IMPRISONMENT IN THE TOWER.
And bare, at once, Captivity displayed,
Stands scoffing through the never-opened gate;
Which nothing through its bars admits, save day
And tasteless food.
The Lady Katherine, no longer trusting the good intentions of the insolent tyrant, was eager to communicate with her royal cousin of Scotland, to urge him to save from death or disgrace, if not to effect the liberation of him to whom he had given her hand. The difficulty of finding a messenger was great. The queen, all amiable and sorrowing as she was, shrunk from any act, which, if discovered, would enrage the king. Where did Monina tarry while her friend was in this strait? Of all his sometime associates was there not one who would risk all to retard the last steps of fate. Since York's escape she had been so vigilantly guarded, that a thousand schemes she had formed for her own evasion proved abortive at their very outset.
Help was at length afforded her unexpectedly, when most depairing. Edmund Plantagenet stood before her—changed indeed from what he had been; she had not seen him since the siege of Exeter, where he was wounded; but slight was his bodily hurt in comparison to the death-blow his mind received.
Plantagenet was one of those concentrated characters, whose very outward show of softness and gentleness serves the more to force the texture of their souls to receive one indelible impression. He had passed a boyhood of visions, given up to mighty aspirations and engrossing reverie. His thoughts were stirring as the acts of others; his forest-school had so tutored him, that he could live in bodily repose, while his mind ruminated: he could be quickened to hope and fear, to lofty ambition, to generosity, and devoted courage, feeling in his heart the keenest impulses—while around him were the mute trees of the wild wood and pathless glades. He could be satisfied with such dreamy illusions; so that action with him was never the result of physical restlessness, nor of youthful emulation, nor of that stirring spirit of life which forces us to abhor repose. It flowed from an imperious sense of duty; it welled up from the very sources of his soul. Other men perform the various parts allotted to them, and yet are something else the while; as is the actor, even while he struts in the garb of royalty: but Edmund yielded himself wholly up, and was the mere creature of the thought within.
To be great and good—great from the good he should effect, was his boyhood's aspiration. It is probable that, if he had not been subjected to extraneous influence, he would have devoted himself to religion, and become a saint or martyr; for his all, his understanding, heart, and person, would have been given up to the holy cause he espoused. His being led to King Richard's tent, the night before the battle of Bosworth Field, gave a new and inextinguishable law to his life. Unknown duties were imposed. The first and dearest was, to redeem his father's soul from the guilt of murderous ambition, by elevating his injured nephew to his original greatness. He devoted himself to his cousin. Soon he learned to love Richard as the work of his own hands. He had reared his tender infancy; he had been his tutor in martial exercises, teaching him to curb the fiery steed, to wield the lance, and, more than all, to meet danger in the field fearlessly: to be honourable, brave, and kind. He had led him to war, and shielded him with his own body from the cruel Moor. If ever they were divided, his thoughts dwelt only the more carefully with him. Last, he had brought him from glorious combats in Spain, to conquer his ancestral kingdom, and set him up the rival of a powerful king—the mark of his vengeance.
It was all over. Edmund possessed no innate strength to rise from the blow; he was a mariner on the wide ocean, without compass or rudder. The universe had one central point for him; that was destroyed, and a total blank remained. York's first surrender visited him as a death-stroke; he struggled against it. Enfeebled by his wound, more by despair, he passed over to Ireland; there he expected to find friends of the White Rose; he found only enemies of Duke Perkin: men eager to exculpate themselves from the charges of ill faith or ingratitude, gladly adopted a phraseology, or a belief, that reduced to dust the golden glories of poor Edmund's idol. Perkin Warbeck! Oh thou flower of York! thou nursling of love, though child of calamity, is even thy bright name so to be tainted? Not by those immediately arrayed by self-interest against thee; but by, the vulgar crew, ever eager to crush the fallen. There was no hope in Ireland. Keating, the Prior of Kilmainham, was dead. The earl of Desmond was reconciled to the English government. Lord Barry had fled to Spain. The citizens of Cork were busy redeeming, by eager servility, their mayor's disloyalty.
Overcome by these sad changes, a malignant fever seized on Edmund: in addition to every other disappointment, he had the consciousness that his aid was necessary to his cousin: that his absence was probably misinterpreted by his friends as cowardly dereliction. York was calling on him in vain. Monina perhaps suspected his truth. Next to the sun of his life, the noble Richard, Monina lay nearest his heart. It was a mixture of many feelings; and even love, subdued by hopelessness, quickened them to greater intensity. As soon as he could rise from his couch, he directed his course to England. He arrived in London on the day of the duke of York's worst disgrace. It was reported to him as the gossip of the town: at the fatal word a mortal change seized upon his frame: his limbs were as if struck by palsy; his cheeks fell in; his hair grew white. On his arrival he had taken up his abode in a monastery in the habit of a poor pilgrim: the sage monks, who beheld his state, possessed no leech-craft to administer his cure: he lay with beating pulses and open eyes, while the work of the grave appeared already in operation against him: he wasted into a fleshless skeleton. And then another secret change came over him; he conquered death, and crawled forth, the ghost of what he was, into the hopeless world.
