I should be sorry to think that Bob Bangs was influenced by sheer spite and cruelty of heart, or by a wanton delight in witnessing and contributing to the suffering of others; yet so one was often forced to believe. It is bad enough when one fellow stands by and, without lifting a finger to help, lets another suffer; but when, instead of that, he actually makes himself the instrument of torture, he is nothing short of a brute.
Perhaps, however, it would hardly be fair to say that Bob was quite so bad as this. We are bound to give the worst characters their due; and without attempting to excuse or justify a single blow the Bully ever struck, we must bear in mind this one thing.
There is a certain class of people to whom power becomes a ruling passion. Somebody must be made to feel, and somebody must be brought to acknowledge it. These people are generally those who have the greatest possible aversion to enduring oppression in their own persons, or who have themselves in their time been roughly handled. They love to see others quail before them, as they themselves would be ready to quail before those they hold in awe; and it is no small set-off against their own terrors to feel themselves in turn objects of terror to others. People of this sort are of course generally cowards and toadies, and in bullying they find the fullest gratification of their craving for power.
Bob may sometimes feel a passing pity for the poor little wretch he is tormenting; but until that poor little wretch consents to knuckle under, to apologise, to obey, to accuse himself, in the manner Bob selects, he must not be spared.
Boys who want to understand what real bullying is, should call to mind that parable about the servant who, having quailed and cringed and implored before his lord until he was forgiven his huge debt, forthwith pounced on a poor fellow-servant who happened to owe him a few shillings, and, deaf to the very entreaties which he himself had but a minute before used, haled him off to gaol till the last farthing should be paid.
He was bad enough; but the wolf in Aesop's fable was still worse. The poor lamb there owed nothing; it only chanced to be drinking of the same stream.
"What do you mean by polluting my water?" growls the wolf.
"I am drinking lower down than you," replies the innocent, "and so that cannot be."
"Never mind, you called me names a year ago."
"Please, sir, a year ago I wasn't born."
"Well, then, it was your father, and it's all the same thing; and, what's more, you need not think I'm going to be done out of my breakfast by your talk—so here goes!" And we all know what became of the poor lamb. A gentleman cannot be a bully, and a bully cannot be a gentleman. By gentleman I mean not the vulgar use of the word. The rich snob who keeps his carriages, and counts his income with five or six figures, and considers that sufficient title to the name, may be, and often is, a bully. His servants may lead the lives of dogs, his tradesmen dread the sound of his voice, and his dependants shake in their shoes before him. But a gentleman—a man (or boy) of honour, kindliness, modesty, and sense—could no more be a bully than black could be white.
Bullying is essentially vulgar, and stamps the person who indulges in it as ill-conditioned and stupid. He tries to pass off his lack of brains with bluster, and to make up by tyranny for the contempt which his ill- bred manners would naturally secure for him. But he deceives nobody but himself. The youngsters tremble before him; but they despise him; in a year or two they will laugh at him, and after that—thrash him.
Yes; I am sorry to counsel that physic for anybody, but really it is the only one which can possibly cure the bully. The time must come when the little boy will find himself grown up and possessed of a muscle, and then the bully will find, to his astonishment, that he has tried his art once too often.
So it was with Bob Bangs. He found himself on his back one day with a small army of youngsters executing a war dance round him. He got roughly used, poor fellow, and at last changed his tune from threats to whines, and eventually, with the aid of a few parting kicks, was permitted to depart in peace. And he never tried on bullying with us again, except indeed when he was fortunate enough to get hold of one of us singly in a lonely comer. And even then he generally heard of it afterwards.
But, boys, mind this. There's nothing more likely than that in your struggle for independence you will, if victorious, be tempted to become bullies yourselves. In your anxiety to "pay out" your old enemy, you may forget that you are yourselves falling into the very transgression for which you have chastised him. That would be sad indeed. A boy that can bear malice, and refuse quarter to a fallen foe, is very little different from a bully himself.
Rather be careful to show yourselves Christians and gentlemen, even in the way you rid yourselves of bullies. It is one thing, in self- defence, to right yourself, and it is another to return evil for evil. The best revenge you can have is, instead of dancing on his prostrate body, to set him an example of forbearance and self-control in your own conduct, which shall point him out a surer road to respect and authority than all the bullying in the world could ever give him.
WILLIAM THE ATHELING; OR, THE WRECK OF THE "WHITE SHIP."
The eager crowd thronged the little Norman seaport of Barfleur. Knights in armour, gay ladies and merry children mingled in the narrow streets which led down to the bustling harbour, in which lay at anchor a gay fleet of ships, decked with pennons and all the marks of festivity and rejoicing. One man's name was on every lip, and in expectation of that man's arrival this brave company lined the seashore and its approaches. Presently was heard a distant trumpet note, and then a clatter of many horses.
