The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 30
THE COURT OF SCOTLAND.
A lady, the wonder of her kind,
Whose form was upborne by a lovely mind;
Which dilating had moulded her mien and motion,
Like a sea-flower unfolded beneath the ocean.
A few days made it apparent that York acquired a stronger power over the generous and amiable king of Scotland, than could be given by motives of state policy. He became his friend; no empty name with James, whose ardent soul poured itself headlong into this new channel, and revelled in a kind of ecstasy in the virtues and accomplishments of his favoured guest. Both these princes were magnanimous and honourable, full of grandeur of purpose, and gentleness of manner; united by these main qualities, the diversities of their dispositions served rather to draw them closer. Though Richard's adventures and disasters had been so many, his countenance, his very mind was less careworn than that of James. The "White Rose, even in adversity, was the nursling of love; the Scottish prince, in his palace-fostered childhood, had been the object of his father's hatred and suspicion: cabal, violence, and duplicity had waited on him. James governed those around him by demonstrating to them, that it was their interest to obey a watchful, loving, generous monarch: Richard's power was addressed to the most exalted emotions of the human heart, to the fidelity, self-devotion, and chivalric attachment of his adherents. James drew towards himself the confidence of men; Richard bestowed his own upon them. James was winning from his courtesy, Richard from his ingenuousness. Remorse had printed a fadeless stamp of thought and pain on the king's countenance; an internal self-communion and self-rebuke were seated in the deep shadows of his thoughtful eyes. Richard's sorrow for the disasters he might be said to have occasioned his friends, his disdain of his own vagabond position, his sadness when his winged thoughts flew after the Adalid, to hover over his sweet Monina; all these emotions were tinged by respect for the virtues of those around him, conscious rectitude, pious resignation to Providence, gratitude to his friends, and a tender admiration of the virgin virtues of her he loved: so that there arose thence only a softer expression for his features, a sweetness in the candour of his smile, a gentle fascination in his frank address, that gave at once the stamp of elevated feeling and goodness to his mien. He looked innocent, while James's aspect gave token, that in his heart good and ill had waged war: the better side had conquered, yet had not come off scathless from the fight.
In the first enthusiasm of his new attachment, James was eager to lavish on his friend every mark of his favour and interest; he was obliged to check his impatience, and to submit to the necessity of consulting with and deferring to others. His promises, though large, continued therefore to be vague; and York knew that he had several enemies at the council-board. The intimacy between him and the king prevented him from entertaining any doubts as to the result; but he had a difficult task in communicating this spirit of patient forbearance to his friends. Sometimes they took sudden fright, lest they should all at once meet a denial to their desires; sometimes they were indignant at the delays that were interposed. None was more open in his expressions of discontent than Master Secretary Frion. He who had been the soul of every enterprise until now, who had fancied that his talents for negotiation would be of infinite avail in the Scottish court. found that the friendship between the princes, and Richard's disdain of artfully enticing to his side his host's noble subjects, destroyed at once his diplomatic weaving. He craftily increased the discontent of the proud Neville, the disquietude of the zealous Lady Brampton, and the turbulent intolerance of repose of Lord Barry; while Richard, on the other hand, exerted himself to tranquillize and reduce them to reason: he was sanguine in his expectations, and above all, confident in his friend's sincere intention to do more than merely assist him by force of arms. He saw a thousand projects at work in James's generous heart, every one tending to exalt him in the eyes of the world, and to rescue him for ever from the nameless, fugitive position he occupied. Nor was his constant intercourse with the king of small influence over his happiness; the genius, the versatile talents, the grace and accomplishments of this sovereign, the equality and sympathy that reigned between them, was an exhaustless source of more than amusement, of interest and delight. The friends of James became his friends: Sir Patrick Hamilton was chief among these, and warmly attached to the English prince: another, whom at first ceremony had placed at a greater distance from him, grew into an object of intense interest and continual excitation.
"This evening," said the king to him, soon after his arrival, "you will see the flower of our Scottish damsels, the flower of the world well may I call her; for assuredly, when you see the Lady Katherine Gordon, you will allow that she is matchless among women."
