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CHAPTER IV.

LADY BRAMPTON.


My noble queen, let former grudges pass,
And henceforth I am thy true servitor.

Shakspeare.


Meanwhile the Yorkists were impatient for action. The existence of Prince Richard was a secret to all save Lincoln and Lovel—even the Staffords were kept in ignorance; their purpose, therefore, was merely to put down the Lancastrians, and to raise their own party, with Warwick or Lincoln at their head; they cared not which, so that they got a king who would, in his turn, uproot the Red Rose. Lincoln would consent to no decisive step; but from the day of his cousin's marriage, all his emissaries and friends were on foot to cause insurrectionary movements in the kingdom, rousing in the old Yorkists their ancient party spirit, and inspiring the young with hopes of future aggrandizement and victory.

As the spring advanced, Henry sent the young queen, with her mother and sisters, and the countess of Richmond, to hold her court at Winchester, while he resolved on a progress through the northern counties of England, the most affected towards the House of York, to endeavour, by the royal presence, to awaken affection towards the reigning sovereign. He passed the festival of Easter at Lincoln, and there he heard that Lord Lovel and the two Staffords had escaped from sanctuary. The sound of insurrection is fearful to a newly-anointed king; but as no explanation was given to their movements, and no name of import mingled in the tale, he felt less perturbation at this intelligence. As he proceeded on his journey, the affair took a more serious aspect. The Staffords advanced to besiege Worcester; and Lovel, with an increasing army of three or four thousand men, was in the neighbourhood of York.

Sir Edward Brampton joined the forces of Lord Lovel, and he and Lady Brampton again met. The history of this lady was singular. Ten years before the time of which we write, being then eighteen, she married, and attended the court of Edward the Fourth. She had talent and vivacity; her dark laughing eyes, the animation of her countenance, her gay and naive manners, attracted her sovereign; and she was soon distinguished as one whose advancement, if so it might be called, to the highest influence over him, depended on her own choice between honour and such preferment. She did not hesitate; but her rejection won Edward as much as her beauty. A kind of friendship, kept up under the chivalrous phraseology of the day, was established between them, that gave, perhaps, more umbrage to the queen than a less avowed connection would have done. All was open; and if the good humour of her young rival never permitted her to assume haughtiness, there was something even more revolting in her girlish assumptions of power and consequence. The queen hated and affected to despise Lady Brampton; Lady Brampton felt that she injured the wife of Edward the Fourth. At first she had earnestly sought to gain her favour, but when rebuffed, she resorted to the weapons of youth, beauty, and wit, and set at defiance the darkened brow of Elizabeth. Ten years had passed since then.

Edward the Fourth died, and under Richard the Third Lady Brampton returned to her natural place in society; nay, the vivacity of speech with which she defended the rights of his nephews, made him absolutely discountenance her. In her days of pride she had refused every mark of favour from Edward, thus to place their avowed friendship far above the petty intrigues of the courtiers. It might have been thought that the queen and her rival would now, on the grounds of affection for Edward's children, have leagued together; but, on the contrary, the mother expressed contempt and indignation at the presumption of Lady Brampton in assuming a personal interest in her children, and that lady too well remembered how often her manner and speech must have offended the queen to make any vain attempt at reconciliation. The earl of Lincoln and Lady Brampton had always been friends; her liveliness amused him, her integrity and real goodness of heart won his esteem. Her passionate love for the princes in the Tower had caused him, when he withdrew thence the young Richard, whose ill-health demanded constant feminine attentions, to confide him to her charge; thus she alone became possessed of the secret of his existence, and now with Lord Lovel she debated how best his interests could be furthered.

Lord Lincoln feared by rash measures to endanger the safety of his nephew. He desired to place him on the throne, but he preferred bringing him up in freedom and obscurity to any ill-judged attempt that might throw him into his enemy's hands, and make him prisoner for life. His plans were all laid upon this principle; he commanded Lord Lovel, who submitted wholly to him, not to breathe the name of the son of Edward till he had gained a decided advantage over the reigning sovereign. If victorious, he might set up the royal standard and proclaim Richard the Fourth, while the earl, still in London, would call together all the Yorkists, and, in the absence of the king, seize, in his nephew's name, upon the capital of the kingdom. If Lord Lovel's attempt proved unsuccessful, it was decided that the prince should escape immediately to the Continent, there to remain till some new insurrection was organized; for, though cautious, he was resolute, and he had determined never to relinquish his purpose, but to excite rebellion and discontent against Henry till the rightful heir possessed his own.

