Our king he kept a false stewarde,
Sir Aldingar they him call;
A falser stewarde than he was one,
Served not in bower nor hall.
Whoever writes concerning the actions of the men of the olden time, must sadden the reader by details of war, descriptions of fields of battle, narrations of torture, imprisonment, and death. But here also we find records of high virtues and exalted deeds. It is at first sight strange that men whose trade was murder, who habitually wore offensive weapons, whose chief happiness was derived from the glory they acquired by inflicting misery on others, should be among those who live in our memories as examples of what is most graceful and excellent in human nature. Too great security destroys the spirit of manhood, while the habit of hazardous enterprise strengthens and exalts it. It was not because they destroyed others, that the warriors of old were famous for honour, courage, and fidelity; bub because, from some motive springing from the unselfish part of our nature, they exposed themselves to danger and to death.
It was at times such as these that friendship formed the chief solace of man's life. The thought of his lady-love supported the knight during his wanderings, and rewarded him on his return; but the society of his brothers in arms shortened the weary hours, and made peril pleasure. Death, the severer of hearts and destroyer of hope, is, in its actual visitation, the great evil of life—the ineffaceable blot, the tarnisher of the imagination's brightest hues; but if he never came, but only hovered, the anticipation of his advent might be looked upon as the refiner of our nature. To go out under the shadow of his dark banner, hand in hand, to encounter a thousand times his grim likeness; to travel on through unknown ways, during starless nights, through forests beset with enemies, over mountains, whose defiles hid him but to assure his aim; to meet him arrayed in his full panoply on the field of battle; to separate in danger; to meet on the verge of annihilation; and still, through every change, to reap joy, because every peril was mutual, every emotion shared, was a school for heroic friendship that does not now exist. In those times, also, man was closer linked with nature than now; and the sublimity of her creations exalted his imagination, and elevated his enthusiasm—dark woods, wild mountains, and the ocean's vast expanse, form a stage on which, when we act our parts, we feel that mightier natures than our own witness the scenes we present, and our hearts are subdued by awe to resignation.
Edmund Plantagenet, the forest-bred son of Richard the Third, the late companion of the illustrious Lincoln and gallant Lovel, lay long insensible on the field of battle, surrounded by the dead—he awoke from his swoon to the consciousness that they lay strewed around him dead, whom he had worshipped as heroes, loved as friends. Life became a thankless boon; willingly would he have closed his eyes, and bid his soul also go on her journey to the unknown land, to which almost all those to whom he had been linked during his past existence had preceded him. He was rescued by a charitable friar from this sad state—his wound was dressed—life, and with it liberty, restored to him. After some reflection, the first use he resolved to make of these gifts was to visit the young duke of York at Tournay.
Edmund's mind, without being enterprising, was full of latent energy, and contemplative enthusiasm. The love of virtue reigned paramount in it; nor could he conceive happiness unallied to some pursuit, whose origin was duty, whose aim was the good of others. His father, his ambition and his downfall, were perpetual subjects for reflection; to atone for the first and redeem the last, in the person of his nephew, became, in his idea, the only fitting end of his life, Fostering this sentiment, he speedily formed the determination of attaching himself to the exiled duke of York: first, to devote himself to the preserving and educating him during childhood—and secondly, to fight and die for him, when the time was ripe to assert his rights.
During his hazardous journey to Flanders, Edmund was supported by that glowing sensation which borrows the hues and sometimes the name of happiness; it was an ecstatic mood that soared above the meaner cares of life, and exalted him by the grandeur of his own ideas. Self-devotion is, while it can keep true to itself, the best source of human enjoyment: there is small alloy when we wholly banish our own wretched clinging individuality, in our entire sacrifice at the worshipped shrine. Edmund became aware of the value of his own life, as he planned how in future he should be the guardian and protector of his unfriended, peril-encircled orphan cousin. A religious sentiment of filial love also influenced him; for thus he could in some sort repair the wrongs committed by his father. There was much in Edmund's temperament that might have rendered him a mere dreamer. The baser ends of common men possessed no attractions for him; but a lofty purpose developed the best points of his character.
It was early dawn, when, a month after the battle of Stoke, Plautagenet, in pursuance of his design, arrived at the cottage of Madeline de Faro, where, under the lowly name of Perkin Warbeck, dwelt the noble scion of the house of York. It was a lovely spot—trees embowered the cot, roses bloomed in the garden, and jessamine and woodbine were twined round the porch. The morning breeze and rising sun filled the atmosphere with sweets. Already the cottagers were enjoying its fragrance, and Edmund, as he alighted, beheld the object of his journey—the fair-haired stripling prince and his protectress Madeline. Edmund was one-and-twenty, but his brow was more bent, his eye more thoughtful, his cheek more pale and sunk than befitted his age; it was only when he smiled that frankness displayed solemnity, and those who conversed with him were ever eager to call forth those smiles, which, like sunbeams that chase the shadows on a green hill-side, made darkness light. Confidence readily springs up between the open-hearted and good; and Edmund and the inhabitants of the cottage found no impediment to entire reliance on each other. Madeline was overjoyed that her young charge should find manly guardianship in his cousin, and mentioned how often her fears had been awakened on his account, and how suspicions Lad got abroad concerning him among the citizens of Tournay.
