The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 43
Dost thou hear, lady?
If from the field I shall return once more
To kiss these lips, I will appear in blood;
I and my sword will carn our chronicle;
There is hope in it yet.
Richard was obliged to plead his cause yet once again. Katherine had watched all his movements; she had eyed curiously the army he mustered to the field: she talked to its leaders, and while they vaunted her affability, she was diving with earnest mind, into the truth of things. No fear that it could be hid from her; love for Richard was the bright light that dispelled every deceptive shadow from the scene. She saw the bare reality; some three thousand poor peasants and mechanics, whose swords were more apt to cut themselves than strike the enemy, were arrayed against the whole power and majesty of England. On the morrow they were to set forward. That night, while at the casement of his rude chamber, Richard gazed upon the congregated stars, trying to decipher in their intricate bright tracery the sure omen of the good he was told they charactered for him, Katherine, after a moment's hesitation, with a quivering voice, and hand that shook as it pressed his, knelt on a cushion at his feet, saying, "My sweet Richard, hear me; hear your faithful friend—your true wife; call not my councils weak and feminine, but weigh them sagely ere you resolve. May I speak?"
"Lady of my heart, arise," said Richard; "I speak, my soft-voiced Katherine—my White Rose of beauty—fair flower, crowning York's withered tree. Has not God done all in giving you to me? yet we must part, love, for a while. Your soldier is for the wars, Kate, while you sit in your bower, weaving victorious garlands for his return."
"My ever dear lord," said Katherine, "I speak with fear, because I feel that I shall not address myself to your concealed thought. I do not wish to penetrate your secrets, and yet I tremble at their event. You have not so far deceived yourself as to imagine, that with these unfortunate men you can ride over the pride and the power of this island; did I see on what else you founded the lofty hope, that has, since we came here, beamed in your eyes, I would resign myself to your better wisdom. But, wherever I turn my view, there is a blank. You do not dream of conquest, though you feel secure of victory. What can this mean, save that you see glory in death?"
"You are too quick-sighted, sweet Kate," said Richard, "and see beyond the mark. I do not set my cast upon falling in this fray; though it may well happen that I should: but I have another aim."
"Without guessing at what that may be," replied the lady, "since you seem desirous to withhold the knowledge, permit me to present another object to your choice; decide between them, and I submit: but do not carelessly turn from mine. There is all to lose, nought to win, in what you now do. Death may blot the future page, so that we read neither disgrace nor prison in its sad lines; but wherefore risk to die. While yet, dear love, we are young, life has a thousand charms, and one may be the miserable survivor, whose heart now bleeds at the mere surmise."
She faltered; he kissed her soft cheek, and pressed her to his heart. "Why may we not—why should we not live?" continued Katherine; "what is there in the name or state of king that should so take captive our thoughts, that we can imagine no life but on a throne? Believe me, careful nights and thorny days are the portion of a monarch: he is lifted to that awful height only to view more clearly destruction beneath; around, fear, hate, disloyalty, all yelling at him. The cold, heartless Tudor may well desire the prize, for he has nothing save the gilt crown to ennoble him; nothing but the supple knees of courtiers to present to him the show of love. But—ah! could I put fire into my weak words—my heart's zeal into my supplicatory voice—persuasion would attend upon me, and you would feel that to the young, to two united as we are, our best kingdom is each other's hearts; our dearest power that which each, without let or envy, exercises over the other. Though our palace-roof be the rafters of a lowly cot, our state, the dear affection we bear each other, our attendants the duty and observance of one to the other—I, so served by King Edward's son—you, by the rightful queen of this fair island—were better waited on than Henry and Elizabeth, by their less noble servitors. I almost think that, with words like these, I might draw you from the uneasy throne to the downy paradise of love; and can I not from this hard struggle, while death yet guards the palace-gate, and you will be pierced through and through long ere you can enter."
"Thus, my gentle love," said Richard, "you would have me renounce my birth and name; you desire that we become the scorn of the world, and would be content that, so dishonoured, the braggart impostor, and his dame Katherine, should spend their shameful days in an ignominious sloth, misnamed tranquillity. I am a king, lady, though no holy oil nor jewelled crown has touched this head; and such I must prove myself."
"Oh, doubt it not," she replied, "it is proved by your own speech and your own nobleness; my heart approves you such; the whole earth, till its latest day, will avouch that the lord of Katherine is no deceiver; but my words avail not with you."
"They do avail, my best, my angel girl, to show me that the world's treasure is mere dross compared with thee: one only thing I prize, not as thy equal, but as that without which, I were a casket not even worthy to encase this jewel of the earth—my honour! A word taught me by my victim brother, by my noble cousin Lincoln, by the generous Plantagenet; I learnt its meaning among a race of heroes—the Christian cavaliers—the Moorish chivalry of Spain; dear is it to me, since without it I would not partake your home of love—a home, more glorious and more blessed than the throne of the universe. It is for that I now fight, Katherine, not for a kingdom; which, as thy royal cousin truly said, never will be mine. If I fall, that cousin, the great, the munificent James, will be your, refuge."