Richard was surprised: did James's devotion to Lady Jane Kennedy, nay, his conscious look whenever he mentioned her, mean nothing? Besides, on this appeal to his own judgment, he pictured his soft-eyed Spaniard, with all her vivacity and all her tenderness, and he revolted from the idea of being the slave of any other beauty. "Speak to our guest, Sir Patrick," continued the king, "and describe the fair earthly angel who makes a heaven of our bleak wilds; or rather, for his highness might suspect you, let me, not her lover, but her cousin, her admirer, her friend, tell half the charms, half the virtues of the daughter of Huntley. Is it not strange that I, who have seen her each day since childhood, and who still gaze with wonder on her beauty, should yet find that words fail me when I would paint it? I am apt to see, and ready to praise, the delicate arch of this lady's brow, the fire of another's eyes, another's pouting lip and fair complexion, the gay animation of one, the chiselled symmetry of a second. Often, when our dear Lady Kate has sat, as is often her wont, retired from sight, conversing with some travelled greybeard, or paying the homage of attention to some ancient dame (of late I have remarked her often in discourse with Lady Brampton), I have studied her face and person to dscover where the overpowering charm exists, which, like a strain of impassioned music, electrifies the senses, and touches the hearts of all near her. Is it in her eyes? A poet might dream of dark blue orbs like hers, and that he had kissed eyelids soft as those, when he came unawares on the repose of young Aurora, and go mad for ever after, because it was only a dream: yet I have seen brighter; nor are they languishing. Her lips, yes, the soul of beauty is there, and so is it in her dimpled chin. In the delicate rounding of her cheeks, and the swanlike loveliness of her throat, in the soft ringlets of her glossy hair, down to the very tips of her roseate-tinged fingers, there is proportion, expression, and grace. You will hardly see all this: at first you will be struck; extreme beauty must strike; but your second thought will be, to wonder what struck you, and then you will look around, and see twenty prettier and more attractive; and then, why, at the first words she speaks, you will fancy it an easy thing to die upon the mere thought of her: her voice alone will take you out of yourself, and carry you into another state of being. She is simple as a child, straightforward, direct: falsehood—pah! Katherine is Truth. This simplicity, which knows neither colouring nor deviation, might almost make you fear, while you adore her, but that her goodness brings you back to love. She is good, almost beyond the consciousness of being so: she is good because she gives herself entirely up to sympathy; and, beyond every other, she dives into the sources of your pleasures and pains, and takes a part in them. The better part of yourself will, when she speaks, appear to leap out, as if, for the first time, it found its other half; while the worse is mute, like a stricken dog, before her. She is gay, more eager to create pleasure than to please; for to please, we must think of ourselves, and be ourselves the hero of the story, and Katherine is ever forgetful of self: she is guileless and gall-less; all love her; her proud father, and fiery, contentious Highland brothers, defer to her; yet, to look at her, it is as if the youngest and most innocent of the graces read a page of wisdom's book, scarce understanding what it meant, but feeling that it was right."
It was dangerous to provoke the spirit of criticism by excessive praise; Richard felt half inclined to assert that there was something in the style of the king's painting that showed he should not like this lauded lady; but she was his cousin, he was proud of her, and so he was silent. There was a ball at court that night; and he would see many he had never seen before; James made it a point that he should discover which was his cousin. He could not mistake. "She is loveliness itself!" burst from his lips; and from that moment he felt what James had said, that there was a "music breathing from her face," an unearthly, spirit-stirring beauty, that inspired awe, had not her perfect want of pretension, her quite, unassuming simplicity, at once led him back to every thought associated with the charms and virtues of woman. Lady Brampton was already a link between them; and, in a few minutes, he found himself conversing with more unreserve and pleasure than he had ever done. There are two pleasures in our intercourse in society, one is to listen, another to speak. We may frequently meet agreeable, entertaining people, and even sometimes individuals, whose conversation, either by its wit, its profundity, or its variety, commands our whole rapt attention: but very during the course of our lives do we meet those who thaw every lingering particle of ice, who set the warm life-springs flowing, and entice us, with our hearts upon our lips, to give utterance to its most secret mysteries; to disentangle every knot and fold of thought, and, like sea-weed in the wave, to spread the disregarded herbage, as a tracery matchlessly fair before another's eyes. Such pleasure Richard felt with Katherine; and, ever and anon, her melodious voice interposed with some remark, some explanation of his own feelings, at once brilliant and true.
Richard knew that Sir Patrick Hamilton loved the Lady Katherine Gordon; he also was related to the royal family. Hamilton, in the eyes of all, fair ladies and sage counsellors, was acknowledged to be the most perfect knight of Scotland; what obstacle could there be to their union? Probably it was already projected, and acceded to. Richard did not derogate from the faith that he told himself he owed to Monina, by cultivating a friendship for the promised bride of another, and moreover one whom, after the interval of a few short months, he would never see again. Satisfied with this reasoning, York lost no opportunity of devoting himself to the Lady Katherine.