Madeline, the sister of the Fleming, John Warbeck, was married to a Spaniard in the service of Portugal In those days, just previous to the discovery of America by Columbus, while that illustrious man was offering his unesteemed services at Lisbon, the Portuguese were full of the spirit of enterprise and maritime adventure. Each year new vessels were sent southward along the unexplored shores of Africa, to discover beyond the torrid zone a route to India. Hernan de Faro was a mariner—it was during one of his voyages to Holland that he had seen and married Madeline, and he left her in her native country, while he pursued his fortunes down the Golden Coast as far as the Cape of Good Hope. He had been absent longer than she had anticipated, and each day might bring the wanderer back, when he purposed taking her with him to his native Spain. What, then, must become of Richard? Plantagenet saw at once the necessity of visiting the court of Burgundy, and of placing her nephew at the disposition of the Duchess Margaret.
The young prince was now fourteen—he had shot up in height beyond his years, beautiful in his boyhood, and of greater promise for the future. His clear blue laughing eyes—his clustering auburn hair—his cheeks, whose rosy hue contrasted with the milk-white of his brow—his tall and slender but agile person, would have introduced him to notice among a crowd of strangers.
His very youthful voice was attuned to sweetness. If Edmund found the Lady Margaret lukewarm, he need only lead the noble boy into her presence to interest her in his favour. Richard heard with tearful eyes of the imprisonment of his mother, and the slaughter of his kinsmen and friends. His heart for the moment desired vengeance; he would himself seek his aunt of Burgundy, and aided by her, attack the usurper. With difficulty he permitted his cousin to depart alone; but he was obliged to yield, and Plantagenet set out for Brussels, promising a speedy return.
About a week after Edmund's departure, another visitor arrived at the cottage of the exile. A violent storm had overtaken Duke Richard and his constant companion, Madeline's daughter, in one of their wanderings in the fields near Tournay. As they stood for shelter under a half-ruined building, a traveller came to share the asylum. He was a Frenchman—a Provençal by his accent; for he immediately entered into conversation with them. As he is a man spoken of in the Chronicles, he shall receive his name at once; this apparently chance-traveller was Frion, Stephen Frion, King Henry's secretary. He had been employed to search out the young prince by such tokens as Richard Simon had given, and chance had caused him to fall in with Edmund, whom he had before remarked in attendance on the earl of Lincoln. Easily guessing that Edmund's journey might have connection with his own, he tracked him to Tournay, and then by some untoward chance lost sight of him. The indefatigable spy had spent the last week in a particular survey of every spot round the town and in the neighbouring cities, to discover his lost clue. Overtaken by a storm on his return from Lisle, he suddenly found himself under a shed with a youth whose appearance at once excited his strongest curiosity.
What Frion loved beyond all other things was power and craft. He had been a subject of the poetical King René of Provence; but, despatched on some occasion to Louis the Eleventh, he entered into the service of that monarch, whose subtlety and faithlessness were a school of wisdom to this man. On one subject did he love to dwell—the contrast between Charles of Burgundy and Louis of France; the first commencing his reign by combating and vanquishing the latter, and dying miserably at last by a traitor's hand, his armies cut to pieces, his domains the unresisting prey of his rival; while Louis, by serpent ways, by words—not deeds—gained every point, won every follower, and established his rule at last over the greater part of the wide territories of the fallen duke. In a minor way Frion aimed at imitating Louis; but he was naturally more fiery and rash. He had visited Italy also, and studied there the wiles and cruelties of the Italian lords; crossing back to Marseilles, he had been seized by corsairs and carried to Africa:—here he put in practice some of his lessons, and contrived to make himself a favourite with his Mahometan master, who afterwards crossed to Spain to serve under the Moorish king of Granada. Frion was quickly distinguished for his sagacity in the divided counsels of this distracted kingdom, and became the trusty adviser of him called Boabdil el Chico. When this unfortunate sovereign was taken prisoner by the Spaniards, Frion was a chief mediator between them and the Sultana Ayza. At the court of Ferdinand and Isabella he met several Frenchmen, who awakened in his heart a keen desire to revisit his native country. He took advantage of an embassy thither from the court of Spain, to fulfil his wishes, but arrived at Plessis only in time to witness Louis' death. Two years afterwards he was found in the train of the earl of Richmond—the future secretary, spy, and favourite of Henry the Seventh—now travelling by his order to find, seize, or destroy, the last blossom of the uprooted White Rose.
