Tempestuous Fortune hath spent all her spite,
And thrilling sorrow thrown his utmost dart
Thy sad tongue cannot tell more heavy plight
Than that I feel and harbour in my heart.
The morning of the first of November dawned: a cheery day. Men went to their usual works: the earth, despoiled of her summer garniture, yet bore the change with sober content; for the sun shone, and soft airs, despite the coming winter, lightly shook the scant and altered foliage of the woods:—
All rose to do the task He set to each,
Who shaped us to His ends, and not our own.
And many rose
Whose woe was such, that fear became desire.
Among such fate-hunted victims was the duke of York, Hope had died in his heart; and his few remaining days were only to be spent in celebrating her dark funeral. Morning opened its eyes on Prince Richard's dungeon, showing him vanquished by grievous overthrow and change. To look back through his tumultuous life, to dwell upon its chances, to think of the many who had suffered for him, were sad but fitting thoughts, to which he betook himself, till death became lovely in his eyes. But intermingled with such retrospection were other memories: his own sweet love was before him, in her tears or smiles; he looked into her dear eyes, he closed his own, and thrilling kisses pressed his burning lips, and soft, white arms were round him; at thought of such he grew impatient of his chains, and the fearful cutting off from all that awaited him. He began to calculate on the probability that his life would be spared, and grew cowardly the while; to feed upon those roseate lips, to drink life from those eyes, to clasp his beautiful, fond wife, feeling that beyond the circle of his arms nought existed worthy his desires, became a fierce, impatient hunger, to gratify which he would call himself impostor, give up fame and reputation, and become Perkin Warbeck in all men's eyes.
There was but one refuge from this battle of youth and life with the grim skeleton. With a strong effort he endeavoured to turn his attention from earth, its victor woes, and still more tyrant joys, to the heaven where alone his future lay. The struggle was difficult, but he effected it: prayer brought resignation, calm; so when his soul, still linked to his mortal frame, and slave to its instincts, again returned to earth, it was with milder wishes and subdued regrets. Monina's lovely form wandered into his mind; she was an angel now, a blessed spirit, he believed; for, what deceived her, deceived him; and he fancied that he alone had escaped from the watery perils of that night: she had arrived there, where he soon should be, in the serene immutability of eternal life; he began, in the revulsion of his thoughts, to pity those destined still to exist. Earth was a scathed planet, a roofless, shelterless home; a wild where the human soul wandered a little interval, tortured by sharp, cruel storms; lost in thorny, entangled brakes; weary repining, till the hour came when it could soar to its native birthplace, and find refuge from its ills in promised Paradise.
His cell was indeed the haven of peace, compared to the turbid, frightful atmosphere in which his Katherine lived. Edmund had not returned; every attempt she made to communicate with Scotland or Burgundy failed. She had passed a summer of wretchedness, nor could the tender attention of Elizabeth soothe her. In spite of all, the poor queen was almost happier than she had ever been; for many years she had been "the cannibal of her own heart," devouring her griefs in voiceless, friendless, solitude; her very joys, and they were those of maternity, were locked up in her own bosom. It was the birth of happiness to share her griefs with another; that other being so gentle, so wise, and yet so sensitive, as the fair White Rose, who concealed her own worst pains, to soothe those of one possessing less fortitude and fewer internal resources than herself. Yet, while thus she forgot herself, she never quitted in thought her Richard's side; since the day she had seen him delivered over to ignominious punishment, pale and ill, he was as it were stamped on every outward object, an image placed between her and her thoughts; for, while those were employed apparently on. many things, he, in truth, was their first, last, all-possessing idea, more engrossing than her own identity. At one time she spent every effort to obtain an interview with him in prison; and then she learned, through covert means, of the plots carrying on in the Tower for his escape, while the name of Warwick, mingling in the tale, roused the latent feelings of Elizabeth. When the last, worst hour came, it was less replete with pain than these miserable, unquiet days, and sleepless, tearful nights; the never-ending, still-beginning round of hours, spent in fear, doubt, and agonizing prayer.
After a restless night, the princess opened her eyes upon the day, and felt even the usual weight at her heavy foreboding heart increased. The tale was soon told of Richard's attempted escape and failure: "What can be done?" "Nothing; God has delivered the innocent into the hands of the cruel; the cruel, to whom mercy is as unknown as, methinks, it is even to the awful Power who rules our miserable lives." Such words, with a passionate burst of tears, burst from the timid Elizabeth, whose crushed and burning heart even arraigned the Deity for the agony she endured.
Katherine looked on her with sweet compassion, "Gentle one," she said, "what new spirit puts such strange speech into your mouth, whose murmurings heretofore were those of piety?"
