The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 50
They are noble sufferers. I marvel
How they'd have looked, had they been victors, that
With such a constant nobility enforce
A freedom out of bondage.
Two Noble Kinsmen.
The vulgar rabble, fond of any sort of show, were greedy of this new one. In all parts the name of the duke of York, of the counterfeit Perkin, drew a concourse of gazers. The appetite was keenest in London; and many a tawdry masque and mime was put in motion, to deck the streets through which the defeated youth was to pass. Vainly; he entered London at night, and was conducted privately to Westminster. What strange thing was this? What mark of reality did his very forehead wear, that Henry, so prodigal of contumely on his foes, dared not bring him forward for the public gaze? One man was put in the stocks for a similar remark; and on the following day it was suddenly proclaimed, that Perkin would go in procession from Westminster to Saint Paul's, and back again. A troop of horse at the appointed hour left the palace: in the midst of them rode a fair young gentleman, whose noble mien and gallant bearing gave lustre to his escort: his sweet aspect, bis frank soft smile and lively but calm manner, had no trace of constraint or debasement, "He is unarmed—is that Perkin? No, the earl of Warwick—he is a prince sure—yet that is he!" Such murmurs sped around; at some little distance followed another burlesque procession; a poor fellow, a Cornishman, was tied to an ass, his face to the tail, and the beast now proceeding lazily, now driven by sticks, now kicking, now galloping, made an ill-fashioned mirth for the multitude. Whether, as York was not to be disgraced in his own person, the contumely was to reach him through this poor rogue, or whether the eyes of men were to be drawn from him to the rude mummery which followed, could only be guessed: the last was the effect produced. Richard heard mass at Saint Paul's, and returned to Westminster unmolested by insult. It seemed but as if some young noble made short pilgrimage from one city to the other, to accomplish a vow. The visit of ill-fated Warwick to the cathedral, before the battle of Stoke, had more in it of humiliating ostentation.
He returned to the palace of Westminster. A few weeks he spent in mingled curiosity and anxiety concerning his future destiny. It was already accomplished. Modern times could not present anything more regular and monotonous than the way of life imposed upon him. It was like the keeping of a lunatic, who, though now sane, might be momentarily expected to break out in some dangerous explosion, rather than the confining of a state-prisoner. Four armed attendants, changed every eight hours, constantly guarded him, never moving, according to the emphatic language of the old chroniclers, the breadth of a nail from his side. He attended early mass each morning: he was permitted to take one hour's ride on every evening that was not a festival. Two large gloomy chambers, with barred windows, were allotted him. Among his guards, he quickly perceived that the same faces seldom appeared; and the most rigorous silence, or monosyllabic discourse, was imposed upon them. Harsher measures were perhaps spared, from respect to his real birth, or his alliance with the king of Scotland: yet greater severity had been less tantalizing. As it was, the corpse in the grass-grown grave was not more bereft of intercourse with the sunny world, than the caged duke of York. From his windows, he looked upon a deserted court-yard; in his rides, purposely directed to unfrequented spots, he now and then saw a few human beings—such name could be hardly bestowed on his stony-faced, stony-hearted guards.
Richard was the very soul of sympathy; he could muse for hours in solitude, but it must be upon dear argument, that had for its subject the pleasures, interests or affections of others. He could not entertain a heartless intercourse. Wherever he saw the human countenance, he beheld a fellow-creature; and, duped a thousand times, and a thousand times deceived, "still lie must love." To spend the hour in sportive talk; fondly to interchange the gentle offices of domestic life; to meet peril and endure misery with others; to give away himself, and then return to his inner being, laden like a bee with gathered sweets: to pile up in his store-house, memory, the treasured honey of friendship and love, and then away to nestle in the bosom of his own dear flower, and drink up more, or gaily to career the golden fields; such was his nature: and now—this was worse loneliness; this commune with the mutes of office; to be checked by low-born men; to feel that he must obey the beck of an hireling. A month, interspersed with hopes of change, he had endured the degradation; now he began to meditate escape. Yet he paused. Where was Katherine? where his many zealous friends?
