The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck/Chapter 9
Gilderoy was a bonnie boy,
Had roses tull his shoone;
His stockings were of silken soy,
With garters hanging doon.
It was a simple scheme, yet with the simple simplicity succeeds best. A new face and talk of distant lands had excited York beyond his wont. He could not rest during the long night, while the image of his disastrous fortunes haunted him like a ghost. "Were I the son of a falconer or hind," he thought, "I could don my breastplate, seize my good cross-bow, and away to the fight. Mewed up here with women, the very heart of a Plantagenet will fail, and I shall play the girl at the sight of blood. Wherefore tarries Sir Edmund, our gentle coz? If he be a true man, he shall lead me to danger and glory, and England, ere she own her king, shall be proud of her outcast child."
To a mind thus tempered—heated like iron in a smith's forge—Frion, on the morrow, played the crafty artisan, fashioning it to his will. He and the prince rose early, and the secretary prepared for immediate departure. As he hastily partook of a slight repast, he renewed the conversation of the preceding night, and like the Sultaness Scheherezade (perhaps he had heard of her device among the Moors), he got into the midst of the quarrels of El Zagal and El Chico, the kings of Granada, at the moment it was necessary for him to hasten away—"Good youth," said he, "I play the idle prater, while mine errand waits for me—lead me to the stable, and help me to saddle my nag; if you will serve me as a guide to Lisle, you will do a good deed, and I will reward it by finishing the strange history of the Moorish kings."
The horse was quickly in order for departure. "I will but say good day to ray kinswoman, and go with you," said Richard.
"That were idle," replied the secretary, "the sun has hardly peeped out from his eastern window, and dame Madeline and her dark-eyed daughter sleep; we kept them waking yesternight; they will scarce have risen ere you return."
The duke suffered himself to be persuaded—with his hand on the neck of the horse, he strode beside his tempter, listening to his cunning tales of Moorish ferocity and Christian valour. The walls of Lisle at length appeared—"Here we part," said the duke, who remembered the caution given him, never to enter these border towns, where the English nobles often resided for a space, and the appearance of the gallant stripling, and his close resemblance to other members of the princely house of York, might beget suspicion and danger.
"Wherefore this haste. Sir Perkin?" said Frion; "cooped up under a thatched roof from Lent to Shrovetide, methinks you should be glad to stretch your chain. I remain brief space in yonder walls; leave me not till I depart."
"Who told you I was cooped up?" said the prince, hastily; "if I am chained, the key of my fetters is in my own hand."
"Put it swiftly in the wards then, and cast away the heavy iron; come on with me, to where thou shalt ruffle bravely with satin-coated squires."
Frion judged his prize already won, and almost threw aside his usual caution. Richard liked not the expression his sharp black eye assumed, nor the wrinkling of his brow; he began to wonder what there had been in this man so to allure him into friendly converse; now that in a familiar tone he invited him to continue his companion, his haughty spirit revolted. "Good sir," said he, "I now have done a host's duty by you. I saved you from a storm, restored you to your road—yonder path, shaded by poplars, leads at once to the town's gate—farewell!"
"I am but an unmeet comrade for you, gay gentleman," said Frion; "pardon me if I have said aught unfitting the cottager of Tournay to hear. I now go to the noble knight, the Sire de Beverem, and I would fain have shown him what striplings these swamps breed; methought his gilt palace were fitter dwelling than yonder hut for one, who, if his face lie not, aspires to nobler acts than weeding a garden or opening a drain. Come, my lord,—how tript my tongue? but your eye is so lordly that the word came of itself—gentle youth, trust yourself with one, who loves to see the fiery youngster amid his mates, the gallant boy looked on with love and favour by the noble and valiant."
Prudence whispered to Richard that this was dangerous sport; pride told him that it were unfit, nameless, and ushered thus, to appear before the high-born; but thoughtless youth urged him on, and even as Frion spoke, at a quick pace they approached the town-gate. The Sire de Beverem too, whom the wily Frenchman named, had been favoured by Edward the Fourth, and was his guest in London—"Let the worst come, and it were well to have made such a friend. I will bear myself gallantly," thought York, "and win the good knight's smile; it may profit me hereafter. Now I shall see how the world goes, and if any new device or fashion have sprung up among our chivalry, that I may seem not quite untaught when I lead the sons of my father's friends to the field. Be it as you please," he said to his seducer, "before now my hand has grasped a foil, and I will not shame your introduction."
