The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 53
DEATH OF CLIFFORD.
Your love and pity doth the impression fill,
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'erskreen my bad—my good allow?
On the fourth day of her restraint, imprisonment it could hardly be called. Lady Katherine was brought up to Westminster; she was carried in a close litter, and no familiar face or accustomed attendant came near. Her anxiety, her anguish weighed intolerably upon her—sleep had not visited her eyes; she lived in perpetual terror that each sound was freighted with fatal tidings. It was in vain that even reason bade her nourish hope—a stronger power than reason dwelt in her heart, turning all its yearnings to despair.
As she approached the city, she thought each step must reveal the truth of what she was to suffer. Lo! the palace was entered—her habitual chamber—silence and solitude alone manifested that some change was even now in its effect; she had no tear? to spend upon her grief; her changing colour, her quickened respiration showed that every faculty was possessed by terror. Two hours, each minute stretched to a long, long century,—two hours passed, when a little scroll was delivered to her; it came from the queen, and contained these words, "My White Rose! the tempest has past—leaving, alas! devastation: we yet remain to each other—come——"
These expressions spoke the worst to her fear-stricken mind—no subsequent agony might ever compare to the pang that made her very life-blood pause in her failing heart at that moment. Had the present and the future become void for him, to whom she was wedded heart and soul?—wedded in youth, when our hopes stretch themselves not merely to to-day and to-morrow, but even to eternity. In this state of human woe, we do not describe the disheartening and carking sorrows of those who lag on life's highway—but the swift, poignant, intolerable agonies of the young, to whom the aspiration for happiness is a condition of being. The queen had been accustomed to witness and admire Katherine's self-command and quiet fortitude; she was awe-struck on beholding the devastation of the last four days, and the expression of wild horror on her soft features. With feminine instinct she read her heart, her first words were, "Sweet love, he lives—and he will live—his life is spared, and we may still hope."
Tears at last flowed from the mourner's eyes, as she asked, "What then will be his fate?—Shall I ever see him more?"
"How can we guess the hidden purposes of the king? By your enforced solitude you have escaped his scowling brow, his violence, his sarcasms; again he smiles. My gentle Kate, my sweet, courageous sufferer, hitherto we have played with the lion's fangs—they are unsheathed in anger now—let us prepare: he will be here anon."
The princess desired not to exhibit too humiliating a spectacle of misery to her cruel foe—she checked her weeping—she endeavoured to forget the burning agony that tortured her beating heart. "Let him but live; let me but once more see him;" and the unbidden tears flowed again. The king soon broke in upon them; his look was haughty even to insolence: an expression of vulgar triumph was in his eyes, that baffled the eager scanning gaze of the hapless princess. He said, scoffingly (and was it in man's nature, or only in Henry's, to look on the sad, but lovely countenance of his victim, and to mock her woe?), "We congratulate you, lady, on the return of the gentle Perkin to our good city of Westminster—do not weep—he is in safe keeping now, very safe—it is no feathered shoe our Mercury wears this day."
"Holy Virgin!" cried Katherine, "your grace does not surely mean——"
"Fear not—he lives," continued Henry, his scorn growing more bitter as he spoke; "he lives, and shall live, till the White Rose acknowledge on what base stock she is grafted, or he twist the rope by some new sleight. Is Perkin's honoured dame satisfied?"
"Oh, no, no, no; some covert meaning you have; in pity for a woman, speak." The agony her countenance expressed was the mute echo of the frightful idea that convulsed her frame. "Oh, let me see him! you have tormented me too cruelly; even if my worst fears prove true, he suffers not more than I; and can it be that the young limbs of my own loved Richard are put to torture!"
Elizabeth, grew ashy white; the king listened with a sarcastic smile, saying, "I had not thought of that; you are a silly girl to mention such things."
"I do not believe you," exclaimed the princess, "your looks belie your words; let me but see him afar off, let me catch a glimpse of my princely love—is he in the Tower?"
"Neither the Tower, nor any royal palace, detains your lord; he is taking the air, pleasantly I hope, in the high places of our town. To finish this war of words, and your incredulity, will you visit your prince of plotters, and behold him on whom the king of Scotland bestowed your virgin hand?"
"See him! Oh, even in death to clasp his decaying limbs were better than this absence!"
An indefinable expression passed over Henry's countenance as he replied, "Be it as you wish; you must hasten, for in an hour the occasion will be past; it is but a few steps; you shall be attended."