The Lady Katherine was in an apartment of the palace, whose arched and fretted roof, and thick buttresses, were well adapted to impart a feeling of comfortable seclusion from the rough elements without. The dulness of dark November was gladdened by a huge wood fire. The little prince of Wales was narrating some strange story of fairyland; and bluff Harry was setting two dogs to quarrel, and then beating his favourite for not conquering, which seeing, his sister Margaret drew the animal from him to console and caress it. The gentle queen bent over her embroidery. Listening she was to her favourite Arthur, interrupting him with playful questions and exclamations, while Katherine now kindly attended to the boy, now turned anxiously at every sound. She rose at last: "Surely vespers are ringing from the abbey. My lord the king promised to see me before vespers."
"My lord the king is very gracious to you, sweet one," said Elizabeth.
"Methinks by nature he is gracious," replied the princess; "at least, I have ever found him so. Surely the shackles of state are very heavy, or ere this he would have granted my prayer, which he has listened to so oft indulgently."
The queen smiled faintly, and again pursued her work with seeming earnestness. Was it jealousy that dimmed the silk of her growing rosebud by a tear—or what name shall we give to the feeling?—envy we may not call it, she was too sweetly good—which now whispered, "Even he, the cold, the stern, is kind to her; my brother loves her passionately; and many a lance has been broken for her. Happy girl; happy in adversity; while I, England's miserable queen, am forgotten even by my fellow-prisoner of Sheriff Hutton, poor Warwick! he might have been my refuge: for the rest, how hard and rocky seem all human hearts to me." Her tears now flowed fast. Katherine saw them: she approached her, saying, "Dear and royal lady, none should weep, methinks, but only I, whose mate is caged and kept away; none sigh but poor Kate, whose more than life hangs on state policy; or is it for him these tears are shed?"
Still Elizabeth wept. Accustomed to the excess of self-restraint, timid, schooled to patience, but with the proud, fiery spirit of a, tamed, not dead within her, she could be silent, but not speak by halves. The very natural vivacity of her nature made her disdain not to have her will, when once it was awaked. She struggled against her rising feeling; she strove to suppress her emotion; but at last she spoke; and once again, after the ten years that had elapsed since her mother's imprisonment, truth was imaged by her words. To none could she have addressed herself better. The life of the Scottish princess had been spent in administering balm to wounded minds: the same soft eloquence, the same persuasive counsels, that took the sting of remorse from her royal cousin's conscience, was spent upon the long-hidden sorrows of the neglected wife, the humbled woman. From her own sensitive mind she culled the knowledge which taught her where and how peace and resignation were to be found. The piety that mingled with her talk was the religion of love; her philosophy was mere love; and it was the spirit of love, now kindling the balmy atmosphere of charity to many, now concentred in one point, but ever ready to soothe human suffering with its soft influence, that dwelt upon her lips, and modulated her silver voice. Elizabeth felt as if she had wandered long in a wolf-haunted wild, now suddenly changed to a fairy demesne, fresh and beautiful as poet's dream. Timidly she feared to set her untaught feet within the angel-guarded precincts. The first effect of her new friend's eloquence was to make her speak. After years of silence, to utter her very inner thoughts, her woman's fears, her repinings, her aversions, her lost hopes and affections crushed: she spent her bitterest words; but thus it was as if she emptied a silver chalice of its gall, to be refilled by Katherine with heavenly dew.
The weeks of baffled expectation grew into months. It is a dreary portion of our existence, when we set our hearts upon an object which recedes as we approach, and yet entices us on. The kings courtesy and smiles, and evident pleasure in her society, gave birth to warm hopes in the bosom of the princess. She had asked to share her husband's prison; she had besought to be permitted to see him; it seemed, from Henry's vague but consolatory answers, that to-morrow she would receive even more than her desires. The disappointment of the morrow, which she lamented bitterly at first, then grew into the root whence fresh hopes sprang again, to be felled by the cruel axe, again to shoot forth: the sickening sensation of despair crept over her sometimes; her very struggles to master it enfeebled her; and yet she did conquer all but the hard purposes of the tyrant. Now a messenger was to be despatched to Scotland; now he expected one thence; now an embassy from Burgundy: he implored her patience, and talked back the smiles into her saddened countenance. He was almost sincere at first, not in his excuses, but in his desire to please her at any sacrifice; but this disinterested wish grew soon into a mere grasping at self-gratification. In a little while he hoped she would be persuaded how vain it was to expect that he should set free so dangerous a rival: and yet he did not choose to extinguish all her anticipations; for perhaps then she would desire to return to her native country; and Henry would have sacrificed much to keep her where he could command her society. Thus he encouraged her friendship with the queen, though he wondered how one so wise, so full of reflection and reason as Katherine, could love his feeble-minded wife.