He contrived to gain admission to the princess. She did not recognize him, such was the pale disguise disease had put upon him. His voice, hollow as from a tomb, was altered; his dark, melancholy eyes, occupying too large a portion of his face, gleamed from under his streaked and wan brow. Yet his was a visit of comfort, for he could do her mission to Scotland, and invite the forgetful James to succour his friend and kinsman. Edmund listened eagerly to this proposal: a draught of soothing balm descended into his frame, with the thought that yet all was not lost. His physical energy almost returned: he hurried to depart—"How will you traverse this wide kingdom?" asked the lady. "Cannot the Adalid come as before, to aid and speed you on your way?"
"The Adalid is sailing on the far ocean sea," replied Plantagenet; "we are all as dead, in the eyes of De Faro and our Monina."
With a trace of his ancient warmth and sweetness, Edmund entered upon the gentle maiden's exculpation. He related that a poor fellow lay on the bed next his in the convent hospital, whom he recognized to be an Irishman, who had escaped from Waterford, and sailed with them in the Adalid to Cornwall. From him he heard the tale of what had befallen De Faro and his child. He heard how the mariner had long haunted the English coast waiting for an opportunity to carry off the prince; of the fatal night, when snatching his daughter from the watery peril, he saw Richard, as he believed, perish in the waves. What more had the Moorish mariner and his daughter to do with this miserable, guilty island? He called his men together; he told them his resolve finally to quit the eastern world for the golden islands of the west, inviting those who were averse to the voyage to go on shore at once, before the fair wind that was rising should hurry them into the open sea. The poor Irishman alone desired to land: before he went he saw the Spanish damsel; he described her as calm and mild, though there was something unearthly in her gleaming eyes and in the solemn tone of her voice. "If," she said, "you meet any of our friends, any who ask for De Faro and his daughter, if you see Lady Brampton, Lord Barry, or Sir Edmund Plantagenet, tell them that Monina lives, that she tarries with her father, and tasks herself to be his comfort and support. We seek the Western Indies; well may it betide us that we never reach the unknown strand; or we may be cast away in an uninhabited solitude, where my care and companionship may stead my dear father much; or I may teach the sacred truths of our religion to the wild Indians, and speak the dear name of Christ to the unbaptized of those wilds; or soften, as best I may, the cruel Spaniard, and save the devoted people from their barbarity. Tell them, whichever way I look, I perceive a thousand duties to which our great Taskmaster calls me, and these I live to fulfil, if so my feeble body will permit; tell them that my only hope is death; that, and that by my obedience to the Almighty will, I may partly merit to join in Paradise the earthly angel who now survives there."
Tears choked further speech; she imprinted her words by a gift of gold. The boat which had been hailed, came alongside. The man on board, the sails of the Adalid swelled proudly in the gale; the little caravel ran lightly along on the top of the roughening waters. In less than two hours she was out of sight, speeding swiftly over the sea towards the wild western ocean.
Plantagenet departed; and the princess was yet more cheered when she found that no further injury 'was meditated against her lord. Imprisonment in the Tower was his sole punishment. Her pure, gentle mind could not divine the full extent of King Henry's villany, nor guess how he undermined the edifice he claimed praise for not levelling with the ground.
Nor could her resigned, patient, feminine spirit conceive the cruel, biting impatience of his lot that York endured. He had yielded at first to the overwhelming sense of disgrace, and felt that last, worst emotion of the injured, which answers the internal question, "What have I done so to be visited?" in the poet's words,—
"I cannot charge
My memory with much save sorrow—but
I have been so beyond the common lot
Chastened and visited, I needs must think
That I was wicked."
But soon his eager, eagle spirit spurned the tame debasing thought: he resolved again to struggle, and at last to conquer; the fire burned brighter for its short smouldering; almost with a light heart he laughed, as he resolved again to endeavour.
His prison life was more than irksome; it was unendurable. No change, which is the soul of enjoyment, varied it. No sympathy, the parent of content, came anear. In his young days he had trod on the verge of life's wave, watching it recede, and fancying that it would discover glittering treasures as it retreated into the ocean of eternity: now the tide ebbed sullenly; the barren sands grew dark; and the expanse before afforded no hope—what was to be done?
He was in the Tower, whence he had twice escaped; where the earl of Warwick was immured, pining in fruitless vegetation, rather than living. Should he do as he had done, and become a cipher, a forgotten prisoner, a mere thing to wake and sleep, and be as nothing? The very dog that guards a cottage-door from nightly harm had more dignity and purpose in his life than this victim of ambition. The bird that alighted on the sill of his iron-barred casement, and carried off a crumb for her nestlings, was an emblem of utility and freedom in comparison, which Warwick, cut off from all, must weep to mark. How different was Richard's fate; he had dear friends ready to risk all for him, whose life's sacrifice he could repay only by being true to himself; he had a wife, wedded to him in youth's early flower, whose happiness was unalterably linked to his. He had courage, fortitude, energy; he would not cast these gifts away, a thankless boon: he valued them at their price: if death crowned his efforts, it were well; he was a mere toy in the hands of God, and he submitted; but as a man, he was ready to cope with men, and though defeated never to be vanquished. Not a month after his removal to the Tower he had observed his facilities, marked his instruments, and resolved to enter on his schemes: they were quickened by other circumstances.