"He comes!" shouted the crowd. "Long live our Duke Henry!" And at the shout there appeared the royal troop, with King Henry of England at its head, followed by his sons and daughter and nobles, amid the plaudits of the loyal crowd.
"All bids fair," said the king to one who was near him, as he rode slowly towards the harbour; "the sea is calm and the wind is propitious; an emblem of the happy peace we have concluded with France, and the prosperous years that he before us."
"Long live Henry of England!" shouted the crowd again. With that the troop reached the sunny harbour.
Here ensued all the bustle and confusion of an embarkation. Baggage and horses and armour were transferred speedily from the shore to shipboard. Henry himself inspected the vessel which was to convey him and his household across the sea, while the loyal Norman crowd pressed round, eager to bid their liege good speed on his voyage.
The afternoon was advancing, and the order had already been given to embark, when, through the crowd which thronged King Henry, there struggled forward a man dressed in sailor guise, who advanced and fell on one knee before his sovereign.
"My liege," said he, "a boon for me!"
"Who art thou?" inquired the king.
"My lord duke, Stephen, my father, served thy father, William of Normandy, all his life. He it was who steered the vessel which carried the duke to the conquest of England. Permit me, my lord, a like honour. See where my 'White Ship' waits to receive her captain's noble sovereign."
Henry looked in the direction pointed, and saw the gallant vessel, gleaming like silver with its white poop and oars and sails in the sun; surely as fair a ship as ever crossed the sea.
"Brave son of a brave father," replied the king, "but that my word has been given, and my baggage is already embarked on another's vessel, thy request should not have been in vain. But, to show that I hold thy father's son worthy of his name, see, I entrust to thee my son William, heir to my throne, in all confidence that thou wilt conduct him safely over. Let him go with thee, while I myself do set sail in the vessel I had chosen."
Fitz-Stephen bowed low, and the young Prince William, a lad of eighteen years, stepped forward gaily towards him, and cried—
"Come, comrade! thou shalt find a king's son as good company as his father. In token of which, bid thy brave men feast at my charge with as much to eat and drink as they have a fancy to. Then, when that is done, we will start on our merry voyage."
Almost immediately afterwards King Henry embarked, leaving the Prince William, and two other of his children, Richard and Adela, to follow that same night in the "White Ship."
"Farewell, my father!" shouted the young prince, as the oars of the king's vessel struck the water; "perchance I shall be on the farther side before thee!"
So the king started.
It was late before the merrymakers on board the "White Ship" set their faces seaward. The prince himself had honoured the feast, and bidden every man to fill his cup and drink deep and long. So when about midnight they addressed themselves to the voyage, the rowers splashed wildly with their oars, and the crew pulled at the ropes with unsteady hands.
Far across the calm waters might have been heard the song and the laughter of the two hundred voyagers. In a few hours, thought they, we shall be across, and then will we renew our feast in England.
"Fitz-Stephen!" cried the prince, flushed with wine himself, and in a tone of excitement—"Fitz-Stephen, how far say you is my father's ship before ours?"
"Five leagues," replied the sailor, "or more."
"Then may we not overtake him before the night is past? You know this coast; can we not steer closer in, and so gain on them?"
"My lord," said Fitz-Stephen, "there are many sunken rocks on this coast, which the mariner always avoids by keeping out to sea."
"Talk not to me of rocks on a night when the sea is calm and the wind so gentle it scarce fills the sails, and the moon so clear we can see a mile before us! What say you, my men? Shall we overtake the king? Fitz-Stephen," he added, "thou earnest a king's son to-night. If thou and thy men can set me on English ground before my father, I will never sail more, as long as I live, save in thy ship."
The sailor yielded, and turned his helm nearer to the coast, and the crew, clamouring loudly with excitement, pulled wildly at the oars, while the prince and the nobles, with song and laughter, made the quiet night to resound. So they went for two hours. Then the prince's sister Adela, Countess of Perche, stepped up to him timidly, and said—
"My brother, what sound is that, like the roar of distant thunder?"
"It is nothing, my sister; go down again and sleep."
"It sounds like the breaking of wares on the rocks."
"How can that be, when the sea is scarcely ruffled?"
"I fear me we run a risk, sailing so close to shore," said the maiden. "I myself heard Fitz-Stephen say that the currents ran strong along this coast of Normandy."
"Be easy, sister; no danger can befall a night like this."
Louder and louder rose the shouting and the revelry. The rowers sang as they rowed. And the knights and nobles, who made merry always when the prince made merry, sang too.
But all the while the maiden, as she lay, heard the roar of the breakers sound nearer and nearer, and was ill at ease, fearing some evil.
"Now, my merry men," shouted the prince, "row hard, for the night is getting on!"
Fitz-Stephen at that instant uttered an exclamation of horror, and wildly flung round his helm. There was a sudden roar ahead, and a gleam of long lines of broken water.