The king underrated the talents of Elizabeth. This hapless woman had perceived that contention was useless; she therefore conceded everything without a struggle. Her energies, spent upon endurance, made her real strength of mind seem tameness; but Katherine read with clearer eyes. We are all and each of us riddles, when unknown one to the other. The plain map of human powers and purposes, helps us not at all to thread the labyrinth each individual presents in his involution of feelings, desires, and capacities; and we must resemble, in quickness of feeling, instinctive sympathy, and warm benevolence, the lovely daughter of Huntley, before we can hope to judge rightly of the good and virtuous among our fellow-creatures.
The strangest sight of all was to see Henry act a lover's part. At first he was wholly subdued,
"So easy is t' appease the stormy wind
Of malice, in the calm of pleasant womankind."
Even generosity and magnanimity, disguises he sometimes wore the better to conceal his inborn littleness of soul, almost possessed him; for a moment he forgot his base exultation in crushing a foe, and for a moment dwelt with genuine pleasure on the reflection, that it was in his power to gratify her every wish, and to heap benefits on one so lovely and so true. When first she was presented to him, in all the calm majesty of her self-conquering mood, her stainless loveliness had such effect, that surely he could deny her nothing; and when she asked that no foul dishonour should be put upon her lord, he granted almost before she asked: his expressions of service and care were heartfelt; and she lost every fear as she listened. When custom, which, with man, is the devourer of holy enthusiasm, changed his purer feelings into something he dared not name, he continued to manifest the same feelings, which had bested him so well at first, and to angle with his prey. Though he scarcely knew what he wished, for a thousand worldly motives sufficed to check any dishonourable approach, it was enough that she was there; that, when she saw him, her countenance lighted up with pleasure; that with the sweetest grace she addressed her entreaties to his ear; not in abrupt demands, but in such earnest prayer, such yielding again, to return with another and another argument; that often he thought, even if he had wished to concede, he would hold out a little longer, that still her sweet voice might address him, still her stately neck be bent imploring as she fixed her blue eyes on him.
It was very long before the artless girl suspected that he had any other intent but to consent at last to her supplications. As it was as easy to him to lure her on with a greater as a lesser hope, she even fancied that, under certain restrictions, York's freedom might be restored; and that with him, in some remote country, she might bless Tudor as a generous adversary. Elizabeth was afraid to discover the truth to her, for she also dreaded to lose her, and was afraid that, on the failure of her hopes, she would seek to return to Scotland; or at least seclude herself from her husband's jailer. Monina first awoke her to the truth. Monina, who had been to Brussels, to consult with the Duchess Margaret and Lady Brampton, and who came back full of projects for her friend's escape, heard with amazement and scorn the false lures held out by Henry; she impatiently put aside every inducement for delay, and with rash, but determined zeal, framed many a scheme for communicating with him, and contriving means for his flight.
He himself—the chained eagle—was sick at heart. No word—no breath—no hope! Had all forgotten him? Was he, yet living, erased from the lists of memory? Cut off from the beloved beings in whom he had confided, through their own act—no longer a part of their thoughts, their lives, themselves? Stood he alone in this miserable world, allied to it by hate only—the hate borne to him by his foe? Such gloomy misgivings were so alien to his nature, that they visited him as cruel iron torture visits soft human flesh. That she—the life of his life, should be false and cold! Each friend forgetful—Monina—Plantagenet—all—all! Oh, to stretch his quivering frame upon burning coals, had been to slumber on a bed of roses, in comparison with the agony these thoughts administered. His calmer moods, when he believed that, though tardy, they were true, were scarcely less painful. Then the real state of things grew more galling: the bluntness or silence of his keepers; their imperturbable or rude resistance to his questions; the certainty that if one answered graciously—that one he should see no more. Often he felt as if he could not endure his present position one hour longer. Fits of hope, meditations on escape, chequered his days; so that all was not so dark—but the transition from one emotion to another, each to end in blank despair, tasked his mercurial soul. Patience died within him—he might perish in the attempt, but he would be free.
