The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 27
THE LANDING AT HYTHE.
Farewell, kind lord, fight valiantly to-day.
And yet I do thee wrong to mind thee of it,
For thou art framed of the firm truth of valour.
The duke of York was not of a temperament to sink supinely before the first obstacles. Lord Surrey's deep-felt abjuration of war influenced him to sadness, but the usual habit of his mind returned. He had been educated to believe that his honour called on him to maintain his claims. Honour, always a magic word with the good and brave, was then a part of the religion of every pious heart. He had been nursed in war—the javelin and the sword were as familiar to his hand as the distaff and spindle to the old Tuscan crone. In addition, the present occasion called for activity. The fleet, armed for invasion, prepared by his noble aunt—manned by his exiled zealous friends—would soon appear on the English coast, giving form and force to, while it necessitated his purposed attempt.
He possessed in his secretary Frion, a counsellor, friend, and servant, admirably calculated to prevent all wavering. This man's vanity, lion-strong, was alive to insure his new master's success, and to overthrow him by whom he had been discarded. He was an adept in intrigue; an oily flatterer; a man of unwearied activity, both of mind and body. It was his care to prevent York from suffering any of the humiliations incident to his position. He obtained supplies of money for him—he suffered none to approach who were not already full of zeal—when he. met with any failure, he proved logically that it was a success, and magnified an escape into a victory—he worked day and night to insure that nothing came near the prince, except through his medium, which was one sugared and drugged to please. When he saw Richard's clear spirit clouded by Lord Surrey, he demonstrated that England could not suffer through him; for that in the battle it was a struggle between partizans ready to lay down their lives in their respective causes, so that, for their own sakes and pleasure, he ought to call on them to make the sacrifice. As to the ruin and misery of the land—he bade him mark the exactions of Henry; the penury of the peasant, drained to his last stiver—this was real wretchedness; devastating the country, and leaving it barren, as if sown with salt. Fertility and plenty would speedily efface the light wound he must inflict—nay, England would be restored to youth, and laugh through all her shores and plains, when grasping Tudor was exchanged for the Plantagenet.
In one circumstance Frion had been peculiarly fortunate. The part he had played of astrologer during the foregoing summer had brought him acquainted with a young nobleman zealous in the cause of York, and well able to afford it assistance. Lord Audley was of the west country, but his maternal relations were Kentish, and he possessed a mansion and a small estate not far from Hythe in Kent. Lord Audley was of a class of men common all over the world. He had inherited his title and fortune early in life, and was still a very young man. He loved action, and desired distinction, and was disposed to enter readily into all the turmoil and risk of conspiracy and revolt. His aim was to become a leader: he was vain, but generous; zealous, but deficient in judgment. He was a Yorkist by birth and a soldier by profession—all combined to render him, heart and soul, the friend of the wandering Plantagenet.
Frion led York to the mansion of this noble, and it became the focus of the spirit of sedition and discontent to the country round. The immediate presence of the duke was concealed; but the activity of his friends was not the less great to collect a band of partizans, to which, when prepared and disciplined, they might present their royal leader. Their chief purpose was to collect such a body of men as might give one impetus to the comity, when the invading fleet should arrive on these coasts from Burgundy. Time was wanting for the complete organization of their plan; for each day they expected the vessels, and their operations in consequence were a little abrupt. Still they were in hopes that they should be enabled to assemble an armed force sufficient to facilitate the landing and to insure the success of the expected troops. Day and night these men were occupied in gathering together followers. It was not long, however, before the wily secretary discovered that some one was at work to counteract their schemes. Those he had left transported with zeal for the cause yesterday, to-day he found lukewarm or icy cold. Their enemy, whoever it might be, observed great mystery in his proceedings; yet he appeared to have intuitive knowledge of theirs. Frion exerted himself to discover the secret cause of all the mischief—he was liberal of promises and bribes. One day he had appointed a rendezvous for a party of recruits, about a hundred men, who had been exercised for the last fortnight, and promised well—none arrived at the appointed spot. Frion rode sorrowfully through the dusk of the evening towards Lord Audley's dwelling. He was overtaken by a horseman, with a slouched hat, and otherwise muffled up: he rode at his side for a little way, quite mute to all Frion's courteous salutations; and then he suddenly put spurs to his horse, and was out of sight in a moment. Night grew darker; and at the mirk-embowered entrance of a shady lane, Frion was startled by the tramp of a horse—it was the same man:—"Maître Frion!" he cried.