His interests were the continual subject of discussion in the royal counsel-chamber. There were a few who did not speak in his favour. The principal of these was the earl of Moray, the king's uncle: the least in consideration, for he was not of the council, though he influenced it: but the bitterest in feeling, was Sir John Ramsey, laird of Balmayne, who styled himself Lord Bothwell. He had been a favourite of James the Third. His dark, fierce temper was exasperated by his master's death, and he brooded perpetually for revenge. He had once, with several other nobles, entered into a conspiracy to deliver up the present king to Henry the Seventh; and the traitorous intent was defeated, not from want of will, but want of power in his abettors. Since then, Lord Bothwell, though nominally banished and attainted, was suffered to live in Edinburgh, nay, to have access to the royal person. James, whose conscience suffered so dearly by the death of his father, had no desire to display severity towards his ancient faithful servant; besides, one who was really so insignificant as Sir John Ramsey. This man was turbulent, dissatisfied: he was sold to Henry of England, and had long acted as a spy; the appearance of York at Edinburgh gave activity and importance to his function: his secret influence and covert intrigues retarded somewhat the projects and desires of the king.
AVlien the first opposition made to acknowledging this pretender to the English crown was set aside, other difficulties ensued. Some of the counsellors were for making hard conditions with the young duke, saying, that half a kingdom were gift enough to a Prince Lackland: a golden opportunity was this, they averred, to slice away a bonny county or two from wide England; he whom they gifted with the rest could hardly say them nay. But James was indignant at the base proposal, and felt mortified and vexed when obliged to concede in part, and to make conditions which he thought hard with his guest. After a noisy debate, these propositions were drawn out, and York was invited to attend the council, where they were submitted for his assent.
These conditions principally consisted in the surrender of Berwick, and the promised payment of one hundred thousand marks. They were hard; for it would touch the new monarch's honour not to dismember his kingdom; and it were his policy not to burden himself with a debt which his already, oppressed subjects must be drawn on to pay. The duke asked for a day for consideration, which was readily granted.
With real zeal for his cause on one side, and perfect confidence in his friends' integrity on the other, these difficulties became merely nominal, and the treaty was speedily arranged. But the month of September was near its close; a winter campaign would be of small avail: money, arms, and trained men, were wanting. The winter was to be devoted to preparation; with the spring the Scottish army was to pass the English border. In every discussion, in every act, James acted as his guest's brother, the sharer of his risks and fortunes: one will, one desire, was theirs. Sir Patrick Hamilton went into the west to raise levies: no, third person interposed between them. It was the king's disposition to yield himself wholly up to the passion of the hour. He saw in Richard, not only a prince deprived of his own, and driven into exile, but a youth of royal lineage, exposed to the of nick-names and the accusation of imposture. The king of France acknowledged, but he had deserted him: the archduke had done the same: how could James prove that he would not follow in these steps? He levied the armies of his kingdom in his favour; he was to fight and conquer for him next spring. The intervening months were intolerable to the fervent spirit of the Stuart—something speedy, something now, he longed, he resolved to do; which, with a trumpet-note, should to all corners of the world declare, that he upheld Richard of York's right—that he was his defender, his champion. Once he penned a universal challenge, then another especially addressed to Henry Tudor; but his invasion were a better mode than this. Should he give him rank in Scotland?—that would ill beseem one who aspired to the English crown. Should he proclaim him Richard the Fourth in Edinburgh?—York strongly objected to this. Money?—it were a base gilding; besides, James was very poor, and had melted down his plate, and put his jewels to pawn, to furnish forth the intended expedition. Yet there was one way,—the idea was as lightning—James felt satisfied and proud; and then devoted all his sagacity, all his influence, all his ardent soul, to the accomplishment of a plan, which, while it insured young Richard's happiness, stamped him indelibly as being no vagabond impostor, but the honoured prince, the kinsman and ally of Scotland's royal house.
King James and the duke of York had ridden out to inspect a Lowland regiment, which the earl of Angus proudly displayed as the force of the Douglas. As they returned, James was melancholy and meditative. "It is strange and hard to endure," he said at last, fixing on his companion his eyes at once so full of fire and thought, "when two spirits contend within the little microcosm of man. I felt joy at sight of those bold followers of the Douglas, to think that your enemy could not resist them; but I do myself foolish service, when I place you on the English throne. You will leave us, my lord: you will learn in your bonny realm to despise our barren wilds: it will be irksome to you in prosperity, to think of your friends of the dark hour."
There was sincerity in these expressions, but exaggeration in the feelings that dictated them. Richard felt half-embarrassed, in spite of gratitude and friendship. The king, following the bent of his own thoughts, not those of others, suddenly continued: "Our cousin Kate at last, finds grace in your eyes; is she not good and beautiful, all cold and passionless as she is?"
