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CHAPTER XXXV.

THE RETREAT.


Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o'ertake me on the way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?

Shakspeare.

It was York's characteristic to be sanguine beyond all men. Pain impressed him more deeply and sorely, than could be imagined by the cold of spirit; but show him the remedy, teach him the path to redress, and he threw off the clogging weight of care, and rose free and bright as in earliest youth. His impatience to behold his royal friend, to speak the little word, which he felt assured would recall the Scots from their ravages, and take from him the guilt of his subjects' blood, grew like a torrent in the spring:—he outspeeded his main troop; he left all but his chiefest friends behind; one by one even these grew fewer; he mounted a fresh horse, it was the third that day—"May-flower is worse than blown," said Neville; "will not your highness repose till to-morrow?"

"Repose!"—this echo was his only answer, and already he was far and alone upon his way.

The Scottish lines were passed, and the embattled walls of Norham, grey and impenetrable as rock, were before him; the royal pavilion occupied the centre of the camp. The wearied steed that bore York dropt on one knee as he reined him up before it, flushed, with, every mark of travel and haste—he threw himself from his saddle, and entered the tent: it was thronged; he saw not one face, save that of the monarch himself, who was conversing with a churchman, whose dark foreign countenance Richard had seen before; now it was like a vision before him. James, in an accent of surprise, cried, "My lord, this is an unexpected visit."

"Excuse ceremony, my dear cousin," said York; "I come not to speak to the majesty of Scotland: man to man—a friend to his dearest friend—I have a suit to urge."

James, who was aware that his actual occupation of listening and even acceding to the suggestions of his foreign visitant, in favour of peace with Henry, was treason to York's cause, thought that news of Don Pedro D'Ayala's arrival was the secret of these words: he blushed as he replied, "As friend to friend, we will hear anon—to-morrow."

"There is no anon to my dear plea," said York; "even now the hellish work is about which you must check. Oh, what am I, king of Scotland, that I am to be made the curse and scourge of my own people? The name of Richard is the bye-word of hate and terror, there, where I seek for blessings and filial love. You know not the mischief your fierce Borderers achieve—it is not yet too late; recall your men; bid them spare my people; let not the blood of my subjects plead against my right; rather would I pine in exile for ever, than occasion the slaughter and misery of my countrymen, my children."

Richard spoke impetuously; his eyes filled with tears, his accents were fraught with passionate entreaty, and yet with a firm persuasion that he spoke not in vain: but his address had the very worst effect. James believed that, hearing that he was in treaty with his foe, he had come to re-urge his suit, to enforce the many promises given, to demand a continuation of the war. James, a Scotchman, bred in civil strife among fierce Highlanders and ruthless Borderers, saw something contemptible in this pity and supplication for cottagers and villains: the shame he had felt, or feared to feel, at the idea of being accused of treachery by his guest, was lightened; his lips were curled even to scorn, as in a cold tone he replied, "Sir, methinketh you take much pains, and very much strive to preserve the realm of another prince, which, I do believe, never will be yours."

A momentary surprise set open wide York's eyes; he glanced round him; the earl of Huntley's brow was clouded; a smile curled Lord Buchan's lips; the emotion that had convulsed the prince's features, gave place to the calmest dignity. "If not mine," he said, "let me yield the sway to the lady Peace: the name and presence of a Plantagenet shall no longer sanction the devastation of his country. I would rather be a cotter on your wild Highlands, than buy the sovereignty of my fair England by the blood of her inhabitants."

The warm, though capricious heart of James, was quietly recalled by the look and voice of his once dearest friend, to a sense of the ungraciousness of his proceeding: he frankly stretched out his hand; "I was wrong, cousin, forgive me, we will confer anon. Even now, orders have been issued to recall the troops; a few words will explain everything."

York bent his head in acquiescence. The king dismissed his nobles, and committed to the care of one among them the reverend D'Ayala. With a strong sentiment of self-defence, which was self-accusation—a half return of his ancient affection, which acted like remorse—James set himself to explain his proceedings. Fearful, unaided by any of the natives, of proceeding with an inadequate force farther into the heart of the country, he had set down before the castle of Norham, which was defended undauntedly by the bishop of Durham. He had wasted much time here; and now the Cornish insurgents being quelled, the earl of Surrey was marching northwards, at the head of forty thousand men. Surrey, Howard, might he not be a masked friend? "who," continued James, "has surely some personal enmity to your highness; for the reverend Father D'Ayala, an ambassador from Spain, visited him on his journey northward, and it seems the noble indulged in despiteful language; saying, that he who could bring the fell Scot (I thank him) into England, wore manifest signs of—I will not say—I remember not his words; they are of no import. The sum is, my dear lord, I cannot meet the English army in the open field; walled town—even those paltry towers—I cannot win: with what shame and haste I may, I must retreat over the border."

Many more words James, in the heat of repentant affection, said to soothe his English friend. York's blood boiled in his veins; his mind was a chaos of scorn, mortification, and worse anger against himself. The insult inflicted by James before his assembled lords, the bitter speech of Surrey; he almost feared that he deserved the one, while he disdained to resent the other; and both held him silent. As speedily as he might, he took leave of the king: he saw signs in the encampment of the return of the foragers; they were laden with booty: his heart was sick; to ease his pent-up burning spirit, when night brought solitude, though not repose, he wrote thus to the Lady Katherine:—

 

"Wilt thou, dear lady of my heart, descend from thy lofty state, and accept an errant knight, instead of a sceptered king, for thy mate? Alas! sweet Kate, if thou wilt not, I may never see thee more: for not thus, oh not thus, my God, will Richard win a kingdom! Poor England bleeds: our over-zealous cousin has pierced her with dismal wounds; and thou wouldst in thy gentleness shed a thousand tears, hadst thou beheld the misery that even now, grim and ghastly, floats before my sight. What am I, that I should be the parent of evil merely? Oh, my mother, my too kind friends, why did ye not conceal me from myself? Teaching me lessons of humbleness, rearing me as a peasant, consigning me to a cloister, my injuries would have died with me; and the good, the brave, the innocent, who have perished for me, or through me, had been spared!

"I fondly thought that mine was no vulgar ambition. I desired the good of others; the raising up and prosperity of my country. I saw my father's realm sold to a huckster—his subjects the victims of low-souled avarice. What more apparent duty, than to redeem his crown from Jew-hearted Tudor, and to set the bright jewels, pure and sparkling as when they graced his brow, on the head of his only son? Even now I think the day will come when I shall repair the losses of this sad hour—is it the restless ambitious spirit of youth that whispers future good, or true forebodings of the final triumph of the right?

"Now, O sweetest Kate, I forget disgrace, I forget remorse; I bury every sorrow in thought of thee. Thy idea is as a windless haven to some way-worn vessel—its nest in a vast oak-tree to a tempest-baffled bird—hope of Paradise to the martyr who expires in pain. Wilt thou receive me with thine own dear smile? My divine love, I am not worthy of thee; yet thou art mine—Lackland Richard's single treasure. The stars play strange gambols with us—I am richer than Tudor, and but that thy husband must leave no questioned name, I would sign a bond with fate—let him take England, give me Katherine. But a prince may not palter with the holy seal God affixes to him—nor one espoused to thee be less than king; fear not, therefore, that I waver though I pause—Adieu!"