Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not. Conscience is born of Love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
Time, we are told by all philosophers, is the sole medicine for grief. Yet there are immortal regrets which must endure while we exist. Those who have met with one, with whose every feeling and thought their thoughts and feelings were entwined, who knew of no divided past, nor could imagine a solitary futurity, to them what balm can time bring? Time, the giver of hours, months, and years, each one how barren, contemptible, and heavy to bear to the bereft!
There was no consolation for Katherine, which could make her for a moment forget that her present existence was but the lees of life, the spiritless remnants of a nectareous draught. But Katherine was gentle, good, and resigned; she lived on, dispensing pleasure, adored by all who approached her, and gladly hailing any visitation of happiness which might reach one whose affections were too fondly linked to the grave.
Years had passed since the last act of the sad tragedy which destroyed her dearest hopes. She accompanied the queen of England on a progress made by her, and they remained one night at Eastwell Place, the seat of Sir Thomas Moyle. There was a park, and stately pleasure-grounds belonging to the house, undulating uplands, shady copses, and sweet running brooks to diversify the scene. A crowd of the noble and the gay were there, and the royal party was unusually mirthful; fireworks, masks, and dances were employed; and ail joyously gave themselves up to the spirit of the hour. The chords of a harp, a well-known air, first awoke in the bosom of the White Rose that languid melancholy, so near allied to pleasure, so close a neighbour to pain. By degrees memory grew busy in her brain; she could no longer endure the laughter of her companions, their sallies, nay, nor their kindness; for Elizabeth perceived her dear friend's change of countenance, and was approaching, when Katherine, making her a sign not to remark her, stole away, and entering a straggling path, wandered on, struggling with the tears, which the beauty of the evening, and the very hilarity which just before she had shared, caused to gush warm and fast from her eyes.
She reached a little streamlet, and was passing forward, when she became aware of the presence of another in the scene. A labouring man, of middle age (but his hair was grey and flowed on his shoulders) was seated on the rustic masonry of a rude fountain, reading; he rose when he saw the lady, and doffed his hat; she, with the cordial sweetness that accompanied her slightest acts, gave him an evening benison. Her voice, her look, her cordial manner moved to its depths a heart lately hardened against her. As she passed on, the man followed hastily, "Lady!" he cried.
It struck the princess that this poor fellow had some request to prefer to his master, and that he wished to do it through her medium; she turned with a benevolent smile: "Can I do aught for you, good friend?"
His voice failed him; he stretched out his hand, which held his book, she took it: the tiny volume was no stranger to her eyes; as if a ghost had looked on her lonely watching, she trembled and grew pale, when she opened it, and saw written in fair characters, by a hand now dust, "La Rosa Blanca." The rustic knelt before her.
"Lady, queen!" he cried, "Sole relic of the unforgotten! is it thus that we meet?"
"My cousin Edmund!"
"Hush! breathe not even to the silent woods the unknown word. Fancy not that I am Plantagenet: for all that was of worth in him you name, died when the White Rose scattered its leaves upon the unworthy earth."
"Ah! would that we had all died in that hour," cried Katherine: "why, when the ungrateful world lost him, did not all the good and true die also, so that they might no longer suffer!"
Plantagenet cast a reproachful glance on her, as he said, "Happy indeed are those who die. O God! when I think of the many and the beloved, who, a few years ago, were alive around me, and among whose low silent graves I now walk alone, methinks I am dead; it is but the ghost of him you knew that lingers upon earth."
"Yes, they are all gone," said the princess; "all who linked me to the past, and were portions of my Richard's being. They are gone from before me. But are they truly no more, or do they live, like you, brooding over the lost, disdaining to communicate with one who lives but to remember them? Of the death of several I have heard; but often I have longed with bitterness to hear of you, and of the Spanish maiden, Monina de Faro."
"Her gentle soul," replied Edmund; "has flown to join him for whom she lived and died. It is now two years since I was assured of this. A friar, whom I had formerly well known, visited Lisbon; and I entreated him to inquire for De Faro and his child. The commander of the Adalid was almost forgotten; at last, an old sailor was found, who remembered that, some years before, he had sailed for the Western Indies, and was never heard of more."
"His daughter accompanied him?"