"Cold!" the Lady Katherine, whose heartfelt sympathy, was a sunny clime in which he basked—whose sensibility perpetually varied the bright expression of her features—York repeated the word in astonishment.
"Thou findest her wax?" inquired James, smiling; "by my troth, she has proved but marble before."
"I cannot guess even at your meaning," replied York, with all the warmth of a champion; "the lady is in the estimation of all, in your own account, the best daughter, the most devoted friend, the kindest mistress in the world. How can we call that spirit cold, which animates her to these acts? It is not easy to perform, as she does, our simplest duties. How much of self-will, of engrossing humour, even of our innocent desires and cherished tastes, must we not sacrifice, when we devote ourselves to the pleasure and service of others? How much attention does it not require, how sleepless a feeling of interest, merely to perceive and understand the moods and wishes of those around us! An inert, sluggish nature, half ice, half rock, cannot do this. To achieve it, as methinks your fair kinswoman does, requires all her understanding, all her sweetness, all that exquisite tact and penetrative feeling I never saw but in her."
"I am glad you say this," said James. "Yes, Kate has a warm heart: none has a better right to say so than I. There are—there were times, for the gloom of the dark hour is somewhat mitigated—when no priest, no penance, had such power over me as my cousin Katherine's sweet voice. Like a witch she dived into the recesses of my heart, plucking thence my unholy distrust in God's mercy. By St. Andrew! when I look at her, all simple and gentle as she is, I wonder in what part of her resides the wisdom and the eloquence I have heard fall from her lips; nor have I had the heart to reprove her, when I have been angered to see our cousin Sir Patrick driven mad by her sugared courtesies."
"Does she not affect Sir Patrick?" asked Richard, while he wondered at the thrilling sensation of fear that accompanied his words.
"'Yea, heartily,' she will reply," replied the king; "'Would you have me disdain our kinsman?' she asks when I rail; but you, who are of gender masculine, though, by the mass! a smooth specimen of our rough kind, know full well that pride and impertinence are better than equable, smiling, impenetrable sweetness. Did the lady of my love treat me thus, 'sdeath, I think I should order myself the rack for pastime. But we forget ourselves; push on, dear prince. It is the hour, when the hawks and their fair mistresses are to meet us on the hill's side. I serve no such glassy damsel; nor would I that little Kennedy's eye darted fires on me in scorn of ray delay. Are not my pretty Lady Jane's eyes bright, Sir Duke?"
"As a fire-fly among dark-leaved myrtles."
"Or a dew-drop on the heather, when the morning sun glances on it, as we take our mountain morning-way to the chase. You look grave, my friend; surely her eyes are nought save as nature's miracle to you?"
"Assuredly not," replied York; "are they other to your majesty—you do not love the lady?"
"Oh, no!" reiterated James, with a meaning glance, "I do not love the Lady Jane; only I would bathe in fire, bask in ice, do each and every impossibility woman's caprice could frame for trials to gain—but I talk wildly to a youthful sage. Say, most revered anchorite, wherefore doubt you my love to my pretty mistress?"
"Love!" exclaimed Richard; his eyes grew lustrous in their own soft dew as he spoke. "Oh, what profanation is this! And this you think is love! to select a young, innocent, and beauteous girl—who, did she wed her equal, would become an honoured wife and happy mother—to select her, the more entirely to deprive her of these blessings—to bar her out for ever from a woman's paradise, a happy home; you, who even now are in treaty for a princess-bride, would entice this young thing to give up her heart, her all, into your hands, who will crush it, as boys a gaudy butterfly, when the chase is over. Dear my lord, spare her the pain—yourself remorse; you are too good, too wise, too generous, to commit this deed and not to suffer bitterly."
A cloud came over James's features. The very word "remorse" was a sound of terror to him. He smote his right hand against his side, where dwelt his heart, in sore neighbourhood to the iron of his penance.
At this moment, sweeping down the near hill-side, came a gallant array of ladies and courtiers. The king even lagged behind; when near, he accosted Katherine, he spoke to the earl of Angus, to Mary Boyd, to all save the Lady Jane, who first looked disdainful, then hurt, and, at last, unable to straggle with her pain, rode sorrowfully apart. James tried to see, to feel nothing. Her pride he resisted, her anger he strove to contemn, her dejection he could not endure: and, when riding up to her unaware, he saw the traces of tears on her cheek, usually so sunny bright with smiles, he forgot everything save his wish to console, to mollify, to cheer her. As they returned, his hand was on her saddle-bow, his head bent down, his eyes looking into hers, and she was smiling, though less gay than usual. From that hour James less coveted the prince's society. He began a little to fear him: not the less did he love and esteem him; and more, far more, did he deem him worthy of the honour, the happiness he intended to bestow upon him.