At last she was to see him; this assurance filled and satisfied her; there was no place in her heart for any other thought, sinister as were her torturer's looks. Her eyes grew bright, her cheek resumed its vermeil tint, never had she looked more lovely; it was a dazzling beauty; one of those ineffable expressions, which, unless language could express music, or painting image fire, it is in vain to attempt to describe: an irradiation of love passed over her countenance; her form; something like it dwells in Raphael's Madonnas and Guido's Angel of Annunciation,—Henry was awestruck, yet did not falter in his purpose; he let the bright angel go forth on her mission of good and love, to meet on her way a sight fiends might rejoice over. Human life and human nature are, alas! a dread, inexplicable web of suffering and of infliction.
In Westminster, in sight of the abbey where his ancestors had been crowned kings, the spectacle, intended to be so opprobrious, was set forth. Henry, in his angry fear on his escape, in his exultation at his re-capture, forgot the soft tyranny of Katherine's looks; or rather he despised himself for the obedience he had yielded to them; and, in the true spirit of baseness, was glad to revenge on her the ill effects that had resulted to him through his involuntary enslavement. It was a triumph to him to disgrace the object of her care, for he was ill-read, his understanding affording him no key to the unknown language, in that illuminated page of the history of feminine excellence, which tells the delight she feels in exhausting her treasures of devoted love on the fallen, because they need it most: he believed, that to present her husband to her, under the very infliction of ignominy, would turn her affection to cold disdain—he permitted her to go. Attended by some of the body-guard and a gentleman usher, she hastened through the courts of the palace into the open square: there was assembled a crowd of common people, hushed to universal silence: at a distance from the centre some were talking aloud, and the name of "Perkin" was the burthen of their speech; but pity stilled those nearest to the spot, towards which, to the surprise and horror of all, she hastened. The crowd instinctively closed to bar her advance; and, when forced to make way, in spite of the despotism of the times, the word "Shame" burst from the lips of many, especially the women. She was agitated by the obstacles, by the numerous uncourtly eyes turned on her; still she went on, and soon saw—
She understood not what—a kind of wooden machine, in which the lord of her heart sat. There had been a time when pride and royal majesty of soul had shed such grandeur over York, that, when exposed as a show, he had excited reverence, not scoffing. Now he was evidently labouring under great physical suffering; his brow was streaked with mortal paleness, his cheeks were colourless; his fair hair fell in disordered ringlets round his youthful but wan countenance; he leaned his head against the side of the machine: his eyes were half shut; it was not shame, but suffering, that weighed upon their lids, and diffused an air of languor and pain over his whole person. Katherine hastened towards him, she knelt on the unworthy earth at his side, she kissed his chained hands. "You are ill, my love; my ever dear Richard, what has happened? for you are very ill."
Roused by such music from the lethargy that oppressed him, yet still overcome, he replied, "Yes; and I do believe that all will soon end, and that I am stricken to the death."
She grew pale; she called him cruel; asking him how he could dream of leaving her, who was a part of him, alone in the desolate world. "Because," he answered with a faint smile, "the world is kind to all, save me. No taint, dear love, attaches itself to your name; no ill will mark your fate, when you are no longer linked to such a thing as I. God has spoken, and told me that this earth is no dwelling for one, who, from his cradle to this last shame, has been fortune's step-child, and her despised toy. How often have I been dragged to the utmost verge of life: I have felt indignation, anger, despair; now I am resigned; I feel the hand of the Mighty One on me, and I bow to it. In very truth, I am subdued; I sleep away the weary hours, and death will end them all."
With every expression of tenderness, Katherine endeavoured to recall him to life and to herself. She spoke of another escape, which it would be her care to achieve, of the solitude, of the paradise of love they would enjoy together. "My poor girl," he replied, "teach your young heart to seek these blessings apart from me; I were the very wretch Tudor stigmatises me, could I live under a memory like this. Forget me, my White Rose; paint with gaudier colours the sickly emblem of my fortunes; forget that, duped by some strange forgery, you were wedded to—Perkin Warbeck."
In spite of himself, large drops gathered in his eyes, swelling the downcast lids, and then stealing down. Catherine kissed them from his cheek; a thousand times more noble, royal, god-like, she called him; had not the best and worthiest suffered ignominious punishment; even our blessed Lord himself? His own acknowledgment alone could disgrace him; he must recall the false words wrung from his agony; this last vile act of his enemy must awaken each sovereign on his throne to indignation; each would see in him a mirror of what might befall themselves, if fallen. James, her royal cousin, roused by her, should resent the stigma affixed to his kinsman.
"For your own sake, sweet, do so; my soul dying within me is alive again with indignation, to think that your plighted wedded love is he, who is exposed to contumely; but for that, methinks I would call myself by that wretched name I dared pronounce, so that the annals of the House of York escaped this stain: yet even thus I seem more closely allied to them; for violent death, treachery, and ill have waited on each descendant of Mortimer; my grandfather bore a paper crown in shame upon his kingly brow."
