The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 34
Methinks I see Death and the Furies waiting
What we will do, and all the Heaven at leisure
For the great spectacle. Draw then your swords!
Faster than the airy slave quicksilver is influenced by the changes of the atmosphere, does the subtle essence of the mind of one, who from love or gratitude hangs upon the smile or frown of another, feel the sunshine or frost of that other's countenance; and an independent disposition speedily revolts from servile obedience to such alteration. On the following day, and afterwards on the succeeding ones, Richard felt that the heart of James was no longer the same. He was courteous, kind—his friend's interests formed the sole topic of their conversations—but York could neither say the thing he wished, nor do that which he desired; the same objects were before him, apparently the same colouring was upon them; yet a pale sickly hue wag cast over the before glowing picture; a chill had penetrated the summer warmth in which he basked; the wave was yet calm, but it was clouded, and no longer showed in its limpid depths that sympathy and affection which made the White Rose's fortunes seem truly and intrinsically Scotland's own.
Friendship was now professed, service tendered; before words had seemed superfluous—the thing was there. James assured his guest that he would not turn back, nor give ear to Henry's propositions; and York felt, with a start, that ear had been, given to them, or this conclusion had not been noted. The disunion and continued separation of the camps was another circumstance that spoke loudly of division of thought and counsel.
Frion believed that he should now resume his ancient position with his royal master: he bore his reproofs humbly, and strove to regain his favour by the importance of his services. The arcana of the Tudor party were, to a great degree, revealed to York; and it was easy to mark the ascendancy it was gaining. The presence of Lady Jane Kennedy might explain the ceremony and regulations observed in the intercourse between the king and his friend; but it was Frion's part to disclose the enmity this lady entertained for the White Rose, and the influence she exerted to its detriment. Moray and Lord Buchan were her friends, and they were frequent visitors in the royal pavilion.
A short time somewhat changed this state of things. The army drew near the frontier; and the king separated himself from the fair mistress of his heart. On the third day they arrived on the banks of the Tweed. It was but crossing a little river—but stepping from one stone to another, and Richard would stand on English ground.
The troops had passed the day before; some had proceeded southward; others were even now to be seen defiling in long lines on the distant plain. The sun was up cheerily; the fresh pleasant green of spring had stolen, more like a tinted atmosphere, than in the guise of foliage, over tree and bush; field flowers and crocusses peeped from under the mossy turf. The scene was a wide moor, varied by broken ground; clumps of trees, where many a bird nestled; and here and there thick underwood, where the wild deer made his lair; this had been the scene of a thousand conflicts, and of mortal carnage between Scot and Englishman, but the skylark above sang of nature's bounty and nature's loveliness, an immemorial and perennial hymn, while nothing spoke of the butchery and wretchedness which once had made the landscape a tragic corpse-strewn stage.
Reining in his pawing courser, King James, in all the gay array of a high-born knight, paused on the Scottish bank—his lips, proud as the Apollo's—spoke of struggle and victory,
"In his eye
And nostril, beautiful disdain and might
And majesty flashed their full lightnings by."
Here was he who, in a later day, led the flower of Scotland to die on the English plains; who himself was doomed to lie with mangled limbs, and in blank, cold extinction, a trophy of victory to his enemy, on Flodden Field: he was alive now, and in his strength; he drank in with buoyant spirit every glorious anticipation, and laughed with fond delight; spurring on his horse, he crossed the ford, and entered England.
In a moment, as by impulse, York, who had lingered, dashed after him; allies they were; friends in seeming, nay, in truth; for the glance of proud enmity Richard cast on the Scot was perhaps the more factitious feeling: it sprang from patriotism, but its energy was borrowed from the deadly feuds of their ancestors, that natural hate which is said to exist now between the French and English, and which was far more envenomed between the near-rival people. Notwithstanding James's change towards him, York felt in the core of his affectionate heart, all that was due to him who had raised him when he was fallen; given him state, power—Katherine; he saw in him his kinsman—his benefactor. But the pride of a son of England rose in his breast, when he beheld the haughty Scot caracol in arrogant triumph on her soil. What was he? What had he done? He was born king and father of this realm: because he was despoiled of his high rights, was he to abjure his natural duty to her, as her child? Yet here he was an invader; not arming one division of her sons against the other, but girt with foreigners, aided by the ancient ravagers of her smiling villages and plenteous harvests. He looked on each individual Scot, and on their gallant king, and felt his bosom swell with rage and hate. These were unwise, nay, ungrateful sentiments; but he could not repel them. His first commands were to his cousin, to hasten to Randal of Dacre, to learn what Yorkists had gathered together to receive him. "If there be any large company," he said, "without more ado we will thank our kind cousin, invite him to recross the Tweed, and leave us to fight our battles by ourselves."
