The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 49
For, when Cymocles saw the foul reproach
Which him appeached, prick'd with noble shame
And inward grief, he fiercely 'gan approach;
Resolved to put away that loathly blame,
Or die with honour and desert of fame.
After the prince, by the voyage of Monina, had, as he hoped, provided for the escape and safety of the Lady Katherine, he could not, all weak as he was, remain in repose.
From his early childhood he had been nurtured in the idea that it was his first, chief duty to regain his kingdom; his friends lived for that single object; all other occupation was regarded as impertinent or trifling. On the table of his ductile boyish mind, that sole intent was deeply engraved by every hand or circumstance. The base-minded disposition of his rival king adorned his cause with a show of use and the name of virtue.
Those were days when every noble-born youth carved honour for himself with his sword; when passes at arms where resorted to whenever real wars did not put weapons in their hands, and men exposed their breasts to sharp-biting steel in wanton sport. Often during his green and budding youth Richard had gloried in the very obstacles set before him; to be cast out and forced to redeem his state, was a brighter destiny than to be lapped in the bosom of guarded royalty. The treason of Clifford and the sacrifice of devoted friends but whetted his ambition; vengeance, the religion of that age, being a sacred duty in his eyes. He had been shaken by Lord Surrey's appeal, but cast the awakened pity off as a debasing weakness.
The painted veil of life was torn. His name had not armed the nobles of his native land, his cause had not been trumpeted with praise nor crowned by victory; deserted by foreign allies, unsuccessful in Ireland, he had appeared at the head of a rabble army strong only in wrongs and in revenge. Even these he had abandoned, and with nameless hinds taken sanctuary; his story was a fable, his name a jeer; he no longer, so it seemed, existed; for the appellation of duke of York was to be lost and merged in the disgraceful misnomer affixed to him by the Usurper.
Richard was no whining monk to lament the inevitable, and tamely to await the result. To see an evil was to spur him to seek a remedy: he had given up every expectation of reigning, except such as sprung from his right, and faith in the justice of God. But honour was a more valued treasure; and to his warm heart dearer still was the safety of the poor fellows abandoned by him. On the third day after his arrival at Beaulieu, he arose from his sick couch, donned his armour, and, yet pale and feeble, sent to speak with the cavalier who commanded the party that guarded all egress from the abbey. With him he held long parley, in conclusion of which Sir Hugh Luttrel directed three of his followers to be in readiness, and two of his chosen horses to be led to the abbey gates. Richard took leave of the abbot; he recommended his poor followers to him, and lightly answered the remonstrance of the holy man, who thought that delirium alone could urge the fugitive to quit the tranquil, sacred spot, where he himself passed his days in quiet, and which held out so secure a protection to the vanquished. His remonstrance was vain; one word weighed more with Richard than a paradise of peace. Infamy, dishonour! No; even if his people were safe—by throwing himself in the self-same peril to which he had apparently exposed them, that stain were effaced. The very gentleman to whom he had surrendered himself had trespassed on his allegiance to Henry to dissuade him from the fool-hardihood of his adventure. It was a sight of pity to see one so very young walk voluntarily to the sacrifice; and the princely mien and youthful appearance of the self-constituted prisoner wrought all to compassion and respect. Por still this fair White Rose was in the very opening flower of manhood: he looked, after such variety of fortune, as if evil not only never had, but never could tarnish the brightness of his spirit or of his aspect; illness had a little enfeebled him, without detracting from his youthful beauty, giving rather that softness which made it loveliness, yet painted fairer by his self-immolating resolve.
"A sweet regard and amiable grace,
Mixed with manly sternness did appear,"
and eagerness withal: for eager he was, even to almost foolish haste, to redeem the lost hours, and establish himself again no runaway.
With fresh joy he addressed himself to retrace his steps to Taunton. Sanctuary and refuge from death—oh! how he trampled on the slavish thought. Death was to him a word, a shadow, a phantom to deride and scorn, not an enemy to grapple with; disgrace was his abhorred foe, and him he thus overthrew. His resolves, inspired by disdain of permitting one taint to blemish his career, were not the expedients of prudence, but the headlong exploit of daring youth. The iron must indeed have entered our souls, and we be tamed from dear, youthful freedom to age's humble concessions to necessity, before we can bow our head to calumny, smile at the shafts as they rankle in our flesh, and calmly feel that, among the many visitations of evil we undergo, this is one we are compelled to endure.