Frion went forward conning his part; he felt that his task was not so easy as he had imagined: the boy was wild as a bird, and so gave in to the lure; but, like a bird, he might away without warning, and speed back to his nest ere his wings were well limed. It was many miles to the coast: Frion's resolution had been hastily formed. The Lord Fitzwater, a partisan of Henry, was then sojourning at Lisle. He had been to Brussels, and on his return towards Calais a sickness had seized him, which forced him to remain some weeks under the roof of the Sire de Beverem; he was recovering now, and on the eve of his departure; without confiding the whole secret to him, the papers and tokens Frion bore must vouch that the king would thank any of his lieges who should aid him in bringing by force or decoy a pretended son of the traitor earl of Lincoln (for thus Frion resolved to name his victim) to the English shores.
Yet the decoyer had a difficult part to play; there was a quickness in the prince's manner which made him fear that, if his intentions changed, his acts would not lag behind; and though he did not betray suspicion, he was so perfectly alive to everything said and done, that any circumstance of doubt would not fail immediately to strike him. Although they had hitherto discoursed in French, yet it was certain that his native English had not been forgotten by him; nay, the appearance of the Lord Fitzwater's attendants, their livery, their speech, must awaken the prince's fears, and confound the wiles of his enemy. Frion pondered on. all these obstacles, as he rode gently through the narrow streets of Lisle; at length they reached the abode of the French noble, and here Frion halted; while the duke, beginning to be ill-satisfied with the part he played, and his promised presentation by such a roan, almost resolved to break from him here and to return; shame of appearing feeble of purpose alone prevented him. At last, passing through the court-yard up a dark and massy staircase, he found himself in a hall, where several men at arms were assembled, some furbishing pieces of armour, others engaged in talk, one or two stretched along the benches asleep: pride awoke in the youth's breast, he had gone too far to retrace his steps, and he resolved to bear himself gallantly towards the noble to whom he was about to be presented: yet, pausing for a moment, "My memory," he thought, "leads me far a-field, or some of these men bear English badges, and their wearers seem grey-eyed Englishmen." Frion meanwhile, selecting with quick tact one of the followers of the Sire de Beverem who chanced to be among these men, requested an instant introduction to Lord Fitzwater, using such golden arguments that the man, half afraid of being called on to divide the spoil, motioned him quickly to follow, and, passing through a suite of rooms, as he approached the last, he said, "He is there, I will call his page." "It needs not," said Frion; "await me here, Sir Perkin," and pushing forward, to the astonishment of the attendant, entered unannounced to the baron's presence: Richard thought he heard a "By St. Thomas!" uttered as the door closed hastily; but some Englishman might be with the French noble, and though a momentary wonder crossed him, no doubt of Frion's integrity was awakened.
"By Saint Thomas!" exclaimed Lord Fitzwater, as Frion almost burst into his apartment, "what rude varlet is this? Are serfs so used to enter a baron's chamber in France?"
"Most noble sir," said Frion, "if in three words, or, if you refuse me these, if in one eye-glance, I do not satisfy you, bid your men beat me with staves from the door. I am here in King Henry's service."
"God save him!" said the noble, "and you, sir knave, from the fate you name, which will be yours undoubtedly, if you do not give me good reason for your ill-mannered intrusion."
Frion looked round. Except the baron there was no one in the room, save a stripling of about sixteen years. The lad, though short in stature, was handsome; yet there was a look that indicated the early development of qualities, which, even in manhood, detract from beauty. He seemed conversant in the world's least holy ways, vain, reckless, and selfish; yet the coarser lines drawn by self-indulgence and youthful sensuality, were redeemed in part by the merry twinkling of his eye, and the ready laugh that played upon his lips. "My words are for your ears alone, my lord," said Frion, "and be assured they touch your liege nearly."
"Go, Robert," said Fitzwater, "but not further than the ante-chamber."
"There is one there," said Frion, anxiously: "he must not quit it—he must not escape, nor learn in whose hands he is."
"Your riddles, sir, ill please me," replied the noble.
"Look at this paper, my lord, and let it vouch for the heavy import of my business."
Lord Fitzwater recognized his royal master's signature, and with an altered tone he said, "Leave us, Robert; tarry not in the ante-chamber, but bear my greeting to my noble host, and ask him, when I may, at his best leisure, pay my thanks to him and my kind lady. I depart to-morrow at dawn; and mark, speak not to the stranger who waits without."