The satisfaction and triumph James felt made him, so far from participating in York's feelings, turn with renewed cordiality towards him. It was his first care to have the standard of the White Rose sot up with martial pomp, to disperse his proclamations, and to invite, by his own manner, the Scottish nobles to increase in observance towards the prince. Lord Huntley, believing that the prophecy of his daughter's elevation was on the eve of its accomplishment, was prodigal of his shows of honour and service to his son-in-law. For some days the pavilions of the brother kings were pitched side by side, and James each hour thought to hear of the arrival of the Yorkist nobility of England: he had expected so many that he had given orders that care should be taken to recall his own troops, when the English visitants outnumbered his own guard. Day after day passed, and not one came—not one: even Randal of Dacre, Lord Dacre's brother, who had visited Richard in Scotland, seized with panic, had gone southward. Nothing came, save intelligence that the Cornish insurgents had been defeated on Blackheath, their ringleaders taken and executed; among them Lord Audley perished.
Another life!—how many more to complete the sad hecatomb, a useless offering to obdurate fate in Richard's favour! Sir George Neville, gathered up in all the cold pride of disappointed ambition, disdained to regret. Plantagenet saw the hopes and purpose of his life crushed, but dared not give words to his despair; Sir Roderick sneered; Lord Barry was loud in his laments; while the Scots grew taller and prouder, and ceased to frequent the tents of the English exiles. Councils were held by James, in which York had no part; it was only afterwards, that he learnt it had been commanded to the Scotch army to lay waste the country. Now indeed all the Englishman was alive in his heart—he gave sudden orders to raise his camp, and to march forward; he had sat still too long; he would enter the kingdom he claimed; discover for himself his chance of success—and, if there were none, his rights should not be made the pretence of a Scotch invasion.
None cried, "Long live King Richard!" as he passed along. How did his noble, youthful spirit droop at finding that not only he did not meet with, but was judged not to deserve success. It ranks among the most painful of our young feelings, to find that we are justly accused of acting wrong. Our motives—we believed them disinterested or justifiable; we have advanced a wondrous step in life before we can concede even to ourselves that alloy may be mingled with what we deemed pure gold: ignorant of the soil and culture of our own hearts, we feel sure that no base mixture can form a part of what we fancy to be a mine of virgin ore, Richard would have stood erect and challenged the world to accuse him—God and his right, was his defence. His right! Oh, narrow and selfish was that sentiment that could see, in any right appertaining to one man the excuse for the misery of thousands.
War, held in leash during the army's march from Edinburgh, was now let loose; swift and barbarous he tore forward on his way; a thousand destructions waited on him; his track was marked by ruin: the words of Lord Surrey were fulfilled. What a sight for one, whose best hope in acquiring his kingdom, was to bestow the happiness of which the usurper deprived it. The English troops, about five hundred men, crossed the wide-spread plains in the immediate vicinity of Scotland; they entered a beaten track, where the traces of cultivation spoke of man; a village peeped from among the hedge-row trees—York's heart beat high. Would the simple inhabitants refuse to acknowledge him? A few steps disclosed the truth—the village had been sacked by the Scotch: it was half burnt, and quite deserted; one woman alone remained—she sat on a pile of ashes wailing aloud. The exiles dared not read in each other's eyes the expression of their horror; they walked on like men rebuked. This was England, their country, their native home; and they had brought the fierce Scot upon her. Passing forward, they met trains of waggons laden with spoil, droves of cattle and sheep. They overtook a troop roasting an ox by the burning rafters of a farm-house, whose green palings, trim orchard, and shaved grass-plat, spoke of domestic comfort; the house-dog barked fearfully—a Lowland archer transfixed him with his arrow.
The English marched on; they dared not eye the ravagers; shame and hate contended—these were their allies; while the sarcasm and scornful laugh which followed them, drugged with wormwood the bitter draught. In vain, west or east or south, did they turn their eyes, a sad variety of the same misery presented itself on every side. A stout yeoman, gashed by an Highlander's claymore, was sometimes the ghastly stepping-stone passed over to enter his own abode; women and children had not been spared, or were only left to perish for want. Often during apparent silence, a fearful shriek, or the voice of lamentation, burst upon the air: now it was a woman's cry, now the shrill plaint of infancy. With the exception of these sufferers, the landscape was a blank. Where were the troops of friends Richard had hoped would hail him? Where the ancient Yorkists? Gone to augment the army which Surrey was bringing against the Scot; attached to these ill-omened allies, how could the prince hope to be met by his partizans? He had lost them all; the first North Briton who crossed the Tweed trampled on and destroyed for ever the fallen White Rose.
Resolutely bent on going forward till he should have advanced beyond the Scotch, on the following day York continued his march. They entered the ruins of another village; the desolation here was even more complete, although more recent; the flame was hardly spent upon the blackened rafters; the piles which the day before had been smiling dwellings, still smoked; a few domestic animals were skulking about. There was a church at the end of what had been a street; this was not spared. The English entered the desecrated aisle; an aged bleeding monk was lying at the altar's foot, who scowled even in death upon the soldiery; suddenly he recognized his countrymen; pleasure gleamed in his sunken eyes, "Ye will avenge us! Deliver the land!—The hand of God will lead ye on!"