Thus he, his gentle guide and followers, travelled towards Taunton. In all prudence, from the moment they left sanctuary, Sir Hugh Luttrel ought to have guarded him closely. But even the staid Sir Hugh forgot this duty; rather was Richard the enforcer of this journey, than his guard, Richard it was who at night halted unwillingly; Richard who first cried to horse at morning's dawn; who, in spite of ill-weather, resisted every delay. As they drew near their bourne, the appellation of Perkin first met the prince's ear; he was unaware that it had ever been applied to him except by Henry's written proclamations. It acted as a galling spur; for he believed, with youth's incapacity of understanding systematized falsehood, that his presence would put to flight the many-coloured web of invention, which his rival had cast over him to mar his truth and obscure his nobility.
After three days they drew near Taunton. The stubble fields, the flowery hedges, the plenteous orchards were passed. From a rising ground they looked upon the walls of the town, and the vacant moor where his camp had stood. Richard halted, saying—"Sir knight, I will await you here—do you seek your king: say, I come a voluntary sacrifice, to purchase with drops of my royal blood the baser tide of my poor followers. I demand no more—bid him rear the scaffold; let the headsman sharpen the axe, to lop off the topmost bough of Plantagenet. The price I ask, is the despised lives of men, who, but that they loved me, were incapable of merit or of crime in his eyes. For their humble sakes, like my grandfather York, I am prepared to die. If pledge of this be denied me, I still am free. I wear a sword and will sell my life dearly, though alone."
Sir Hugh Luttrel was perplexed. He knew the stern nature of his royal master, and how heavily he would visit on him any disappointment in his dearest wish of obtaining possession of his rival's person. The prince had, during their three days' companionship, gained great power over him: he felt that he was in truth the son of Edward the Fourth, a man he had never loved (for Sir Hugh was a Lancastrian), but one whom he had feared and obeyed as his sovereign. How could he put slavish force upon his gallant offspring? He hesitated, till the prince demanded—"Wherefore delay—is there aught else that you desire?"
"You pledge your knightly word," said Sir Hugh, "not to desert this spot?"
"Else wherefore am I here?—this is idle. Yet, so to content you, I swear by my vow made under the walls of Granada, by our Lady, and by the blessed saints, I will abide here.
The knight rode into the town with his followers, leaving young Richard impatient for the hour that was to deliver him to servitude.
Sir Hugh first sought Lord Dawbeny, requesting him to obtain for him instant audience of the king. "His grace," said the noble, "is at vespers, or about to attend them."
"I dare not wait till they are said," replied Luttrel, who every minute felt the burthen of responsibility weighing heavier on him.
"Nor I interrupt his majesty—even now he enters the church."
In haste Sir Hugh crossed the street; and, as the king took the holy water from the chalice, he knelt before him. The few words he spoke painted Henry's face with exulting gladness. "We thank thee, good Sir Hugh," he said, "and will make our thanks apparent. By the mass, thou hast deserved well of us this day! Where hast thou bestowed our counterfeit?"
"Please your majesty, he awaits your highness's acceptance of his conditions without the eastern gate."
"You have placed strong guard over him?"
"He pledged his oath to await my return. He is alone."
A dark, angry frown chased all glee from Tudor's brow; bending a stern glance on his erewhile welcome messenger, he commanded Lord Wells, his cousin, to take a strong force and to seize this duke of Runaways. Sir Hugh, timid as he was, interfered: driven by respect for his prisoner, and fear of what might ensue, he tried to enforce York's stipulation. Henry looked on him with scorn, then said, "Truly, cousin, I have vaunted of a bloodless conquest; so let not the blood of the misborn traitor stain our laurels, nor Sir Luttrel's Duke Perkin shed one precious ruby drop. Say ay to all he asks; for, as it seems, his demands are as foolish as himself, and need no chaffering. Tell him that his life is safe, but bring him here; set him within our ward and limitation: do this, while we with a Te Deum thank our Heavenly Father for his watchful mercies. Sir Hugh, accompany our cousin, and then wend your way whither it please you. We have no pleasure in your presence."