"It is a bad world," continued the queen; "and, if I become bad in it, perchance I shall prosper, and have power to save: I have been too mild, too self-communing and self-condemning; and the frightful result is, that the sole being that ever loved me, perishes on the scaffold. Both will perish, my White Rose, doubt it not. Your own York, and my devoted only loved Edward. In his prison I have been his dream; he breaks it, not to find liberty again, but Elizabeth. Wretched boy! knows he not that he shall never again find her, who roamed with a free spirit the woodland glades, talking to him of the future, as of a scene painted to my will; faded, outworn, a degraded slave—I am not Elizabeth."
"Did you know the dearest truth of religion," replied Katherine, "you would feel that she, who has been tried, and come out pure, is a far nobler being than—"
"I am not pure, not innocent; much you mistake me," said the queen: "wicked, impious thoughts harbour in my heart, and pollute my soul, even beyond the hope of mediation. Sometimes I hate my beautiful children because they are his; sometimes in the dark hour of night, I renounce my nuptial vow, and lend ready, willing ear to fiendish whisperings which borrow Edward's voice. I court sleep, because he wanders into my dreams: and—what do I say, what am I revealing? Lady, judge me not: you married him you loved, fulfilling thus the best destiny that can be given in this hard world to woman, whose life is merely love. Though he perish in his youth, and you weep for him for ever, hug yourself in the blessed knowledge that your fate is bright as angels: for we reap celestial joys, when love and duty, twined in sisterly embrace, take up their abode together within us: and I—but Katherine, did you hear me?—They perish even as I speak: his cruel heart knows no touch of mercy, and they perish."
"They shall not, dearest," said York's White Rose; "it cannot be, that so foul a blot darken our whole lives. No; there are words and looks and tones that may persuade. Alas! were we more holy, surely a miracle might be vouchsafed, nor this Pharaoh harden his heart for ever."
All her love-laden soul beaming in her eyes, with a voice that even thrilled him, though it moved him not, the White Rose addressed Henry. She had yet to learn that a tyrant's smile is more fatal than his frown: he was all courtesy, for he was resolved, implacable; and she gathered hope from what proved to be the parent of despair. She spoke with so much energy, yet simplicity, in the cause of goodness, and urged so sweetly her debt of gratitude; telling him, how from the altar of their hearts, prayers would rise to the Eternal, fraught with blessings to him, that he encouraged her to go on, that still he might gaze on lineaments, which nobility of soul, the softest tenderness, and exalted belief in good, painted with angelic hues. At length he replied that his council were examining witnesses, that her cause depended on facts, on its own justice; that he hoped report had blackened the crimes of these rash men; for her sake he sincerely hoped their guilt, as it was detailed to him, had been exaggerated.
For a moment the princess was unaware what all this jargon might mean; his next words were more perspicuous. "Indeed, fair dame, you must forget this coil: if I consent, for the welfare of my kingdom, to sacrifice the queen's nearest relative, you also must resign yourself to a necessity from which there is no appeal. Hereafter you will perceive that you gain, instead of losing by an act of justice which you passionately call cruelty: it is mercy, heaven's mercy doubtless, that breaks the link between a royal princess and a baseborn impostor."
A sudden fear thrilled Katherine: "You cannot mean that he should die," she cried; "for your own sake, for your children's sake, on whom your sins will be visited, you cannot intend such murder: you dare not; for the whole world would rise against the unchristian king who sheds his kinsman's blood. All Europe, the secret hearts of those nearest to you, your own knowledge, all proclaim your victim, your rival—to be your brother, and will brand you a fratricide. You are Lancaster, your ancestors were kings, you conquered this realm in their name, and may reign over it in peace of conscience; but not so may you destroy the duke of York. His mother avouched him, the duchess of Burgundy acknowledges him; I was given to him by my royal cousin, as to one of equal rank, and he upholds him. More than all, his princely self declares the truth; nor can evil counsellors, nor false chroniclers, stand between you and heaven and the avenging world. You vainly seek to heap accusation on him you term Crookback's head: time will affix the worst indelible stain upon you. You cannot, will not slay him."
What were words to the fixed mind of Henry? A summer breeze, whispering round a tempest-withstanding watch-towers—he might grow chill at this echo of the fears his own heart spoke: but still he smiled, and his purpose was unshaken. It became known that the princes were to be arraigned for treason: first the unhappy, misnamed Perkin was tried, by the common courts, in Westminster Hall. When a despot gives up the execution of his revenge to the course of law, it is only because he wishes to get rid of passing the sentence of death upon his single authority, and to make the dread voice of misnamed justice, and its executors, the abettors of his crime.