"Pull for your lives!" shouted the captain, "or we shall be on the Ras de Catte!"
It was too late. The treacherous current swept them on to the reef. There was a sudden tossing of the "White Ship," then a great shock as she struck—then a cry of terror from two hundred lips.
King Henry in his vessel, three leagues away, heard that sudden awful cry across the still waters. But little guessed he that it was the death cry of his own beloved children.
Every man on board the "White Ship" was startled by that shock into instant sobriety. The brave Fitz-Stephen left the now useless helm, and rushed to where the prince, entrusted to his care, was clinging to the mast of the fast-filling vessel. With his own hand he cut loose the small boat which she carried, and by sheer force placed William in it, and a few of the crew.
"Row for the shore!" he shouted to the men, waving his hand; "lose not a moment!"
William, stupefied and bewildered, sat motionless and speechless.
The men had already dipped their oars, and the frail boat was already clear of the sinking vessel, when there fell on the prince's ear the piercing shriek of a girl.
Looking behind him, he saw his poor sister clinging to the deck of the doomed ship, and stretching a hand appealingly in the direction of his boat.
In an instant his senses returned to him.
"Put back, men!" he cried, frantically.
"It is certain death!" cried one of the crew.
"Must William the Atheling order a thing twice?" thundered the prince, in a tone so terrible, that the men immediately turned and made for the wreck.
"My sister!" shouted William, as they came under the spot where Adela clung; "throw yourself into my arms!"
She did so; but, alas! at the same moment, fifty more, in the desperation of terror, jumped too, and the little boat, with all that were in her, turned over, and was seen no more.
Then the waters poured over the "White Ship," and with a great plunge that gallant vessel went down.
With her went down all the souls she carried save three. One of these was the brave Fitz-Stephen. Rising to the surface, he saw the two others clinging to a spar. Eagerly he swam towards them.
"Is the prince saved?" he asked.
"We have seen nothing of him," replied they.
"Then woe is me!" exclaimed he, as he turned in the water and sank beneath it.
Of the other two, one only, a butcher, survived to carry the dreadful news to England.
For many days, Henry, impatient for his son's arrival, waited in ignorance of his sad fate.
Then went to him a little child, who, instructed what to say, told him in his own artless way the whole story; and King Henry the First, so they say, after he had heard it, was never seen to smile again.
JOHN PLANTAGENET, THE BOY WHO BROKE HIS FATHER'S HEART.
A youth was pacing restlessly to and fro in a wood bordering on the old town of Tours, in France. He was scarcely twenty years of age, and of a forbidding countenance. Cruelty and cunning were stamped on his features, and as he strode aimlessly among the trees, muttering to himself, and striking often with his sheathed sword at the bushes and twigs in his path, he seemed to be the victim of an evil passion, with nothing to make a man love him or desire his acquaintance.
His muttering not unfrequently rose to the pitch of talking aloud, when one might have heard sentences like these.
"Why should I longer delay? Am not I John, the son of Henry of England, a man? and shall I submit to be treated for ever as a child? Are my brothers, who have rebelled against their father, to have ah the spoil, and I, who have remained obedient, to go portionless and penniless? What means my father's meeting here with the King of France, who has espoused the cause of Richard, my brother, in his rebellion, if it be not to yield to the traitor the kingdoms I have earned by my obedience? But I will delay no longer. I have been obedient too long! Henceforth this sword shall be my obedience!"
And as he spoke he unsheathed his weapon, and struck savagely at the graceful branch of a fir tree before him, and brought it down crashing at his feet. At the same instant there appeared coming towards him a man of middle age, clad like a soldier, who saluted respectfully the young prince.
"Whence come you, Ralph Leroche?" inquired John.
"From the meeting of the Kings of France and England."
"And what went forward there?" asked the prince, leading his companion in among the trees.
"I know only what I am told," said the knight, "for the meeting of your father and King Philip was secret."
"And what have you been told?" inquired John, impatiently, and with clouding brows.
"I have been told that the King of France demanded that your father should do him homage, and should acknowledge your brother Richard as King of England."
"And what said my father?" broke in John.
"He said that Richard, by his conduct, deserved only the death of a traitor, but—"
John's brow darkened as he seized Ralph's arm, and ejaculated, "But what? did he yield? Speak!"
"But for the sake of peace he would receive him back to the heart which he by his disobedience had wellnigh broken, and make him heir to his crown."
"He said so, did he?" almost shouted the prince, his face livid with fury.
"I am told so by one who knows," replied the other.
"And did he say more?"
"He blessed heaven before them all that he had one son left him who was true to him, and in whose love he might end the shattered remnant of his life."