He was interrupted by the officer, who unclosed the instrument of disgrace. Richard, weak and failing, was assisted to rise; Katherine supported him as a young mother her feeble offspring; she twined her arms round him as his prop, and, in spite of misery, was enraptured once again to see, to hear, to touch him from whom she had been absent so long. "This is not well; it must not be; his majesty will be much displeased," said the chief of the guard, witnessing the compassion her tender care inspired. "You must return to the palace, lady."
"One little step," pleaded Katherine; "if I should never see him more, how should I curse your cruelty! I will not speak, as I half thought I would to these good people, to tell them that they may well honour him a princess loves: drag me not away yet—one more good-bye!—farewell, noble York, Kate's only love;—we meet again; this parting is but mockery."
She wept on his bosom; the sound of wailing arose in the crowd; the prince's eyes alone were dry; he whispered comfort to her; he promised to live, to baffle his foe again for her sake; the words revived her, and she saw him depart with hope, with new joy kindled in her bosom.
There had been another, the public gaze, till Katherine came to draw all eyes to a newer wonder. An emaciated, pale woman, in a garb of penury, who knelt, telling her beads, beside York's prison; her face was hid; but her hands were thin and white to ghastliness; during the last scene she had sobbed to agony, and now, as the place cleared, went her way silently, with slow, feeble steps. Many marked her with surprise and curiosity; few knew that she was the Jane Shore, whose broken heart whispered misery, as she thought that she beheld King Edward's guilt, in which she had shared, visited on his son. This cruel lesson of religion was a canker in her heart, and most true it was, as far as regarded her royal lover, that his light loves, and careless playing with sacred ties, had caused the blot of base birth to be aiSxed to his legitimate offspring, and so strewed the sad way that led them to untimely death.
Henry, cruel as he was, had not the courage to encounter his insulted prisoner on her return. Katherine's feelings were wrought too high for any display of passion; her anxiety was spent on how she could sooth York's wounded feelings, and restore his health: it were vain to ask, she feared; yet, if the king would permit her to attend on him, under whatever restrictions, they should be obeyed; and this while poor Elizabeth besought her pardon with tears, for being the wife of her insolent adversary. She, a proud Plantagenet, was more sorely stung than the White Rose, by the indignity offered to her house; and she entreated her not to love her brother less because of this foul disgrace. "So doing," said the quick-sighted queen, "you fulfil his dearest wish. While you are Richard's loving wife, he, even he, the fallen and humiliated, is an object of envy to his majesty, who sought, by making you witness his ignominy, to detach you from him."
"How strange a mistake," replied Katherine, "for one so sage as the king: the lower my sweet Richard falls, the more need he surely has of me. But that love, such as ours, knits us too indivisibly to admit a reciprocity of benefit, I should say that it is to make me rich indeed, to enable me to bestow, to lavish good on my lord; but we are one, and I but give to myself, and myself receive, if my weakness is of any strength to him. Dear sister mine, your liege, wise as he may be, is a tyro in our woman's lore—in the mysteries of devoted love; he never felt one inspiration of the mighty sprite."
This was not quite true. For some few days Henry had been so inspired; but love, an exotic in his heart, degenerated from being a fair, fragrant flower, into a wild, poisonous weed. Love, whose essence is the excess of sympathy, and consequently of self-abandonment and generosity, when it alights on an unworthy soil, appears there at first in all its native bloom, a very wonder even to the heart in which it has taken root. The cold, selfish, narrow-hearted Richmond was lulled to some slight forgetfulness of self, when first he was fascinated by Katherine, and he decked himself with ill-assorted virtues to merit her approbation. This lasted but a brief interval; the uncongenial clime in which the new plant grew, impregnated it with its own poison. Envy, arrogance, base desire to crush the fallen, were his natural propensities; and, when love refused to minister to these, it changed to something like hate in his bosom; it excited his desire to have power over her, if not for her good, then for her bane.
The duke of York was imprisoned in the Tower. No further measures were apparently in action against him. Katherine no longer hoped anything from her foe; and day and night there lay beneath her eyelids the image of Richard, wasting and dying in captivity. Something must be done, some aid afforded him; she was anxious also to learn the details of his flight, and how again he fell into the hands of his foe. Monina, who in a thousand disguises had been used to penetrate everywhere, was seen no more. Still public report informed her of many things.
It was known, that Sir Robert Clifford, the old spy and traitor of the White Rose, had become aware of the measures taken by York's adherents to insure his escape from England. He had followed him down the river, and by a knowledge of the signs and countersigns of the party, decoyed him into a boat that was to convey his victim back to his prison-house. The deceit was discovered, and a mortal struggle ensued on board the tiny bark; it sunk, and many perished, Clifford among the rest. On the morrow his body was found upon the beach, stiff and stark; a gaping wound in his neck showed that the waters alone had not been his foe; in his clenched hand he grasped a mass of golden hairs, severed by some sharp implement from the head to which they grew: as if nought else could liberate his enemy from his hold. There he lay, bold Robin Clifford, the dauntless, wily boy, hunted through life by his own fell passions, envy, cupidity, and libertinism; they had tracked him to this death; his falsehoods were now mute, his deceptions passed away; he could never more win by his smiles, or stab by his lying words; death alone had a share in him, death and the cold sands beneath which he was interred, leaving a name, the mark of scorn, the symbol of treachery.