Frion was rather handsome in appearance, with bright black eyes and dark hair, a complexion embrowned by the sun, a look of gaiety—unless when controlled by the will of a superior, he was always laughing—a quiet kind of sarcastic laugh; he looked not the man Cæsar would have feared, except that his person was rather inclined to leanness; but he was active and well versed in martial exercises, though better in clerkly accomplishments. His early youth had been chiefly employed in copying poetry for King René—he wrote beautifully, and his small white hands were the objects of his own very great admiration. Such was his outward look; he had stores of science and knowledge within, which he seldom displayed, or, when necessary, let appear with all the modesty of one who deemed such acquirements were of little worth—useful sometimes, but fitter for a servitor than his lord. No words could describe his wiliness, his power of being all things to all men, his flattery, his knowledge of human nature, his unparalleled artifice, which, if it could be described, would not have been the perfect thing it was: it was not silken, it was not glossy, but it wound its way unerringly. Could it fail—the rage and vengeance to follow were as certain as dire, for, next to love of power, vanity ruled this man; all he did was right and good, other pursuits contemptible and useless.
Such was the serpent-spirited man who contrived to partake Richard's shelter; he eyed him keenly, he addressed him, and the prince replied to his questions about an asylum for the night, by a courteous invitation to his home. "The boy speaks not like a cotter: his eye beams with nobleness. What a freak of nature, to make one in appearance a king's son, the plodding offspring of a rude Fleming!" As these thoughts passed through Frion's mind, the truth came not across him; and he even hesitated for a moment whether he should not, now the storm had passed, pursue his way: but his garments were wet, the ways miry, night at hand. At a second thought he accepted the invitation, and leading his horse, he accompanied the youthful pair to their cottage home.
Madeline, unsuspicious of one obviously a Frenchman, received him without fear, and after a fire had dried the visitor's dress, they sat down to a frugal supper. Frion, according to his usual manner, strove to please his hosts. His gay discourse, the laughable, yet interesting accounts he gave of various adventures that had befallen him, made all three—the fair Madeline the ardent princely boy, and the dark-eyed daughter of de Faro—sit in chained attention. When he heard that Madeline was united to a Spaniard, he spoke of Spain, of Granada and the Moorish wars; Richard's eyes flashed, and the dark orbs of the girl dilated with wonder and delight.
At length he spoke of England, and his words implied that he had lately come thence. "How fares the poor island?" asked the youth; "such stories of its tyrant reach us here, that methinks its fields must be barren, its people few."
"Had you been my comrade, young master, through merry Kent," said Frion, "you would speak in another strain. Plenty and comfort, thanks to King Harry and the Red Rose, flourish there. The earth is rich in corn, the green fields peopled with fat kine, such as delight yon islanders. 'Give an Englishman beef and mustard,' says our French proverb, 'and he is happy;' they will find dearth of neither, while the sage Henry lives, and is victorious."
"Yet we are told here," cried the youth, "that this Welsh earl, whom you call king, grinds the poor people he has vanquished to the dust, making them lament him they named Crookback, who, though an usurper, was a munificent sovereign."
These words from a Fleming or a Frenchman sounded strange to Frion; the doubt, which he wondered had not before presented itself, now came full-fledged, and changed at its birth to certainty; yet, as the angler plays with the hooked fish, he replied, "I, a stranger in the land, saw its fair broad fields, and thought their cultivators prosperous; I heard that the king was victorious over his foes, and deemed his subjects happy. Yet, I bethink me, murmurs were abroad, of taxes and impositions. They spoke, with regret, of the White Rose, and scowled when they said that Elizabeth of York was rather a handmaiden in her husband's palace, than queen of fertile England."
"Now, were I an English knight, with golden spurs," said the stripling, "I would challenge to mortal combat that recreant Tudor, and force him to raise fair Elizabeth to her fitting elevation: woe the while, all England's good knights are slain, and the noble Lincoln, the last and best of all, has perished!"
"You speak unwisely and unknowingly, of things you wot not of," said Madeline, alarmed at the meaning glance of Frion; "good nephew Perkin, your eyes see not even the English white cliffs, much less can your mind understand its dangerous policy."
"Nay, dear mother," remarked her little daughter, "you have told me that the noble earl and the good Lord Lovel had been kind guardians to my cousin Peterkin: you chid him not when he wept their death, and you may suffer him to reproach their foe."
"I know nothing of these lords," said Frion, "whose names are a stumbling-block to a Frenchman's tongue. But methinks it is well for us that they aim at each other's hearts, and make booty of their own provender, no longer desolating the gay fields of France with their iron hoofs."
And now, since that he bad found him whom he sought, Frion talked again of other matters, and, as before, his smooth and gay discourse gained him pleased auditors. At length, the peaceful cottagers retired to rest, and Frion sunk to sleep under their hospitable roof, after he had thought of various plans by which he might possess himself of the prince's person;—the readiest and safest way was to entice him to accompany him alone some little space, no matter how short: he trusted to his own skill to draw him still further and further on, till he should be put on board the boat that would ferry him to his own revolted England.