Loud and cruelly laughed Prince John at those words, till the woods echoed again. "Is it thus you comfort yourself, my father?" he exclaimed. "Ralph," added he, in tones thick with passion, "all my life till now I served my father, and never failed in my duty to him. Henry, my brother, rebelled, and died in his rebellion while I was a child. Geoffrey rebelled too, and is dead. Richard for years has been in arms against his parent. I, of all his sons, have never lifted hand against him. Had not I a right to look for my reward? Had not I a right to count upon the crown which my brothers' disobedience had forfeited? Had not—"
He stopped, unable from the vehemence of his passion to proceed, and Ralph Leroche answered calmly: "Obedience is its own reward, and worth more than a kingdom. It is not obedience that calculates on profit. But you know not, prince, what your father may yet have in store for you."
"Speak not to me of my father," exclaimed John; "I hate him!"
"Heaven forgive you that word!" replied the fearless knight. "Be advised, I entreat; and repent—"
"Dotard!" exclaimed the prince, as in blind rage he struck him in the mouth with his clenched fist. "Keep thy advice for dogs, and not for princes!"
How the scene would have ended, one cannot say. At that moment a flourish of trumpets raised the echoes of the wood, and a gay procession passed down the forest road towards Tours.
Alas, for Prince John! He recognised in the two men who rode at its head, Philip of France, his father's enemy, and Richard, his own rebel elder brother. Goaded by passion, burning with resentment towards his father for the supposed injustice he had suffered, he rushed recklessly into the arms of this sudden temptation. Striding through the thickets, and heedless of the warnings of the loyal Ralph, he emerged on to the road in front of the cavalcade.
The leaders halted their horses in sudden surprise.
"What brave lad have we here?" asked Philip, perplexed.
John stepped forward, and answered for himself.
"I am John Plantagenet, once son of the King of England, but now vassal to the King of France!"
Great was the astonishment on every face, and on none more than on those of Philip and Richard.
The latter flushed, half in anger, half in shame, as he exclaimed, "Boy, thou art mad!"
"Nay," said Philip, "the lad is a lad of sense, and bears a worthy name that will serve our cause exceedingly."
So saying, he summoned one of his knights, and bidding him dismount, gave the young prince his horse, and made him ride beside him.
"But tell us, lad," he said, when they had proceeded a little way, "how is it thy father's dutiful and cherished son (for so I have heard him speak of thee) comes thus among the ranks of his foemen, and that at a time like this, when peace has been almost completed?"
"Ask me no questions," replied the prince, gloomily; "I am here because I choose."
And so they rode into Tours.
A few days later, a silent group was standing round the sickbed of the King of England, listening to the broken utterances which fell from the lips of that old and wellnigh worn-out warrior. Those who thus stood round him were his favourite knights and barons, not a few of whom were moved to tears as he spoke.
"I have sinned, and I have had my punishment. My kingdom is gone, and my glory. Henceforward Henry Plantagenet will be the name but of a vanquished and feeble old man. The one whom I loved, and would have forgiven as many times as they had asked forgiveness, have all, save one, left me and turned against me. I am like a man, wrecked and tempest-tossed, clinging for hope to a single spar. Yet I bless Heaven for that. Ruin I can submit to, dishonour I can survive, defeat I can endure, while yet there is one child left to me of whom it can be said, 'He loved his father to the end.' And such a son is John. I charge you all, honour him as you honour me, for though I have sworn to yield the crown of England to his brother, Normandy, and all I possess besides, belongs to him. But where is he? Why tarries he? A week has passed since he was here. Where stays he?"
Before any of the attendants could reply, a knocking was heard without, and entrance demanded for the messengers of Philip of France. "We are come," said they, "from our sovereign with the articles of treaty between yourself and him, arranged at your late conference, and which now await your ratification."
Henry motioned to them to proceed to business; and as each article was read—declaring his allegiance to the crown of France and his cession of his own crown to Richard—he inclined his head mechanically in token of his assent, manifesting little or no interest in the proceeding. But his attention became more fixed when the article was read which provided for the free pardon of all who had in any way, secretly or openly, been engaged in the cause of his rebel son.
He turned in his bed towards the reader, and said: "A king must know the names of his enemies before he can pardon them. Read me, therefore, the list of those who have rebelled, that I may forgive them each and all, beginning with the noblest, down to the meanest."
He lay back on his bed, and half closed his eyes as he listened.
The messenger of Philip then said, "The first and foremost of your majesty's enemies is John Plantagenet, your youngest son."
He sprang with a sudden cry of pain into a sitting posture, and trembling in every fibre, and with a voice half choked, cried, "Who says that?" Then glaring wildly at the envoy, he whispered, "Read it again!"
"The first and foremost of your majesty's enemies is John Plantagenet, your youngest son."
"Can it be true?" gasped the poor father, in helpless despair. "Has he also deserted me? Then let everything go as it will; I care no more for myself, nor for the world."
So saying, with his heart broken, he sank back upon the bed, from which he never rose again.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
ARTHUR OF BRITTANY, THE BOY WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN KING OF ENGLAND.