These plans were in contradiction to Lady Brampton's views, but she was obliged to submit. Her quick woman's wit discovered her another danger. The absolute silence observed concerning the young prince, then only eleven years of age, might in the end cast a doubt over the justice of his pretensions, and she told Lord Lovel, that if, after a failure, Richard quitted England, he must first be seen and acknowledged by his mother. She resolved, therefore, on immediately going to Winchester to prepare Elizabeth for the reception of her son; and Lord Lovel, who agreed in the wisdom of this proposal, promised, at all hazards, that ere leaving the kingdom the duke of York should cross the country to that town, whence, by Southampton, he might escape to France. While, therefore. Lord Lovel increased his army, and marched in high hopes towards York, Lady Brampton proceeded southward, meditating the safest and best manner of introducing herself to the queen.

There was a man, Richard Simon, or Symond, who afterwards figured in the chronicles, that had long been secretly concerned in the course of events. He was the son of a tenant of Sir John Gray, and had been the playmate of the Lady Elizabeth Gray's elder children. His love of books, his sedentary habits, and quick wit on matters of learning, led those interested in his fate to consider him fitted for the church, and therefore, he took priest's orders. But his mind, though not attuned to action in its noblest sense, was not one that could remain at rest. He loved power; he was sagacious, astute, and intriguing: when the Lady Gray became queen, he being still too young for high promotion, preferred an unnoticed but influential situation near her person to more lucrative employ, which would remove him from the pleasures and dignity of the court. When Edward died, he devoted himself to the service of his royal patroness, and hardly escaped being imprisoned for life by Richard, when the latter was most exasperated against the queen-dowager's relations. From that time Richard Simon found full occupation for his plotting head, in endeavouring to bring about the overthrow of the usurping Gloucester, and to raise the hopes of Henry the Seventh, who requited ill his active zeal: and now again he busied himself in exalting the queen's party. He looked the man he was—a prier into secrets—one who conducted the drama of life by back-stairs and tell-tale valets: his small grey eyes were quick to discern the meaning of each smile or frown; his young brow was already wrinkled through care and thought; craft lurked in the corners of his lips; and his whispering voice betokened habitual caution. He continued to hover near the queen; now despatched to sound some Yorkist, now. closeted to discuss some expression of the king's, in which to find a secret meaning. Repose was the thing he hated: and for ever with some plan on foot, some web to weave or unravel, he was seen with brows a little elevated by self-conceit, with a courtly bend of the body, and insinuating address, now assuring a Lancastrian of the perfect satisfaction of the queen, now whispering to a Yorkist a tale of slights and injuries practised by King Henry against his consort and her friends. All the communication that had taken place between Elizabeth Woodville and the earl of Lincoln had been carried on through this man, though each knew not that he communicated to the other what either said. But Lincoln respected his undeviating fidelity towards his patroness, and valued his talents. It was to this man that Lady Brampton addressed herself on her arrival at Winchester, to procure for her a private audience with the queen. Her dark hints respecting the insurrection of Lovel and the Staffords excited his curiosity, yet he experienced more difficulty than he expected in bringing the royal dowager to consent to receive her rival. When our days of prosperity are fled we cling fondly to all that reminds us of their brightness, and turn with augmented distaste from everthing that marred their splendour. Elizabeth loved to remember herself as the chosen bride of Edward, and any circumstance that spoke of his inconstancy, or detracted from the entireness of her influence over him, then inspired her with indignation, now with abhorrence. It required all Simon's dexterity to allay her anger, and excite her curiosity, sufficiently to induce her to admit her rival to her presence.

It was at the hour of vespers that the priest introduced Lady Brampton into the queen's cabinet. Elizabeth was assured that she had secrets of importance to communicate, and she designed by affability to win her to a full disclosure of them. Yet her heart and manner grew cold as she entered the closet where the lady and her guide already were, and bending her head slightly, she said, "The Lady Brampton desired an audience with me—I grant it."

With all her vivacity and consciousness of the importance of her disclosures, the lady felt herself awed and chilled; and the memory of Edward came across her, who had before shielded her from such unkindness, and filled her eyes with tears. A long pause ensued; the queen looked as in expectation, and Richard Simon, who had retired to an embrasure of a window, was about to come forward, when Lady Brampton, conquering her emotion, said, "Your grace is the happy mother of the queen of England, and the hope of an heir, which you now entertain, may make my intelligence distasteful."

"Say on," replied Elizabeth, haughtily; "I listen to your words."