The youth made obeisance, and departed. A piece of tapestry hung before the door, which, together with the massy boards themselves, prevented any sound from piercing to the other side; the lad was about to proceed on his errand, when curiosity prompted him to look on the stranger, with whom he was commanded not to parley. Richard stood in the embrasure of one of the windows, but turned quickly as the folding-door shut with no gentle sound; his candid brow, his bright blue eyes, his frank-hearted smile, who that had ever seen could forget them? nor were the traits of the other's countenance less marked, though less attractive. The words burst at the same instant from either—"My Lord of York!" "Gentle Robin Clifford."
"My prison play-fellow," cried the prince; "this for me is a dangerous recognition. I pray you be wise, and—as you were ever—kind, and keep my secret close."
"Alas! my lord," said Robert, "you have opened your hand, and let the winged fool fly unwittingly, if you think it has not been discovered by yonder false loon. Know you where you are?"
"Then I am betrayed! I see it, feel it. Farewell, Robin, my fleet legs will outrun their slow pursuit."
"Nay, an' that were possible," said Clifford; "but it is not; let me better advise your highness; trust me you shall be free; but hark, they come; I must not be found here. Show no suspicion; yield to your fate as if you knew it not, and confide in me; my hand on it, this night you are at liberty."
Clifford quitted the apartment by the opposite door, while Frion entered from the other, beckoning the duke to approach. He took him by the hand, and led him to Lord Fitzwater, who started back when he saw him, and was about to exclaim; but Frion, in French, addressing him as the Sire de Beverem, entreated his kind favour for Perkin Warbeck, the gallant youth before him. The baron evidently was ill-pleased at the part he had consented to play; he said a few words with an ill grace, and bidding Perkin welcome, promised him favour, and permission for the present to remain in his abode. Richard saw through the flimsy disguise which the Englishman threw over his native speech, though he did not know who his receiver was; but, feeling that it was best to follow his young friend's counsel, he replied, also in French, that, at his guide's invitation, he had eagerly sought an interview with the renowned Sire de Beverem; that the honour done him would be deeply engraven in his heart; that on some future occasion he would gratefully avail himself of his offers; but, at the present time, he had left his home without intimating any intention, of a prolonged absence, and that he owed it to a kind kinswoman, not to disquiet her by delaying his return. He prayed the noble to dismiss him therefore, craving leave only to attend him some other day.
"Be it so," said Fitzwater; "to-morrow at dawn you shall depart hence; but you must not refuse my proffered hospitality. I shall introduce you to my household as one who ere long will be admitted into it, and show my friend. Sir Lalayne, who is now here, what gentle boors our Flanders breeds."
"I can return to-morrow, my good lord," Richard began; but the noble not heeding him, added, "Stay till my return; I now go to hear mass," and passed hastily from the chamber.
The prince's first impulse was to reproach Frion's knavery, assert his freedom, and, ere any measures had been taken to secure his person, to quit his new prison. But he did not know how deep-laid the plot might be; he was inclined to think that all was prepared for his reception and safe custody, so that any open attempt to regain his liberty would be resisted by force; while, through the assistance of his friend Clifford, he might hope to escape, if, giving in to the stratagem, he took occasion by the curb, and forced it to his purpose. "Are you mad," said Frion, "my rustic, that you resist the proffers of a high and powerful man of your native land?"
Richard wondered, when he beheld Frion's sneer and crafty glance, how he had not mistrusted him from the moment he beheld him; the double meaning of his words, and the familiar tone in which they were uttered, grated him like a personal insult. He repressed the angry reply rising to his lips, and said, "It seems I must submit, yet I should be beholden to you if you contrived an excuse, and lent me your horse, that I might ride back and inform Dame Madeline. To-morrow I might return."