The fierce storm beats down on the gloomy Norman Castle of Falaise, in a deep dungeon of which lies imprisoned the boy Prince Arthur, lawful heir to the crown of England, but now, alas! a helpless victim of the cruelty and injustice of his bad uncle, John Plantagenet, the usurper of his throne. The thunder peals so loudly, and the wind rages so angrily, that Hubert de Burgh, the warden, does not for a long time distinguish the sound of a knocking and shouting at the outer gate of the castle. Presently, however, in a lull of the wind, his ears catch the noisy summons, and he instantly gives orders to his men to let down the drawbridge, and admit the new-comers. These were three in number: one attired as a king's messenger, and mounted on a richly caparisoned horse; the other two in the garb of common men, and on foot. When they had come into the presence of the warden, the king's messenger said—
"I am charged by His Majesty King John of England to deliver to you this letter, and require your faithful discharge of its commands."
So saying, he handed to Hubert de Burgh a sealed letter, which the latter eagerly broke open and read. As he read, his face clouded. It was a long letter, and couched in vague terms, but its substance was this. That whereas the peace of England and of King John's possessions in France was constantly being disturbed by the partisans of the young Prince Arthur, desiring to see him king instead of his uncle, and taking up arms to enforce their claim, it was necessary, in order to put an end to this rebellion, that the young prince should be rendered unfit for governing; and as no people would be likely to choose a blind boy for their king, Hubert de Burgh was instructed to have Arthur's eyes put out; and the two men who had arrived with the king's messenger were come, so the letter said, to carry out this design.
Hubert de Burgh said nothing as he put by the letter, and dismissed his three visitors from his presence. Cruel man as he had been, his heart had still some pity left, and he shrank from obeying his master by so brutal an act of cruelty upon the innocent boy in his charge.
However, the order of the king was peremptory; and if the deed must be done, thought he, the sooner the better.
So he ordered the two villains to get ready their instruments, and follow him to the dungeon.
"Stay here," said he, as they reached the young prince's door, "while I enter alone and prepare him for his fate."
So those two set down their fire and the red-hot irons, and waited outside for their summons.
When Hubert entered the dungeon, the poor boy was just waking from a sleep. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, being dazzled by the light which Hubert carried in his hand.
"You are welcome," said he (for Arthur, with so few to love him, loved even his surly, though not unkind, jailor). "I have been in my dreams away in merry England, where I thought I was living in a beautiful palace, with food and servants, and rich clothing, and that there was a crown on my head. And so it shall be some day, Hubert, when I get my rights; and then because you have not been as unkind to me as some in my adversity, you shall be a great and rich man. But why look you so solemn? What ails you?"
The warden stood silent for some moments before he spoke, and then his voice was thick and hoarse.
"Prince," he said, "take your last look on the light, for you may never see it again."
The boy sprang from his bed, and seized Hubert by the knees.
"What! Are they going to kill me? Must they take away my life?"
"Not so," said Hubert; "it is not thy life that is required, but thine eyes." And as he spoke he stamped on the floor, as the signal to those two who waited without to enter.
At sight of their horrid instruments, the cords which were to bind him, and the cruel faces of the executioners, Arthur fell on his knees and implored mercy of the stubborn Hubert.
It was a strange and pitiful sight to see that weak and helpless boy kneeling, and with tears entreating that stout old warrior, whose bosom heaved and whose ringers twitched, and whose face winced, as he listened; while the two others stood motionless, grasping their irons and cords, ready for the word of command to step forward and do their cruel deed.
But the cries and entreaties of the helpless and beautiful prince prevailed. Hubert wavered and hesitated; he bade the men advance, and then bade them withhold; he looked at the prince, and he looked at the glowing irons; he pushed the suppliant from him, and then suffered him to cling to him. The executioners themselves were moved to pity, and lay down their instruments. Finally, with a mighty effort, the warden yielded, and said, "Retire, men, and take with you your tools, till I require you." Then turning to Arthur, he said, "Prince, thou shalt keep thy sight and thy life while I am by to protect thee." And the rough hand of the old warrior stroked the hair of the weeping boy as it might have been his own son's.
The answer that Hubert de Burgh sent back that day by the king's messenger was an earnest appeal for mercy on behalf of his young and now beloved charge.
But King John was a stranger to all feelings of pity, and his vengeance was quick and dreadful. Foiled of his cruel design upon the eyesight of his hapless nephew, he determined now to have his life. So he ordered him to be removed from Falaise, and the custody of the humane De Burgh, to the castle of Rouen, under whose walls flowed the waters of the River Seine. But the prince did not remain long there. One night a jailor entered his dungeon, and, waking him from his sleep, ordered him to follow him. The boy obeyed in silence, as the jailor conducted him down the winding staircase which led to the foot of the tower, beside which the Seine flowed. A boat was waiting at the bottom, in which sat two men. The torch of the jailor cast a sudden glare over the dark waters, and by its light Arthur recognised, with horror and despair, in one of the two the cruel features of his Uncle John. It was useless for him to pray and entreat; it was useless for him to struggle or cry out. They dragged him into the boat, and held him fast as she drifted under the shadow of those gloomy walls into mid stream. What happened then no one can tell; but had any listened that still, dark night, they might have heard a boy's wild cry across the waters, and then a dull, heavy splash—and that was all.