"Never," interrupted the lady. "Scotland I shall never see again; never show myself a queen and no queen, the mock of their rude speech; never put myself into my dear, but ambitious father's hands, to be bartered away to another than my Richard; rather with your aunt of Burgundy, rather in Tudor's own court, with your fair sister. Holy angels! of what do I speak? how frightfully distinct has the bereft world spread itself out as my widowed abode!"
A gush of tears closed her speech. "Think of brighter days, my love," said Richard, "they will be ours. You spoke erewhile of the difficulty of giving true imagery to the living thought; thus, I know not how to shape an appropriate garb (to use a trope of my friend Skelton) for my inmost thoughts. I feel sure of success. I feel, that in giving up every prospect of acquiring my birthright, I make the due oblation to Fortune, and that she will bestow the rest—that rest is to rescue my name from the foul slur Henry has cast on it; to establish myself as myself in the eyes of England; and then to solicit your patience in our calamity—your truth and love as the only sceptre and globe this hand will ever grasp. In my own Spain, among the orange and myrtle groves, the flowery plains and sun-lit hills of Andalusia, we will live unambitious, yet more fortunate than crowned emperors."
With such words and promises he soothed her fears; to the word honour she had no reply. Yet it was a mere word here; in this case, a barren word, on which her life and happiness were to be wrecked.
The prince and Monina had met with undisguised delight. No Clifford would now dare traduce her; she need not banish herself from countries where his name enriched the speech of all men; nor even from that which, invited by her, he had come to conquer. He was glad to be able to extend his zealous fraternal protection over her, to feel that he might guard her through life, despite of the fortune that divided them. He obtained for her the Lady Katherine's regard, which she sought opportunities to demonstrate, while they were avoided by Monina, who honoured and loved her as Richard's wife and dearest friend, yet made occasion to absent herself from both. Nothing beautiful could be so unlike as these two fair ones. Katherine was the incarnate image of loveliness, such as it might have been conceived by an angelic nature; noble, soft, equable from her tender care not to displease others; in spite of the ills of fate, gay, because self-satisfied and resigned; the bright side of things was that which she contemplated: the bright and the tranquil—although the hazards run by him she loved, at this period informed her thoughts with terror. Monina—no, there was no evil in Monina; if too much self-devotion, too passionate an attachment to one dear idea, too enthusiastic an adoration of one exalted being, could be called aught but virtue. The full orbs of her dark eyes, once flashing bright, were now more serious, more melancholy; her very smile would make you weep; her vivacity, all concentred in one object, forgot to spend itself on trifles; yet, while the princess wept that Richard should encounter fruitless danger for a mistaken aim, gladness sat on Monina's brow: "He goes to conquer; God will give victory to the right: as a warrior he treads his native land; as a monarch he will rule over her. The very name of king he bears will shame the lukewarm English; they will gather round the apparent sun, now that he shows himself unclouded, leaving the false light, Tudor, to flicker into its native nothingness."
"Monina," said the prince, "you in the wide world can bestow richest largess on the beggar. King Richard." She looked on him in wonder. "I go to conquer or to die: this, lovely one, is no new language for you; a warrior's friend must hear such words unflinching. I die without a fear if you take one charge upon you." Her beaming, expressive eyes replied to him. He continued: "The Adalid and safety are images most firmly united in my mind; if I cannot find security on board of her myself, let those dear to me inherit my possession there. The hardest thought that I bear with me, is that my fair queen should become captive to my base-minded foe. May I not trust that if I fall, the Adalid will be her home and refuge to convey her to her native country, or any whither she may direct? I intrust this charge to you, my sister, my far more than sister, my own kind Monina. You will forget yourself in that fateful hour, to fulfil my latest wish?"
"My prince," she replied, "your words were cruel, did I not know that you speak in over-care, and not from the impulse of your heart. In the same spirit, I promise that your desire shall be accomplished: if you fall, my father will protect—die for my lady the queen. But why speak these ill-omened words? You will succeed; you will hasten the lagging hand of Fate, and dethrone one never born to reign, to bestow on England its rightful king. The stars promise this in their resplendent, unfailing scrowl—the time-worn student in his lore has proclaimed it—the sacred name of monarch which you bear is the pledge and assurance of predestined victory."
"And you, meanwhile, will stay, and assure Katherine's destiny?"
"My dear lord, I have a task to accomplish. If I leave her grace, it is because all spirits of good and power watch over her, and my weak support is needed elsewhere. I am bound for London."
They parted thus. The temerity of their designs sometimes inspired them with awe; but more usually animated them to loftier hopes. When the thickening shadows of "coming events" clouded their spirits, they took refuge in the sun-bright imaginations which painted to each the accomplishment of their several hopes. Monina felt assured that the hour of victory was at hand. Richard looked forward to a mortal struggle, to be crowned with success: a few short weeks or briefer days would close the long account: his word redeemed, his honour avenged, he looked forward to his dear reward: not a sceptre—that was a plaything fit for Henry's hand; but to a life of peace and love; a very eternity of sober, waking bliss, to be passed with her he idolized, in the sunny clime of his regretted Spain.