The lady felt much inclined not to say another word, but assuming almost equal coldness of manner, she continued, "Would your grace prefer that your fair daughter should still bear the sceptre, or that Richard the Fourth should wrest it from the husband's grasp?"

Now indeed the queen started, and cried impetuously, "I charge you, trifle with me no longer! Explain your words; who would supplant my child?"

"Her brother," Lady Brampton replied; and seeing the queen lost in a mixture of amazement and terror, she added, "The Duke of York still lives: he is now, I trust, at the head of forces sufficient to enforce his rights. In a few days England will acknowledge him as sovereign."

In reply to these words, spoken with rapidity, as if they were pregnant with supreme delight to their auditress, the queen with an angry look, said, "I shall league with no plotters to establish an impostor."

"Beware," said Lady Brampton, indignantly; "let your majesty bethink yourself before you consign your son to misery and an early grave. Will his mother be his chief enemy?"

"Who vouches for him?"

"Himself! He is the very Edward who once was yours: his young features are but the miniature mirror of his royal father; his princely grace, his wit, his courage, are all derived from him."

"I must see the boy," said the queen, "to end at once this silly masque. How do you pretend that he escaped form the Tower?"

The independence and sensibility of Lady Brampton's disposition would not permit her to answer a question asked thus ironically. Had she looked at the queen, she might have seen, by her change of countenance, that it was nearly all put on by the jealous instinct that would not permit her to acknowledge herself under so great an obligation to ber rival. Lady Brampton turned to Simon, saying, "I am ready to depart, Sir Priest; I see her grace sorrows that the same cold bed does not entomb Richard of York and Edward the Fifth. Poor prince! My Lord of Lincoln counselled well, and I was to blame in not acting on his advice."

"Stay," cried Elizabeth, "speak again. Is the earl of Lincoln a party to this tale?"

"Your majesty insults me," said the lady; "I came here to please a mother's ear by assurances of her son's safety, and to conduct the tempest-tost fortunes of this ill-starred boy into the safe harbour of maternal love. I came with a full heart and an ardent desire to serve you; no other motive could have led me hither. You receive me with disdain; you dismiss me with contumely. I fear that so much you hate me, that, for my sake, your heart is steeled against your princely son. But as you already know so much as to make it necessary that you should know all, I will hasten to London, and intreat the noble De la Poole to communicate with you, and to avert a mother's enmity from her child. I take my leave."

She was about to depart; but Simon, who knew that a feud between the prince's partizans must ruin his cause, entreated her to remain; and then addressing the queen, tried to soothe her, for she was pacing the rushes of her chamber in excessive agitation. "Peace, good friend," said she, "I will speak to Lincoln; I will ask him why I, who was deemed by his honoured uncle fit partaker of his councils, am kept by him in ignorance of the alleged existence of this poor boy? Even now he might be sitting on the throne, had I been consulted: instead of this, to what has this distrust brought him? He is a crownless king, a fugitive prince, branded as an impostor; a seal is put on his fate, which nothing probably will ever remove. I, even I, have called my son, if such he be, a counterfeit!"

Maternal tenderness touched to the quick the royal lady's heart, and she wept. Lady Brampton was all impulse and goodness of disposition: she felt that Elizabeth had wronged her, but in a moment she forgave the offence; she advanced, and kneeling at her feet, touched her hand gently, as she said, "Let not your grace judge too harshly of our proceedings. We poor faulty human beings, hurried hither and thither by passion, are for ever jostling against and hurting each other, where more perfect natures would coalesce, and thus succeed where we fail. Forgive, forget the past; it cannot now be changed. Forgive the earl, who, long bound by an oath to his uncle Gloucester, could only save your son's life by feigning his death. Forgive the humblest of your servants, even myself, who acted under his commands, and who now, in disobedience to them, attempts to bring the royal exile to his mother's arms. Would that my humility could appease your displeasure, and that you would acknowledge me your faithful follower. My life should be at the disposal of you and the princely York."

Lady Brampton, full of vivacity, energy, and even of imperiousness, had so much grace in her manner and sweetness in her voice, when she laid these keen weapons aside to assume those of gentleness and love, that she was irresistible. The queen, at once softened, stretched out her hand, which the lady pressed respectfully to her lips; then, as friends bent on one design, they conversed unreservedly together. Lady Brampton entered into long details concerning the past history of the duke of York, and the schemes then on foot for his advancement. This was not their sole interview; they met again and again, and mutual affection confirming the link which the fate of Richard caused to exist between them, the queen named the Lady Brampton one of her ladies, and henceforth they lived together under the same roof.