Frion opposed this intention, and led the prince to a chamber at some distance from any other, at the end of a corridor, saying, "that it had been assigned to him;" and after a short conversation left him. Richard heard the shooting of the bolt as the door closed; "Son of King Edward," he thought, "thy folly disgraces thy parentage; thus at once to have run into the gin. Yet I am of good cheer, and my heart tells me that I shall relate the merry tale of my escape to Madeline and my sweet coz, and dry this night the tears my disappearance has caused them to shed." It soon appeared, by the long absence of his betrayer, that it was not intended to continue the farce longer; but that, from the moment he had entered that chamber, he was in treatment as well as in fact a prisoner. After several weary hours had elapsed, his blithe spirit began to sink; he reflected that Clifford had probably promised more than he could perform; but courage awoke with the sense of danger; he resolved to be true to himself, and to effect his escape singly, if he could gain no assistance. "Men have ears and hearts," he thought, "and I can work on these; or they may be neglectful while I am on the alert, and I can profit by their carelessness. In all forms my fortune may take, I will not fail to myself; and there is small danger in any change for a true man. With my light spirit and resolved will, I could, I doubt not, persuade an armed band to make way for me, or open prison bolts with charming words, though my witchcraft be only that of gentle courtesy, moulding with skilful hand the wax of soft humanity." Pacing the apartment, he continued these meditations, imagining every circumstance that might and would arise, and how he was to turn all to the best advantage. He framed persuasive speeches, wily answers to ensnaring questions, cautious movements, by which he might withdraw himself from the hands of his enemies; and while he thus occupied himself, his eyes gleamed, and his cheeks glowed, as if the moment of action had come, and his life and liberty depended on instant deed.
At two hours past noon the door was unclosed, and a servant entered bearing food; impatient to begin his plans of escape, Richard was about to speak to him, when, in the doorway, he beheld the slight, stunted figure of Clifford, whose forefinger was pressed on his lips, and who, after exchanging one glance with his friend, cast aside his stealthy expression of countenance, entering with a half-swaggering look, and saying, in French, "My lord, young sir, has sent me on a pleasant embassage, even that of dining with your pageship, saying, two boys like us were better and merrier together, than in the great hall with the arrogant serving-men." Richard felt no great appetite; but taking the tone from his friend, he thanked him, and they fell to on the viands. "Now, kind Thomas," said Clifford, "of your bounty bring us a stoup of wine; the day is rainy, and we cannot abroad; so ray gossip and I will tell long stories over our bottle, and lay some plan of merry mischief which you and your fellows may in good time rue."
The domestic obeyed; nor till the wine was brought, the servant fairly dismissed, and the door closed, did Clifford put aside the character he had assumed of a stripling page, in a noble master's abode, entertaining a stranger visitant of his own years. At length, when they were quite alone, the merry boy put his hands to his sides and indulged in so gay a peal of laughter, that the prince, who at first stared in wonder, at last caught the infection, and laughed too, while tears from superabundant glee streamed down their cheeks. Once, twice, and thrice did Richard check himself, and turn seriously to inquire the cause of this merriment; and Clifford strove to answer; but laughter bubbling up choked his voice, and both again yielded in accord to the overpowering fit. At last gasping, holding their sides, and by degrees commanding their muscles, the duke said, "I would ask you, friend Robin, what this means? But at the word, lo you! your very voice is lost. Now, prithee, feel half as weary as I do of this folly, and you will be as grave as tumbledown Dick. Do you remember the simpering fellow we made good sport of in the Tower?"
"You have broken the spell, my lord," said Clifford; "that word suffices to make me as grave as Brakenbury himself, when he looked on your brother's corpse. Ah dear, your highness, the name of the Tower is worse than a raven's croak! God and St. Thomas preserve you from ever getting the other side of its moat!"
"Amen, Robin, with all my heart," said Richard; "a shudder runs through my limbs down to my finger tips, making the skin on my head creep, when I think there is any chance of my passing long years in those dreary cells, with their narrow deep windows; the court-yards, which the sun seldom visits; the massy dark walls, whose black stones seemed to frown angrily if our childs' voices were ever heard in sport."
"There your cousin, my lord of "Warwick, pines out his melancholy days," replied Clifford; "and that is your destined abode. My grandfather was slain by Queen Margaret's side, and stained the Red Rose with a blood-red dye, falling in its cause. Your father and his brothers did many a Clifford much wrong, and woe and mourning possessed my house till the line of Lancaster was restored. I cannot grieve, therefore, for the exaltation of the earl of Richmond; yet I will not passively see my playmate mewed up in a cage, nor put in danger of having his head laid on that ungentle pillow in Tower Yard. The daughter of Warwick, our Edward's affianced bride, your crookbacked uncle's wife, loved my pranks and nurtured my youth; and by her good leave, many a mirthful hour I spent in the dark place you name. May neither of us ever see it more!"
"You will, then, assist my escape?" asked Richard.
"As faithfully, gossip Dickon, as God his grace shall await me at the last day! And now I will tell you a merry tale."