nothing of you; I will not fancy that you would revive the ancient bond of union between York and Norfolk; and yet, were it not a worthy act to pull down a base-minded usurper, and seat upon his father's throne an injured prince?"
The duchess answered for him. "Oh, surely, my noble cousin will be no recreant in this cause, the cause of our own so exalted lineage."
But Lord Surrey had different thoughts: it cost him much to express them; for he had loved the House of York, and honoured and pitied its apparent offspring. At length he overcame his feelings, and said, "And, if I do not this, if I do not assist to replant a standard whose staff was broken on the graves of our slaughtered fathers, will your highness yet bear with me, while I say a few words in my defence?"
"It needs not, gallant Surrey," interrupted York.
"Under favour, it does need," replied the earl; "and withal touches mine honour nearly, that it stand clear in this question. My lord, the Roses contended in a long and sanguinary war, and many thousand of our countrymen fell in the sad conflict. The executioner's axe accomplished what the murderous sword spared, and poor England became a wide, wide grave. The green-wood glade, the cultivated fields, noble castles, and smiling villages were changed to churchyard and tomb: want, famine, and hate ravaged the fated land. My lord, I love not Tudor, but I love my country: and now that I see plenty and peace reign over this fair isle, even though Lancaster be their unworthy viceregent, shall I cast forth these friends of man, to bring back the deadly horrors of unholy civil war? By the God that made me, I cannot? I have a dear wife and lovely children, sisters, friends, and all the sacred ties of humanity, that cling round my heart, and feed it with delight; these I might sacrifice at the call of honour, but the misery I must then endure I will not inflict on others; I will not people my country with widows and orphans; nor spread the plague of death from the eastern to the western sea."
Surrey spoke eloquently well; for his heart was upon his lips. Prince Richard heard with burning emotion. "By my fay!" he cried, "thou wouldst teach me to turn spinster, my lord: but oh, cousin Howard! did you know what it is to be an exiled man, dependent on the bounty of others; though your patrimony were but a shepherd's hut on a wild nameless common, you would think it well done to waste life to dispossess the usurper of your right."