They had struggled beneath the strangling waves, Richard and his adversary. The prince was wounded in the scuffle, and became enfeebled almost to insensibility before he could sever from his enemy's grasp the fair locks he clutched—he swam away, as well as he might, and, with the instinct of self-preservation, made for the shore—he forgot that England was a wide prison—he only strove to master the fate which beat him to the ground. He reached the sands—he sought the covert of some near underwood, and threw himself upon the earth in blind thankfulness; exhausted, almost inanimate, he lay there, given up only to the sense of repose, and safety from death, which visited his failing heart with a strange sense of pleasure.
The following morning was far advanced, before he could rouse himself from this lethargy. He looked upon the waters; but the Adalid was no more to be seen—he was quite alone; he needed succour, and none was afforded him. Well he knew that every field, lane, dingle, and copse swarmed with enemies, and he shuddered at the likelihood that unarmed, and weak as he was, he should fall into their hands. He desired to reach London again as his sole refuge; and he journeyed, as he hoped, towards it, all unknowing of the route. No way-worn traveller in savage lands, pursued by barbarous enemies, ever suffered more than the offspring of Edward the Fourth amidst the alienated fields of his paternal kingdom. Cold and rain succeeded to the pleasant summer weather:—during night he lay exposed to the tempests—during day he toiled on, his limbs benumbed, his heart wasted by hunger and fatigue; yet never, at the head of the Scottish chivalry, never in Burgundy or in England, did he feel more resolute not to submit, but, baffling fortune and his enemy's power, to save himself in spite of fate. He had wandered far inland, and knew not where he was—he had indeed passed beyond London, and got up as high as Barnes. It was the fourth day from that of his escape—he had tasted little food, and no strength remained in him, except that which gave energy to his purpose. He found himself on a wide, heathy common, studded with trees, or desolately open—the rainy day closed, and a bleak east wind swept over the plain, and curled the leaden-coloured waters of the river—his love of life, his determination not to yield, quailed before the physical miseries of his lot; for some few moments, he thought that he would lie down and die.
At this time another human figure appeared upon the scene. A Benedictine lay-brother, who, in the freedom of solitude, in defiance of wind and rain, trolled a ditty, fitter for a ruffling swaggerer's bonnet, than a monk's cowl. He started not a little, on perceiving our wanderer leaning against the scathed trunk of a solitary tree; nor less did he wonder when he recognized the fallen prince. It was Heron himself, the magnanimous mercer, who having effected his escape with a well-hoarded purse, contrived to introduce himself into the house of Bethlem, at Shene, which was called the Priory. He was a little frightened to perceive his ancient leader; but pity succeeded to fear; and with many fair words and persuasions he induced him to permit himself to be conducted to the Priory. There, since he believed himself to be dying, he might receive the last sacraments—there perhaps, for, some few minutes, he might again behold his Katherine.
Thus was the fugitive again led within the pale of his enemy's power. The prior, a man esteemed for holiness, did not delay to make his sovereign acquainted with the capture of his rival. His awe of Katherine having vanished, Henry was left at liberty to follow the ungenerous dictates of his grovelling spirit. Many a courtier, true man or false, counselled the death of the aspiring youth; and they praised their master's magnanimity, when he rejected this advice, and in lieu exposed him, whom he knew to be the descendant of a line of kings, to beggarly disgrace. Thus worn and weak, the ill-fated son of York was made a public spectacle of infamy. But Henry went a step too far; and, when he thrust the Scottish princess forward on the scene, he turnedto triumph.
He was not to die—but rather to pine out a miserable existence—or had the sage monarch any other scheme? The high-spirited prince was to be cooped up within the Tower—there, where the earl of Warwick wasted his wretched life. Did he imagine that the resolved and ardent soul of Richard would, on its revival, communicate a part of its energy to the son of Clarence, and that ere long they would be enveloped in one ruin? Some words had transpired that appeared to reveal such an intention; and his order to the lieutenant of the Tower, that, without permitting, he should connive at any covert intercourse between the two—his recommendation of a noted spy and hireling to a high trust, and the order this fellow had to bring each day intelligence to the palace from the prison—spoke loudly of some design; for Henry never did aught in vain. It was in circulation also among the lower officers in the fortress, that an attempt to escape was expected on the part of the prisoners, and that rich reward would attend its discovery.