The story is that of those two, King John with his own hand did the foul deed. However that may be, Arthur of Brittany was never even heard of more.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
RICHARD THE SECOND, THE BOY WHO QUELLED A TUMULT.
A vast, disorderly rabble thronged the great open space of Smithfield, in London, on one side of which stood the venerable Abbey of Saint Bartholomew, now occupied by the hospital of that name. The men who composed it were rough and wild, and, for the most part, shouted and clutched their clubs and bows in a meaningless sort of way, which plainly showed that they were not very clear in their own minds as to the object of their assembling together, but that they came and shouted and threatened because their leaders did so.
These leaders were few in number, and but that they were mounted, and armed with swords and daggers, not to be distinguished from their followers, for they were rough, wild men—men too whose occupation seemed to be more in the way of herding cattle and plying their hammers than leading an army of 20,000 rioters, or brandishing their swords against a government.
Yet, though many of these rebels seemed not to comprehend the why and the wherefore of their demonstration, there were not a few who looked very much—nay, cruelly—in earnest, who talked vehemently and scowled, and seemed, by the way they gripped their arms, determined to enforce their demands against any man, be he noble, or baron, or king. From some of the groups one might have heard excited utterances like the following:—
"We will have our rights or die! Why do our leaders halt?"
"The king is expected!"
"Nay, then, let us slay him, who is the head of all our wrongs!"
"Not so; the king has already granted what we first demanded; and we are gathered now because Wat Tyler demands yet more."
"God save Wat Tyler! Was it not he who struck the first blow against the tyrant?"
"It was. The nobles demanded a poll tax on every man, woman, boy, and girl in the land; and when one of their collectors would exact it from Wat Tyler, at his place in Dartford, and (disbelieving his word concerning the age of his young daughter) vilely insulted the maiden, he arose and slew the wretch with his hammer. And so this business began."
"Huzzah for Wat Tyler! Down with the tyrant!"
"Nay, friend; our cause was a good one when it began, but since then Wat and his friends have, to my mind, done us and themselves damage by their bloodthirstiness and their unreasonableness. Have they not demolished palaces and temples? Have they not butchered an archbishop and nobles and harmless citizens? Have they not insulted noble ladies? And now, when their demands have all been satisfied by the young king, they demand yet more, and become themselves the tyrants."
"A traitor!—a traitor! Who speaks against our brave Wat Tyler? Kill the traitor! Down with tyranny! Death to the king! God save the people!"
With such clamour and angry talk did the crowd agitate itself, till suddenly there arose a cry. "The king comes!"
And there rode up fearlessly, at the head of sixty men, a boy, only fifteen years old, at sight of whom these rebels hung their heads and let their wild clamour die on their lips. A few of the most determined looked black as they regarded the royal boy, and noted the effect his frank carriage had on their followers.
"I am come," said King Richard, rising on his horse at a few paces from the front of the crowd, "as I promised, to confer with my subjects and hear their grievances. Let your leader advance and speak with me."
Then Wat Tyler turned to his followers and said to them, "I will go speak with him; do you abide my signal, then come on and slay all save the young king; he will serve us better as a humble captive in our hands, to lead through the land and bring all men to our service, than as a slaughtered tyrant at our feet."
So he put spurs to his horse and advanced towards the king, whom he approached so close that the flank of the horse touched that of the king's. Richard, nothing daunted by this threatening demeanour, turned courteously towards him and waited for him to speak.
"Do you see this concourse of people?" began Wat, rudely, pointing towards the now silent crowd.
"I see them," said the boy. "What have you to ask on their behalf?"
"These men," said Tyler, "have sworn, one and all, to obey me in all things, and to follow in whatever enterprise I shall lead them, and they will not go hence till you grant us our petition."
"And I will grant it," replied the boy, frankly, for the demands to which Wat Tyler now alluded had reference to the rights of the people to hunt and fish on common lands. "I will grant it."
What followed history does not very clearly record. Among the followers of the king, Wat, it is said, caught sight of a knight whom for some reason he hated. Turning his attention from the king, he glared angrily at his enemy, and, putting his hand on the hilt of his dagger, exclaimed, "By my faith, I will never eat bread till I have thy head!" At that same instant up rode Sir William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, who, seeing the menacing gesture of the insurgent leader, and hearing his threatening speech, immediately concluded he was about to attack the person of the young king. Quick as thought, Sir William drew his dagger, and before any one could interpose or hold him back, he struck Wat Tyler in the throat, and his attendants following with repeated blows, the leader of the people fell from his horse a dead man! All this was so suddenly done, and so astonished the onlookers, that Wat Tyler was already dead before a hand was moved or a voice raised on either side. Then there rose an angry shout from those twenty thousand rebels, as they saw their leader down. "We are betrayed!" they cried; "they have killed our leader!" And with that they raised their bows and pointed their shafts at the heart of the young king.