Warwick heard of his cousin's arrival; and he believed this to be the signal of his own deliverance. His first chief desire was to have communication with him. Among his attendants there was one to whom he could apply; he was a lank, tall fellow, with little understanding and but one idea—gratitude to the duke of Clarence. This man, called Roger, and nicknamed Long Roger, his length being his chief distinction, had been very poor, and burthened besides with several infant children: accidents and a bad season brought them to the verge of starvation, when a chance threw him in the way of the duke of Clarence, who got him made servitor in the Tower. When this unfortunate prince was imprisoned within its fatal walls. Long Roger underwent a thousand perils to wait on him by stealth, and to do what service he might. Long Roger had a prodigious appetite, and his chief delight was to smuggle dainties, cooked by his Madge, into the prison chamber of the duke. The manner of Clarence's death, which Roger affirmed to accord with the popular tradition, alone consoled the faithful sympathizing fellow. Now he had turned the key for thirteen years on the duke's hapless son: in spite of his watchful care and proffered cates, he had seen the poor youth dwindle to a skeleton, when suddenly the progress of delay was checked by Our Lady: it was a miracle to see Lord Edward grow fat and comely to look upon, changing his woe-begone looks into gracious smiles: by the mass, there was witchcraft in it! Warwick often thanked Long Roger, and told him what he would do when restored to freedom and rank: which will never be, Roger said, except among the saints in Paradise; unless it pleased God to remove his majesty, when my lady the queen should fully know how fervently her cousin prayed for her; and, forsooth, with sweet prince Arthur, his royal mother would be all powerful. Long Roger's visions went not beyond. He never imagined the possibility of effecting the earl's escape; his limited understanding suggested no relief, save a bottle of Canary, or bunches of white roses in June, which in fact was Dame Madge's feminine idea; and often had the simple flowers soothed Warwick's care. To this man the poor prisoner applied, to enable him to see and converse with the newly arrived Richard: two are better than one to a feast; and, the next time Roger meditated a dainty supper for his lord, he resolved to endeavour that York should partake it with him as a guest.
In his own guileless way, the simple-hearted man began to practise on and bribe one of his fellows, without whom it had been difficult to accomplish his desire. Abel Blewet had lately been appointed to his service: he was nearly a dwarf, with bushy eyebrows and red hair: there was something of ill omen in his physiognomy, but as the tall yeoman looked over the head of his comrade, his courage rose: "The whipper-snapper could not rebuff me," he thought, as he drew himself up to his full height, and began to propound the mighty deed of conducting Perkin by mistake to the Lord Edward's chamber, on his return from vespers. Roger paused suddenly; for, in spite of his stature, he was appalled by the glance Blewet shot up from under his penthouses of brows: still he gave a willing assent, and even took upon himself the chief risk of the undertaking.
The following evening, while Richard was yet pondering how to commence his machinations, undecided, though resolved; and while he made up his mind not to betray his thoughts to the sinister-looking being before him, he was surprised to find that he was led through an unaccustomed gallery; and still more on entering the chamber into which he was introduced, to recognise it as that where he had unexpectedly found refuge during his last visit to the Tower, and to perceive that Warwick himself was there expecting him.
Was this the thin, wasted being he had seen three years before? Had Warwick been then set free to hunt upon the hills, he had not regained more flesh and bloom than now that hope had been his only medicine. His cousin York had inspired him with marvellous confidence; his last entrance into the formidable Tower, and his speedy exit, had appeared a miracle to the poor earl, to whom these high walls and sad chambers formed a world, from which, as from the larger one, death only promised egress. He had pined and wasted in his appetite to be free, to be without those gates, beyond that fosse and giant battlements that girded him in: these portentous, insuperable obstacles were mere cobweb chains to Richard. He had come in, he had departed, and all as easily, so Warwick thought, as the unregarded fly, that had perhaps flown from Westminster, from Elizabeth's chamber, to light upon his cheek. In all the subsequent tales of York's checks and overthrow, he smiled at the idea that one born to victory could be thus overcome. He laughed at the chains Henry had thrown over him; and his transfer to the Tower elated him with a firm belief that liberty was at hand. Dwelling on these thoughts, Warwick ceased to be the dead alive; he was cheerful, erect, elastic in his gait, his complexion glowed with health, while sickness lingered still on the cheek of the younger Plantagenet, and a more subdued spirit dwelt in his heart.
Long Roger beheld the cousins embrace: he heard the earl call him, named Perkin, his liege, and most dear kinsman: from that moment the opprobrious name was banished from Roger's lips: he was convinced of York's truth, and the Lord Edward's friend became an object of reverence and of love.