"Sir Robert Clifford!"
"The same—I knew not that my voice was so treacherous," Clifford began: he went on abruptly to declare that he was the counterminer; he, the secret marplot of the sagacious Frenchman's schemes. He displayed in all that he said a perfect knowledge of every transaction, and of the prince's present residence. By'r Lady's grace, he might have brought King Henry's archers to Lord Audley's very door! Wherefore he had not done this seemed strange; his own account perplexed. In truth, this wretched man, at war with guilt and with himself, loathed the dishonour he had acquired. Like all evil-disposed persons, he had no idea of purging himself from the foul stain by frank confession and reformation: his project was to begin a new career in a new country: to go where his own tarnished reputation was unknown, where the cankerous name of York would poison no more his native language by its perpetual recurrence. His violent passions led him also to other conclusions; he hated Richard, and loved Monina; his desire to satisfy both these sentiments suggested a project on which he now acted, and which dictated his discourse with Frion. He showed how from that very spot he might ride to London, and make disclosures to the king; his knowledge of every detail of the Yorkist plans was startling—ruinous;—his offer was simply this:—That the duchess of Burgundy should pay him a thousand golden crowns; that the Spanish maiden, Monina, should consent to wed him; and that they should seek together the golden isles of the western ocean, leaving the old world for York to ruffle in.
Frion desired time: it was necessary to consult Richard, and also Monina; where should they meet again? Clifford would appoint neither time nor place:—"I shall find you," he said: "I may draw your curtain at dead of night; come on you with an armed band of men, whom you think all your own. I will choose my own hour, my own audience-chamber. You have but to get the damsel's consent, and to tell her, an' you list, that she were better as Robin Clifford's wife, than as the light-of-love of the son of Jane Shore's gallant." With these words the knight rode off; and being much better mounted than the secretary, put all pursuit to defiance.
Frion was full of thought. He said nothing to the duke or Lord Audley; but the following day hastened to visit Monina at Canterbury, where she had resided latterly, in the character of a pilgrim to St. Thomas à Becket's shrine. Frion had flattered himself that he could easily persuade the young, inexperienced girl, whose ardour for York he had often admired. Yet he felt uncomfortable when he saw her. Monina looked a little pale, and her dark religious garb gave no adornment to her beauty; but there was in the innocence and tenderness of her full dark eye, in the soft moulding of the cheek which harmonized with the beautiful lids, and in her
"sweet lips, like roses,
With their own fragrance pale, which Spring but half uncloses."
—there was in all this a purity and soft appeal which even the politician felt, who looked on mankind as mere agents in the drama he caused to be acted. With some hesitation he brought out his story, but of course grew bolder as he proceeded. Monina looked pained, but said—"Double the number of crowns, and Sir Robert will content him. My father will make my ransom good."
Clifford's speech and manner had convinced Frion that this would not be the case; he tried to persuade Monina, and even repeated the knight's insolent message. Her large eyes grew larger, dilating with surprise and indignation. He little knows woman, who thinks to govern the timid thing by threats. "Answer that bad man," she said, "thus: Monina will wed death, rather than crime and treason. Good Master Frion, you have done wrong by so insulting mine ears; it were enough to drive a poor girl to eternal vows and a convent, to dream that such words are spoken of her; and if I do not take that refuge, it is because I will not desert my dear, fond, bereaved father—as soon I shall prove; meanwhile we must not delay to secure our prince from his enemy's machinations. You know Astley, the poor scrivener in this town? I defy Clifford to win him. Bring his highness there, I will prepare him. We must show a boldness to Clifford matching his own; let us be fearless for ourselves; and for the White Rose we need not fear. Stay; Clifford watches you; I will provide for the duke's safety."