"In the churchyard of a convent, placed high among the foldings of those lovely hills which overlook Lisbon, he was shown an humble tomb, half defaced; her dear, sacred name is carved upon it, and half the date, the 14—, which showed that she died before the century began, in which we now live. She could not have survived our prince many months; probably she died before him, nor ever knew the worst pang of all, the ignominy linked with his beloved memory."
"And you, my kinsman, how long have you wedded penury and labour in this obscure disguise?"
"Penury and labour," said Plantagenet, "are not confined to the humble occupation I have adopted. I was made poor by the death-blow of my hopes; and my chief labour is to tame my heart to resignation to the will of God. Obscure you may indeed call my destination. Would I could shroud it in tenfold night! Dearer to me is the silence and loneliness of this spot, where I can for ever commune undisturbed with the past, than a pomp which is stained by the blood of him whom once I thought we all loved so well.
"When—oh, let me name not the frightful thing!—when he was gone for ever, the whole world was to me but one miserable tomb. I groped in darkness, misery my mate, eternal lamentation my sole delight. The first thing that brought peace to my soul, was the beauty of this visible universe. When God permitted, for some inscrutable purpose, moral evil to be showered so plentifully over us, he gave us a thousand resources out of ourselves in compensation. If I mingled with my fellow-creatures, how dearly should I miss him, who was single among men for goodness, wisdom, and heaven-born nobility of soul. My heart sickens at the evil things that usurp the shape of humanity, and dare deem themselves of the same species: I turn from all, loathing. But here there is no change, no falling-off, no loss of beauty and of good: these glades, these copses, the seasons' change and elemental ministrations, are for ever the same—the type of their Maker in glory and in good. The loveliness of earth saves me from despair: the Majesty of Heaven imparts aspiring hope. I bare my bosom to the breeze, and my wretched heart throbs less wildly. I drink in the balmy sweetness of the hour, and repose again on the goodness of my Creator.
"Yours is another existence, lady; you need the adulation of the crowd—the luxury of palaces; you purchase these, even by communing with the murderer of him who deserved a dearer recompense at your hands."
Katherine smiled sadly at these last words, which betrayed the thought that rankled in her kinsman's mind. "I thank you," she replied, "for your details. I will not blame you for the false judgment you pass on me. When years and quiet thought have brought you back from the tempest of emotion that shakes you, you will read my heart better, and know that it is still faithfully devoted to him I have lost."
"Ah! say those words again," cried Plantagenet, "and teach me to believe them. I would give my right hand to approve your conduct, to love and reverence you once again."
"Will you have patience with me then, while I strive to justify myself?"
"Oh, speak! My life, my soul's salvation, to hang upon your words."
Katherine raised her blue eyes to the now starry sky, as if to adjure that to be the witness of her innocent thoughts; and then she said, "We are all, dear cousin, impelled by our nature to make ourselves the central point of the universe. Even those, who as they fancy, sacrifice themselves for the love of God, do it more truly for love of themselves; and the followers of virtue too often see their duties through the obscure and deceptive medium which their own single, individual feelings create. Yet we have one unerring guide; one given us at our birth, and which He who died on the Cross for us, taught us to understand and to appreciate, commanding us to make it the master-law of our lives. Call it love, charity, or sympathy; it is the best, the angelic portion of us. It teaches us to feel pain at others' pain, joy in their joy. The more entirely we mingle our emotions with those of others, making our well or ill being depend on theirs, the more completely do we cast away selfishness, and approach the perfection of our nature.
"You are going to answer, perhaps to refute me—do not Remember I am a woman, with a woman's tutelage in my early years, a woman's education in the world, which is that of the heart—alas! for us—not of the head. I have no school-learning, no logic—but simply the voice of my own soul which speaks within me.
"I try to forget; you force me back upon myself. You attack; and you beseech me to defend myself. So to do, I must dwell upon the sentiments of a heart, which is human, and therefore faulty, but which has neither guile nor malice in it.
"In my father's house—and when I wandered with my beloved outcast, I had no difficulty in perceiving, nor—God was so gracious to me—in fulfilling my duties. For in childhood I was cherished and favoured by all; and when I became a wife, it was no wonder that I should love and idolize the most single-hearted, generous, and kindly being that ever trod the earth. To give myself away to him—to be a part of him—to feel that we were an harmonious one in this discordant world, was a happiness that falls to the lot of few:—defeat, chains, imprisonment—all these were but shows; the reality was deep in our hearts, invulnerable by any tyrant less remorseless than death. If this life were the sum and boundary our being, I had possessed the consummation and fulfilment of happiness.