Urged by Monina, by her own awakening fears, and above all by the keen burning desire of her heart, the Lady Katherine became very importunate with the crafty monarch to be permitted an interview with her lord. Henry was in no mood to grant her request: the thousand designs he had meditated to disgrace his victim, he had given up for her sake, because he would not refuse himself the pleasure of seeing her, and feared to behold aversion and horror mark an aspect hitherto all smiles towards him. The same fear, nurtured by the expressions of her tender affection, made him hesitate, ere he should endeavour to convince her that she had misallied herself to an impostor. Indeed, when at last he ventured to frame a speech bearing such a meaning, her answer told him, that if he could have changed the Royal York into base-born Perkin, the young and innocent wife would still cling to him to whom she had pledged her rows; to whom she had given himself; whose own, in Heaven's and her own eyes, she unalienably was. But now Henry, grown more callous as time elapsed, coined a new scheme, vile as his own soul: he resolved, by acting on her woman's fears, tenderness, and weakness, to make her the instrument of persuading her lord to some damning confession, that must stamp him as a deceiver for ever. This bright project animated him to fresh endeavours to please, and her with fresh hopes; yet he paused a little before he sought to execute it.
Winter crept on into spring, and spring ripened into summer, and still the various actors in this tragic drama were spending their lives, their every thought and heart's pulsation on one object. Richard had latterly received intimation that he would be permitted an interview with his beloved White Rose; and a week or two more were patiently endured with this expectation. Katherine each day believed, that en the morrow she should see him, whom now she conversed with only in her nightly dreams, and woke each morning to find him fled with them. Some change approached: Henry's promises became more clear in their expression; his assertions more peremptory: he would at last name his conditions, which she was to communicate to her lord; even Elizabeth almost dared to hope. Monina alone, deeply impressed with a belief in the malice of Tudor, was incredulous, and reluctantly yielded to Katherine's request to suspend yet a little while her plots.
Whitsuntide arrived, and Henry at last would decide. Thiswas to be spent at Shene: thither the royal family went, accompanied by the princess, who vanquished her disappointment at further delay, not to appear an ingrate to the fair-promising king. Indeed, in the secure hope she cherished of again seeing him who was her earthly paradise, she smiled through the very heart-gushing tears expectation caused to flow. On Whit Sunday she awoke, resolving to discard the heavy load of anticipated evil that involuntarily weighed at her heart. She knelt at mass, and fervently strove to resign her dearest wishes to the direction of her God; and yet that she should see him again soon—oh! how very soon,—filled her with such dizzy rapture, that her orisons were forgot midway—remembered, and turned to thanksgivings—till she recollected that still her hope was unfulfilled; and fear awoke, and with tears and prayer she again strove to ease her agitated heart.
That very night a thunder-storm roused her from slumber: with those unexplained emotions, which, in fateful periods, make so large a portion of our lives, she felt as if every clap spoke audibly some annunciation which she could not interpret: as if every lurid flash were sent to disclose a sight which yet she could not see. At length the rain ceased, the thunder grew distant, the lightning faint; a load was lifted from her soul; she slept, with the firm belief that on the morrow tidings, not all evil, would be brought from London.
Some tidings surely came. What they were she was not permitted to know. For the first time Henry made her a real prisoner; she was carefully guarded, and none were allowed to speak to her. Overwrought by her expectations, this seemed a frightful cruelty; and yet, where caution was used, there must be fear: her—his enemy feared—then good had occurred. She dared not permit her imagination to picture forth the thing which yet was for ever present to it; and, while all else were amazed to hear that York had escaped and fled, his lovely, anxious wife, cut off from communication with all, knew only that she alone was ignorant of what she would have given her life to learn.