That very night, by secret, unknown means (it might be through her gipsy friend), Monina had communicated with York, and induced him to take refuge with the man she named. Astley's father had been a soldier in the cause of York, and had died on Bosworth Field, leaving an unprovided widow and five children, one only among them being a son. From his youth upward, the boy had struggled, not with privation on his own account, to that he submitted without a murmur, but for the sake of his mother and sisters, whom he loved with an ardour peculiar to his sensitive and affectionate disposition. Weak in health and strength, he had betaken himself to the occupation of a scrivener, so meagrely to support them. It is probable that, in the frame of all, there was a delicacy of organization that unfitted them for penury. One by one they died. That spring had left Astley comparatively rich, because he could well support himself, but miserable beyond words, for he idolized all and every one of his lost relatives. Frion had, with unwearied care, made an accurate enumeration of all in Canterbury who had ever favoured the White Rose. Astley was on this fist; he saw him, and passed him over as useless. Chance brought him and Monina together, who instantly detected his latent, unpractised talents, his integrity and enthusiasm; now his habitation occurred as an unsuspected and faithful asylum for her persecuted friend.
Frion was still at work; Clifford came on him suddenly, and heard with unrepressed rage his rejection by Monina; his threats were unmeasured; but the moment for putting them into execution to their full extent had gone by. On the very day that York arrived in safety at Canterbury, his fleet was seen off Hythe. In the morning the vessels hove in sight; towards evening they bore down upon land, and anchored in the offing. The land-breeze rising at evening tide secured them from the dangers of a lee shore.
Hythe is situated at the water's edge. The cliffs, which at Dover beetle so fearfully over the tremendous deep, have by degrees receded from their apparent task of paling in the ocean, and as they retire inland, lose their barren, precipitous aspect, and become green, wooded hills, overlooking a grassy plain, which extends from their feet to the sands, a distance of about half a mile. In the neighbourhood of Hythe a ravine, the bed of a stream, divides these acclivities, which on one side are abrupt, on the other softly rounded as they gradually disappear. Arcadia seems to breathe from the fertile landscape; the sunny uplands, the fringed banks of the rivulet, the darker shadows of the wooded hills, are contrasted with the verdant meadows, on which cattle and sheep graze. But the sea, the dark, dangerous sea, with barking waves and vast encircling barrenness, suddenly cheeks the beauty of the earth, adding magnificence to the pastoral prospect.
A few days before, some gipsies had pitched their tents near the stream: some of the wanderers had strolled down to Hythe; but they were looked on for the most part with suspicion and fear. Now, while at the close of day most of the inhabitants of the little town were collected on the beach, gazing on the anchored vessels, two stout-looking gipsy-men, with one old woman of their tribe, were lying on the sands, occupied, in their lazy way, by the same object, the vessels in sight. The people of Hythe, fishers, or such poor traders as supplied the fishermen with a few coarse necessaries, were roused from the usual monotony of their lives by the aspect of this fleet. Added to these, there were three or four mendicant friars; an old soldier or two, disabled in the wars of the two Roses, and a few dependents on neighbouring nobles or Franklins; while women and children of various ages filled up the group. They all spoke of the fleet: it consisted of five armed vessels; two of these were weather-beaten caravels, two were low-decked Flemish smacks, but the fifth was one of prouder build, and it bore a flag of pretension on its mizen. The French king and the Spaniard were spoken of first; some thought it was a fleet which had sought the unknown, golden lands, driven back upon the old world by the continuous west winds of the last month; some said, they belonged to the duchy of Burgundy; there was a spell in that word; no one knew who first whispered the name; none could guess whence or wherefore the conjecture arose, but the crowd broke into smaller groups; their talk declined into whispers as "York," "Duke Perkin," "The White Rose," "The duchess of Burgundy," were mentioned; and the fleet grew as they spoke into a mighty armada, freighted with invasion, ready to disembark an army, to ravage and conquer the island.