Thus duped, even by his own generous, proud spirit, the duke of York became a prisoner—delivering up his sword, and yielding himself an easy prey to his glad victor. Once, twice, thrice, as he waited the return of Luttrel, it had crossed his mind, not to fly, his vow being pledged, but to remember that he was now free and unconstrained, and would soon be in other's thrall—when farewell to the aspiring thought, the deed of arms, and to the star of his life, to whose idea, now his purpose was accomplished, he fondly turned!—"Poor Katherine," he whispered, "this is the crown, the fated, fallen youth, the seer foretold." In after-times that scene dwelt on his memory; he called to mind the evening-tide, for the sun was down, and the clouds, lately gold besprent, waxing dun, as the town walls grew high and dark, and the few trees about him waved fitfully in a soft breeze; that wind was free, and could career over the plain; what spell bound the noble knight and stalwart steed, that they coursed not also free as it?
In a few minutes he was a prisoner—and led within those darksome walls. At first, treated with some observance, he was unaware, as is the case in any new position, with whose circumstances and adjuncts we are unacquainted, how utterly he had fallen. He was led to no barred prison; and, for a time, the nobles and knights who flocked, to see him were no bad exchange for the motley crew he had quitted. But, as if in a dream, he felt gather round him impalpable but adamantine walls—chains hung upon his limbs, not the less heavy, because the iron pierced his soul rather than his flesh. He had been a free man; his name was attended with love and. respect, and his aspect commanded the obedience of men. Now, the very appellation given to him was a mortal insult; a stranger seemed to be spoken to when he was addressed, and yet he must answer. He was never alone; and night was the sole suspension from the insulting curiosity of the crowd. He must forego himself; grow an impostor in his own eyes; take on him the shameful name of Perkin: all which native honour, and memory of his princess bride, made trebly stinging.
To barb the dart came intelligence that the Lady Katherine was a prisoner. King Henry had quitted Taunton, and gone towards Exeter, when, on his arrival there, the earl of Oxford presented the Scottish princess to him. Praises of her wondrous beauty became rife, brought by some of the king's train, returned to Taunton; praises so excessive and warm as could not have been inspired by celestial beauty in adversity, if not egged on by some adventitious stimulant. It was the fashion to speak of her as the Queen of Loveliness; as (for beauty's sake the name belonged to her) the fairest White Rose that ever grew on thorny bush. By this name she was mentioned to York; and it visited his heart as the first gleam of sunshine on his enshadowed misery; dear was the name of the White Rose to the fallen one. It had been his own in fresh and happy days, when first he showed his prowess among the knights of France and Burgundy. Still louder grew the echo of some mighty voice, that gave forth encomium of the prisoner's bride; and the smiles with which some spoke, smiles half of wonder half of mockery, told of some secret charm, which at last was openly commented upon. "Again the king saw the fair one yestermorn; and dallied ere he granted the earnest suit she made, as if he loved to be entreated."
"The grave King Henry caught in the net of the wanton boy! Oh, this were subject for a ballad for the nonce."
"Blythe news for gentle Perkin; his wife thrives at court. She takes occasion by too slender a hold, if she raise not her husband from the kitchen to a higher place at court."
"Now we shall see our the lady the queen jealous of her liege."
"Our queen? what midsummer's dream is this? The White Rose will never flower in our court garden."
To falsify this assertion came the next day a messenger, with command to convey the noble prisoner with all speed to London; and for the attendance of the Lady Cheney, and the Lady Howard, two noble matrons, to wait on the Lady Katherine, who was about to proceed to Westminster. Smiles and whispers were interchanged; and, when to this was added, that as much courtesy should be shown the counterfeit youth as might not endanger his safe keeping, the light laugh followed; though, as if to meet and overthrow the raillery, it was added, this was ordered for his royal wife's sake, who was cousin to England's dear ally, the king of Scotland. These idle tales did not reach York's ear: wherever he showed himself, he enforced such personal respect, that there was no likelihood that any conjecture, linked with his lady's name, would be hazarded before him. He was told that the king entertained her royally; and when he heard that she was to be presented to his sister, the Queen Elizabeth, a thrill of joy passed into his heart. His sister! as a boy, he remembered the fair, kind girl, whom he had called his loved and most sweet sister: he knew that she was conscious of his truth, and, though wedded to his rival, loved not her lord. It was a pleasing dream, to fancy these gentle ladies together; to know that, while the one spoke her affection and praise, the other must feel the kindred blood warm in her heart, and proudly, though sadly, acknowledge him her worthy brother.