But they lowered them in amazement when, instead of shrinking and cowering behind his knights, they saw the lad put spurs to his horse and gallop, all by himself, up to the very place where they stood. "Men," he cried, "follow me; I am your king, and I will be your captain! Wat Tyler was a traitor; no ill shall befall you if you make me your leader."
The brave words disarmed that great crowd as if by magic; the men who had just now shouted, "Long live Wat Tyler!" now shouted with a mighty shout, "Long live our King Richard!"
The insurrection was at an end, the confidence of the people returned once more to their rulers, and they marched that day from Smithfield, under the leadership of their young king, as far as the country hamlet of Islington, there quietly to disperse to their own homes and resume once again their ordinary pursuits.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
RICHARD WHITTINGTON, THE SCULLERY BOY WHO BECAME LORD MAYOR.
A poor boy, meanly clad, and carrying in his hand a small bundle, trudged sadly along the road which led over the moor of Finsbury to Highgate. The first streak of dawn was scarcely visible in the eastern sky, and as he walked, the boy shivered in the chill morning air. More than once he dashed from his eyes the rising tears, and clutched his little wallet and quickened his pace, as if determined to hold to some desperate resolve, despite of all drawings to the contrary. As the road rose gradually towards Highgate, the sun broke out from behind the clouds on his right, and lit up fields and trees and hills with a brightness and richness which contrasted strangely with the gloom on the boy's face, and the poverty of his appearance. The birds in the hedges began to sing, and the cattle to low and tinkle their bells; the whistle of the herdsmen came up from the valley, and all nature seemed to wake with a cry of gladness to greet the new day.
Even poor Dick Whittington could not wholly resist the cheering influence of that bright summer morning. It was impossible to believe that everything was miserable in the midst of so much gladness, and Dick's face brightened and his step became brisker almost without his knowing it, as he trudged higher and higher up that steep road. His thoughts, too, took a less desponding turn.
"After all," said he to himself, "perhaps I am foolish to be running away from my master's house. I had better be the scullery boy of good Master Fitzwarren, although his cook does ill-treat me and lead me a dog's life, than the vagabond idle boy which I am now. And yet I cannot endure the thought of returning to that cruel woman. Would that I knew what to do!"
Thus he thought and questioned with himself, when he came to a stone set by the wayside; and here he sat to rest, and ruminate further upon his evil fortune.
"If some voice would but say 'Return,' I would return," said he, "even though she scold and beat me, for I know not what to do, without a friend in the world. Was ever such a wretched boy as I?"
And he buried his face in his hands and gave himself over to his misery. Suddenly in the quiet morning air there came to his ears a wonderful sound, up from the valley, where, in the sun, shone the towers and steeples of London town.
It was the sound of distant bells, and as the boy listened, it came clearer and clearer, and seemed to fill the air with the very voice for which he had but a minute since been longing. But what a strange voice and what a strange story the bells told!—
Turn again, Whittington, Thrice Lord Mayor of London!
Over and over again they said the same words. Over and over again Dick persuaded himself he was dreaming, yet felt sure he was awake. "Turn again!" that was plain enough, and he could believe it, even though Bow Bells said it. But—"Thrice Lord Mayor of London!" what could that mean? That was never meant for the poor ill-used scullery boy of Master Fitzwarren, the mercer in the Minories! And yet what could be more distinct than the voice of those bells?
He sprang from his seat, turned his face in the direction of that wonderful sound, and ran. And that morning, when the family of Master Fitzwarren assembled for their early meal, and the scolding cook took possession of the kitchen, Dick Whittington was in his place, scouring the pots and pans in the scullery, singing to himself a tune no one had ever heard before.
Only a few days after this adventure of Dick's, news came of the arrival in port of one of Master Fitzwarren's vessels with a valuable cargo on board. Now it was the custom in those days, in some houses, for all the servants of a family to invest something in the fortunes of any vessel their master might send out; and when, many months before this, Master Fitzwarren had been equipping the vessel now in question, he had summoned all his servants together, and beginning with the chief, had called upon them to put their savings into his venture, promising each a fair return of whatever profit his share should entitle him to at the end of the voyage.
Dick, poor boy, had no money; nothing in the world but a cat, whom he loved as his only friend, and to whom he owed no common gratitude for the manner in which she had protected him against the rats that infested his garret. When it came to his turn to put his share into the voyage, he had not the heart to offer this companion—and he had nothing else he could call his own—so he begged to be excused. His master, however, insisted that, as his servant, he must put down whatever he had, however little, and even though this cat had cost only a penny, to sea she must go, and Dick should have full value for her when the voyage was over.