As soon as the appearance and nature of these vessels became confirmed, the gipsies arose from their indolent posture and retreated to their encampment. A few minutes afterwards, a wild-looking youth on a shaggy horse, without a saddle, trotted off at a quick pace through the ravine to the inland country. Lord Audley and Frion heard from him of the arrival of their friends, who they had expected would have been delayed for another month. Frion instantly set off for Canterbury to apprise the prince; and the noble lost no time in collecting his retainers and hastening to Hythe. Clifford's spies brought him word also of the arrival of the fleet. Ill-luck attended his guiles. King Henry was in the north: there was no time to apprise him, and Clifford's underhand proceedings might turn out bitterly to his disadvantage. He had nothing for it but to endeavour to be the first to convey the already-blown news to Sir John Peachy, sheriff for Kent: his pains were rewarded by his being detained prisoner as a suspected person, while Sir John mustered his yeomanry, and, together with the neighbouring gentry and their retainers, marched towards Hythe. The wavering people, awed by this show of legal and military power, grew cool towards the White Rose, whose name, linked to change and a diminution of taxation, had for a moment excited their enthusiasm. Some had assumed the snowy badge, and collected in groups; but they tore it off when the magistrate appeared; he thanked them for arming for their king, and they, in much fear and some wonder, joined his standard.
Sir John advanced with his increasing troop towards the village in question. He was informed that a band of the prince's friends was there before him, consisting of a few Yorkist gentlemen and their retainers. His first idea was to disperse them; his second, "No; this will serve as a decoy; every coast may not be prepared; driven too speedily hence, the armament may make good their landing elsewhere: if we appear unguarded, they will disembark, and fall into our hands." This policy had good effect; the two smaller Dutch vessels and one of the caravels ran as close in shore as their soundings permitted, and hastily landed a part of the troops. The commanders of the expedition on board the fleet had been in considerable anxiety; they had hoped to find the country raised to receive them; they saw but a handful of men; "still signs were made to them to disembark; and, eager to insure the safety of their prince, they in part obeyed, landing about two hundred and fifty men, with Mountford, Corbet, and some other distinguished exiles, at their head. York and Frion had not yet had time to arrive from Canterbury; Lord Audley and his friends received the troops, and held consultation with their chiefs. It was resolved to go forward, and penetrate into the country, to raise it if possible; and, as they had not yet heard of Sir John Peachy's advance, to forestall resistance by their speed.
They marched forward in good order for nearly ten miles, when they halted; their scouts here brought intelligence of a regular force of at least two thousand men who were near at hand, advancing against them. Audley advised a deviation from their line of march, so as to enter the county in a different direction; Mountford proposed to fortify themselves in Hythe; Corbet to re-embark with all speed on board their vessels. While they deliberated, it was reported that another troop of the king's men were posted in their rear, while a herald from the sheriff called on them to lay down their arms and to submit. Already a panic ran through this knot of men; already their coward hands dropped their weapons, ready to be held out for servile cords, signs of terror increased by the near tramp of Peachy's soldiers and the sound of martial music.
At this moment of irresolution, four persons were seen at the top of a neighbouring eminence; one was a knight in complete armour, the others were more peacefully attired; they paused a moment gazing on the scene below; then the three pursued their way over the hills towards the sea; the cavalier came riding down at a furious pace; Lord Audley advanced towards him. "All is lost!" he cried.
"Or won!" exclaimed the prince; "surely Neville and my good cousin will send us reinforcements. How strong are ye on board, Mountford?"
"About six hundred; two of which are German well-trained auxiliaries; but we hoped to find an ally army."
"Treason, Sir John, is stronger to break, than truth to bind. Ye are mad; better not have landed at all than thus."
A few scattered shot from Peachy's advanced guard broke in upon these regrets; Richard in a moment recollected that this was a time for action, not for words. He issued a few commands as to the position of his troops, and riding to their front addressed them: "My merry men, and very good friends," he cried, "let us recollect that we are soldiers; our lives depend upon our swords; draw them for the right, and be strong in it. Our enemies are chiefly raw recruits; cold friends of a tyrant-usurper; but they are many, and death is before us; behind our vessels, the wide ocean, safety and freedom; we must retreat, not as cowardly fugitives, but as men who, while they see, fear not their danger."