Plantagenet rushed forward—"Father!" he cried, "do I find you here?"
The old man spoke, looked faintly; Edmund bent over him: "My father, it is I, Edmund, your boy, your murde——"
"My son," said the monk, "I behold you again, and die content! You are in arms, but by the blessing of the saints your sword's point is turned against the cruel invader. Not one, oh! not one Englishman will fall by his brother's hand, for not one will fight for that base deceit, the ill-nurtured Perkin, to whom God in his wrath has given such show of right as brings the Scot upon us. Once I thought—but no son of York would ally himself to these cruel border-robbers. God of my country, oh curse, curse him and his cause!"
The dying man spoke with difficulty; a few moments more, a spasm crossed his features, and they settled into stony insensibility. Edmund threw himself on the body; a deathlike silence reigned in the building; every heart beat with breathless horror; the curse uttered by the murdered man was even then breathed before God, and accepted. York spoke first with a calm, firm voice, "Arise, my cousin," he said; "do not thou fix yet more deeply the barbed arrow, which has entered my heart."
There are periods when remorse and horror conquer by their intensity every lesser impulse, and reign kings of the waste; this was no time for words or tears. Oh! welcome the grief or crime, which the bitterest of these could express or extenuate; it would insult this sad effigy of death to imagine that the impiety could be expiated. In silence they bore the reverend corpse to the vaults of the church, and then continued their way; some of the under-officers and men whispered together; but when again the chiefs conversed, they did not allude to this frightful scene, or to the awful imprecation which they felt suspended over their heads, shadowing their souls with unknown horror.
This was but the opening scene to worse wretchedness; hitherto they had seen the waste of war, now they came upon its active atrocities. A dense smoke, the flickering of pale flames, marked the progress of devastation; fierceness gleamed in the open blue eyes of Richard; he bit his lips, and at a quicker pace went forward; screams and horrid shrieks, mixed with shouts—oh! may not a veil be drawn over such horrors—flying children, mothers who stayed to die, fathers who unarmed rushed upon the weapons of the foe; fire and sword, animated by man's fellest spirit, were there to destroy. Kindled to fury, York and his chief friends had outspeeded their troops: they came to save; they called on the fierce Scot to spare; and, when their words were unheeded, they drew their swords to beat back their allies. A fresh troop of Borderers, headed by Sir John Ramsay, at this moment poured into the village. The grey eye of the Scot was lighted up to the fiercest rage; but when he saw who and how few were they who had assailed his men, a demoniac expression, half exultation and joy, half deadly hate, animated him. Richard was driving before him a whole troop of camp-followers, cowardly and cruel fellows. Balmayne's hand was on his arm. "Your Highness forgets yourself," he said; "or is the fable ended, and you turned friend of Tudor?"
York's blood was up; his cheek, his brow were flushed; the word "assassin" burst from his lips, as he wheeled round and assailed his midnight foe. Thus a natural war began; English and Scotchmen, bent on mutual destruction, spurred on by every feeling of revenge, abhorrence, and national rivalship, dealt cruel blows one on the other. Richard's troops began to arrive in greater numbers; they far out-told their adversaries. Lord Bothwell, with his marauders, was obliged to retreat, and York was left in possession of his strange conquest. The peasantry gathered round him: they did not recognize the White Rose, they but blessed him as their deliverer: yet the sufferers were many, and the flames still raged One woman with a wild shriek for her children, threw herself into the very heart of her burning cot; while, statue-like, amidst a little helpless brood, his wife at his feet a corpse, his dwelling in ashes, a stout yeoman stood; tears unheeded flowing down his weather-beaten cheeks. During the whole day Richard had striven against his own emotions, trying to dispel by pride, and indignation, and enforced fortitude, the softness that invaded his heart and rose to his eyes, blinding them; but the sight of these miserable beings, victims of his right, grew into a tragedy too sad to endure. One young mother laid her infant offspring at his feet, crying, "Bless thee; thou hast saved her!" and then sunk in insensibility before him; her stained dress and pallid cheeks speaking too plainly of wounds and death. Richard burst into tears, "Oh my stony and hard-frozen heart!" he cried, "which breakest not to see the loss and slaughter of so many of thy natural-born subjects and vassals!"
He spoke—he looked: Plantagenet was there, grief and horror seated in his dark, expressive eyes; Neville, who had lost his lofty pride; it was shame and self-abhorrence that painted their cheeks with blushes or unusual pallor. "We must hasten, my lord," said Barry, "after those evil-doers: they but quit one carcase, to pounce upon another."
"Do we fight the king of England's battles?" cried the Burgundian Lalayne, in unfeigned astonishment: "this will be strange intelligence for James of Scotland."
"So strange, Sir Roderick," said Richard, "that we will be the bearers of it ourselves. Give orders for the retreat, gentlemen. His majesty is engaged in the siege of Norham Castle. We will present us before him, and demand mercy for our unhappy subjects."