"But we are taught to believe that our existence here is but the stepping-stone to another beyond, and that 'death is the beginning of life.' When we reach the summit of our desires, then we fall, and death comes to destroy. He was lost to me, my glory, and my good! Little could I avail to him now. The caresses, love, and watchful care, the obedience and the heart's sacrifice, of a poor thing who groped darkling upon earth, could avail nought to a spirit in Paradise. I was forced to feel that I was alone: and as to me, to love is to exist; so in that dark hour, in the gaspings of my agony, I felt that I must die, if for ever divided from him who possessed my affections.
"Years have passed since then. If grief kills us not, we kill it. Not that I cease to grieve; for each hour, revealing to me how excelling and matchless the being was who once was mine, but renews the pang with which I deplore my alien state upon earth. But such is God's will; I am doomed to a divided existence, and I submit. Meanwhile I am human; and human affections are the native, luxuriant growth of a heart whose weakness it is, too eagerly and too fondly, to seek objects on whom to expend its yearnings. My Richard's last act was to bestow me on his sister: it were impious to retract a gift made by the dying. We wept together—how long, and how bitterly!—the loss of our loved one; and then together we turned to fulfil our duties. She had children; they became as dear to me as to her. Margaret I cherish as the betrothed bride of my ever dear cousin, the king of Scotland; and, when I endeavour to foster the many virtues nature has implanted in the noble mind of Prince Arthur, I am fulfilling, methinks, a task grateful in the eyes of Richard, thus doing my part to bestow on the England he loved a sovereign who will repair the usurper's crimes, and bestow happiness on the realm.
"Nor is this all—despise me if you will, but I confess that I regard others among those with whom I associate, with a clinging affection that forbids me to separate myself from them. Did I not love the noble and good, even as he did, while Richard lived? Does he not now, in his heavenly abode, love them? and must my living heart be stone, because that dear form is dust which was the medium of my communication with his spirit? Where I see suffering, there I must bring my mite for its relief. We are not deities to bestow in impassive benevolence. We give, because we love—and the meshes of that sweet web, which mutual good offices and sympathy weave, entangle and enthral me, and force me to pain and pleasure, and to every variety of emotion which is the portion of those whom it holds within its folds.
"I quarrel not with—I admire—those who can be good and benovolent, and yet keep their hearts to themselves, the shrine of worship for God, a haven which no wind can enter. I am not one of these, and yet take no shame therefore: I feel my many weaknesses, and know that some of these form a part of my strength; the reviled part of our nature being a portion of that which elevates us to the godlike. My reason, my sense of duty, my conscientious observance of its dictates, you will set up as the better part; but I venerate also the freer impulses of our souls. My passions, my susceptible imagination, my faltering dependence on others, my clinging to the sense of joy—this makes an integral part of Katherine, nor the worst part of her. When my soul quits this 'bower of flesh,' these leaves and flowers, which are perhaps the growth of it, may decay and die. I know not; as it is, I am content to be an imperfect creature, so that I never lose the ennobling attribute of my species, the constant endeavour to be more perfect.
"I do not blame you, my cousin, for seeking repose in solitude after much endurance. But unquiet should I feel in the unreplying loneliness which forms your peace. I must love and be loved. I must feel that my dear and chosen friends are happier through me. When I have wandered out of myself in my endeavour to shed pleasure around, I must again return laden with the gathered sweets on which I feed and live. Permit this to be, unblamed—permit a heart whose sufferings have been, and are, so many and so bitter, to reap what joy it can from the strong necessity it feels to be sympathized with—to love."
- I do not know how far these concluding pages may be deemed superfluous: the character of the Lady Katherine Gordon is a favourite of mine, and yet many will be inclined to censure her abode in Henry the Seventh's court, and other acts of her after-life. I desired therefore that she should speak for herself, and show how her conduct, subsequent to her husband's death, was in accordance with the devotion and fidelity with which she attended his fortunes during his life.
- Richard was put to death in 1499.