The order of the march was speedily established. While the rear retrograded, Richard, with a hundred chosen men, made a stand, receiving so well the first onset of their assailants, that they were staggered and driven back.
"In good hour, spare neither whip nor spur," cried York; and turning his horse's head, he galloped towards his retreating friends. Peachy, who believed that he had them in his toils, followed slowly and in good order. For the first five miles all went well; but when the hills approached and grew more abrupt, forming by degrees a narrow ravine, they found this post guarded by the enemy. "Betrayed!" cried Audley; "we ought to have traversed the hills; now we are between two fires."
"Silence!" said Richard, sternly; "we must give courage to these poor fellows, not deprive them of it—fear you for your life, baron? By my fay, I had rather mine were spilt, than that of the meanest of our men!"
Combat like this York had shared in the ravines of Andalusia: he remembered that warfare, and founded his present operations upon it. His onset was impetuous; the enemy recoiled, but formed again. The horsemen dismounted, and presented a frightful bulwark of iron-headed lances to the horses of the little troop; while, from the intervals in the ranks, the archers and men armed with matchlocks kept up a rain of arrows and bullets, that spread consternation among his troop. It was necessary to break through this formidable defence; thrice the prince charged in vain; the third time his standard-bearer fell; he wore a white scarf; he fixed it to his lance, and drawing his sword, he waved this emblem of his cause as again he dashed forwards, and with greater success; yet, as he drove the enemy before him, the whiz of bullets and arrows from behind showed that their previous resistance had given Sir John Peachy time to come up. York grasped Audley's hand: "Farewell," he cried, "forgive my hasty speech, my valiant friend; may we meet in paradise, where surely, through God's grace, we shall sup this night."
With the words he charged again, and overcame the last faint resistance. Followed by all his troop, pursuing the flying, Richard dashed through the defile: soon the open plain was before them, and he saw the wide, calm, free ocean, with his vessels riding at anchor. The decks were crowded with men, and the water covered with boats, hovering near shore, as they waited to tidings of their friends.
Before in the van, Richard now hung back to secure the retreat of those behind. Audley urged him to embark; but he moved slowly towards the beach, now calling his men to form and gather round him, now marking the motions of those behind, ready to ride back to their aid. At length Peachy's troops poured through the defile; the plain was covered by flying Yorkists: it only remained for him to assemble as many as he could, to protect and insure the embarkation of all.
"One word," cried Audley; "whither do you propose to sail?"
"It is doubtful; if Barry still be true, and my voice be heard, not to Burgundy and dependence, but rather to Ireland, to Cork and Desmond."
"Meanwhile, dear your highness," said the noble, "I will not believe that all is lost in England. I shall make good speed to the West, and gather my friends together; we shall not be distant neighbours; and if I succeed to my wish, Audley will call you from your Irish fastnesses to your own native England. Our Lady preserve you meanwhile—farewell!"
Audley, swift in all his proceedings, put spurs to his horse, and was away. A few minutes brought Richard to the sands; he guarded the embarkation of his diminished numbers; nor, till Peachy's troop was within bowshot, and the last straggler that arrived was in the last boat, did he throw himself from his horse and leap in; he was rowed to the chief vessel. He cast an anxious glance at the Adalid, just under weigh; a green and white flag was hoisted; Monina was on board. Further to reassure him of his friends' safety, Frion received him as he mounted on his own deck. Evening was at hand—the late balmy summer evening; a land breeze sprung up; the vessels had already weighed their anchors, and swiftly, with swelling sails, they gained the offing. How tranquil and sweet seemed the wide-spread waters; how welcome these arks of refuge, sailing placidly over them, after the strife, the blood, the shouts, the groans of battle. "Farewell, England," said the royal exile; "I have no country, save these decks trodden by my friends—where they are, there is my kingdom and my home!"