When tragedy arrays itself in the formal robes of law, it becomes more heart-rending, more odious, than in any other guise. When sickness threatens to deprive us of one, round whom our heart-strings have twined—we think inextricably—the skill of man is our friend: if merciless tempest be the murderer, we feel that it obeys One whose ways are inscrutable, while we strive to believe that they are good. Groping in darkness, we teach our hearts the bitter lesson of resignation. Nor do we hate nor blame the wild winds and murderous waves, though they have drunk up a life more precious and more beloved than words have power to speak. But that man's authority should destroy the life of his fellow-man; that he who is powerful, should, for his own security and benefit, drive into the darksome void of the tomb one united to our sun-visited earth by ties of tenderness and love—one whose mind was the abode of honour and virtue; to know that the word of man could still bind to its earthly tabernacle the being, voice, looks, thoughts, affections of our all; and yet that the man of power unlocks the secret chamber, rifles it of all its treasures, and gives us, for the living mansion of the soul, a low, voiceless grave:—against such tyranny, the softest heart must rebel; nor scarcely could religion in its most powerful guise, the Catholic religion, which almost tore aside for its votaries the veil between time and eternity, teach submission to the victims.
Days flowed on. However replete with event, the past is but a point to us; however empty, the present pervades all things. And when that present is freighted with our whole futurity, it is as an adamantine chain binding us to the hour; there is no escape from its omnipotence and omnipresence; it is as the all-covering sky. We shut our eyes; the monster's hollow breath is on our cheek; we look on all sides: from each his horrid eyes glare on us; we would sleep; he whispers dreams. Are we intelligible? Will those possessed by present tell us whether any bondage, any Bastille, can suggest ideas of more frightful tyranny, misery, than the cruel present, which clings to us, and cannot be removed.
"It is so; he attempted to escape, and was discovered; he is low in his dungeon; his dear eyes are faint from disappointed hope. He will be tried. Tyranny will go forth in a masque, and with hideous antics fancy that she mantles with a decorous garb her blood-thirsty acts. He will be condemned; but he will not die! not die! Oh no, my Richard is immortal—he cannot die!"
"My royal cousin, when you gave me to my sweet love, and pledged your word that in weal or woe I should be his; and I promised myself still dearer things, to be the guardian angel and tutelar genius of his life; and took pleasure, fond, foolish girl that I was, in the anticipation of misfortunes that I should rob of all power to hurt; no thought, among the many that strayed into futurity, told me of this desertion, this impotence of effecting good. Alas! how deaf and cruel man is: I could more easily tear asunder his prison-walls with my hands, and break with my weak fingers his iron chains, than move one, as liable to suffer and to die as even his victim, to pity!"
Elizabeth listened pale and silent to these complaints—bitter as they were, they were hushed to more heart-rending silence when the hour of trial came—she should only pray to die, before the word that spoke his condemnation met her ear. Accustomed as a princess—a high-born and respected daughter of one most powerful, to be obeyed and served; to find herself destitute of all influence, seemed to place her in another planet—it was not men—not her fellow-creatures that were around her; but fiends who wore the mask of humanity. An uninhabited desert had not been more solitary than this populous land, whose language she possessed not; for what is language, if it reach not the heart and move it?
Richard, the wonder of the time, gathered courage as ill-fortune pressed more hardly upon him; in the hour of trial he did not quail, but stood in bold, fearless innocence before the men, whose thoughts were armed against his life. He was not guilty, he said, for he could not be guilty of treason. When the indictment was read which treated him as a foreigner and an alien, the spirit of the Plantagenet flashed from his eyes, and the very stony-hearted clerk, who read, casting his regards on him, faltered and stammered, overawed by a blaze of dignity, which, did we foster antique creeds, we might believe was shed over him by some such spirit as imparted divine majesty to the person of the king of Ithaca. Proudly and silently Richard listened to the evidence on his trial. It touched only on such points as would afterwards be most material for inculpation of poor Warwick. In the end he was asked what he had to plead, wherefore judgment should not pass upon him—but he was bid to be brief, and to beware not to use any language derogatory to the high and mighty prince Henry king of these realms. A smile curled his lips at this admonition, and with even a playful air he said, "My very good lord, I ask for nothing, save that a little mercy be extended to the memory of my gracious uncle, my lord of Gloucester, who was no child-murderer."
At the word he was interrupted, and sentence pronounced. As the ignominious words were said, Richard, who from the beginning had abstracted himself in prayer, so that his ears might be as little wounded as possible, by an unconquerable impulse put his hand where his sword might have been. Its absence and the clanking of his chains recalled him to the truth, and he muttered the words, "O basely murdered York!" in recollection of his unhappy grandfather, to whose miserable fate he often recurred, as an example of suffering and patience.
Thus ended the bitter scene; one he had long expected, for which he had nerved himself. During nearly the whole, his look was as if he were absent from it. But who could read the secrets of his heart, while his impassive eyes and lips were no index to the agonies that tortured it?