Dick wept at this, and the young daughter of Master Fitzwarren, being moved to pity, offered from her own money what would preserve to the lad his four-footed friend. But not even this would the stern merchant allow, and Dick therefore had to bid a tearful farewell to his favourite, and resign himself to his loss.
All this had taken place many months ago.
Now when the "Unicorn"—that was the name of the vessel—returned to port, great was the astonishment of everybody (and no one's greater than Dick's) to find that the principal portion of the treasures on board belonged to the little scullery boy of Master Fitzwarren.
The very first day of its arrival there was brought to the house a cabinet of jewels, forming part of the boy's share, which was considered too precious to be left on board ship. And the men who brought it told this marvellous story:
When the ship reached Algiers, in Africa, the ruler of the land ordered all the crew to wait upon him with presents, which accordingly they did, after which he prepared a feast, and invited them all to partake. But no sooner were the covers removed then a swarm of rats, attracted by the scent of the good things, came and devoured all the victuals before their very faces. This, the governor told them, was no unusual thing, for rats were the plague of his land, and he would give any price to know of a means to be rid of them. Then one of the sailors bethought him of Dick Whittington's cat—who had already distinguished herself on shipboard by her industry in her art—and accordingly next day, when the feast was served, and the rats, as usual, prepared to make away with it, puss was produced, and not only drove away the pest, but killed a considerable number. This happening for several days, his highness was so delighted that he instantly offered an enormous sum for the possession of so remarkable an animal, and loaded the crew with presents, in token of his joy and gratitude.
Such was the story of the men, which explained this wonderful prize which fell to the share of the fortunate Dick Whittington.
He, poor lad, could not understand it all, and went on with his drudgery in the scullery as if nothing had happened, until his master compelled him to quit it, and from being his boy-of-all-work made him his partner in business.
Then Dick remembered the words the bells had sung to him a while ago, and rejoiced that he had obeyed their call.
He rejoiced at another thing too, which was that the kind young daughter of Master Fitzwarren, who had pitied him in his poverty, did not avoid him in his prosperity, but smiled happily upon him when he took his seat at the family table to eat out of the dishes he had so recently scoured.
So this scullery boy became a rich merchant, and being just and honourable as well as wealthy, he gained the respect and love of all with whom he had to do. When he grew to be a man, he married the kind Miss Fitzwarren, which made him happier than all his wealth.
Not only did merchants look up to him, but nobles and even kings came to him in their money difficulties, and he was the same upright gentleman to all men. Honours increased, and at last the prophecy of Bow Bells came true, and Sir Richard Whittington was made Lord Mayor of London.
In that capacity he grew still in riches and fame; and when his first term was expired, his admiring fellow-citizens, after a few years, made him Lord Mayor for a second time, and when the second term was past, for a third. His third mayoralty happened in 1419, when King Henry the Fourth was on the throne of England; and then it was his honours rose to their highest pitch, for he entertained at his own table the king and queen of the land in such grand style that Henry said of him, "Never king had such a subject."
And never poor had such a friend. He never forgot the little forlorn boy on Highgate Hill, and it was his delight to his latest day to make the hearts of the needy glad, and show to all that it is not for money nor grandeur but for an honest soul and a kind heart that a man is to be loved and honoured by his fellows.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
EDWARD THE BLACK PRINCE, THE BOY WHO WON A BATTLE.
The sun rose brightly over the little village of Crecy on the morning of Saturday, August 26, 1346. The golden corn was standing in the fields, the cattle were quietly grazing in the meadows, the birds were twittering in the woods, and in the still morning air rose the gentle murmur of a joyous stream. Everything spoke of peace that bright summer morning; little could one have dreamed that before that sun should have set in the west the din and thunder of battle would wake the echoes of those quiet woods, or that those sunny fields would be torn and desolated by the angry tread of thousands of feet, or strewn with heaps of dead or dying! Yet so it was to be. A large army was even then halting in the cover of the forest over against the village, and far, far away, if any one had listened, might have been heard, mingling with the voices of the morning, the sound of a great host of horsemen and soldiers advancing in hot pursuit, with now and then a trumpet blast which echoed faintly among the hills.
The English soldiers, as they rose from their beds of turf and grass, heard those far-off sounds, and knew—who better?—they must fight like men to-day or perish.
So they sprang to their feet and seized their arms and armour, ready at any instant to obey the summons to action.
Suddenly along the ranks came the cry, "The king and the prince!" and directly afterwards appeared the great King Edward the Third of England riding slowly down the line of his army, and at his side a stately boy of sixteen years, dressed in black armour and mounted on a black horse. Never was king more honoured or king's son more loved than were these two as they passed with cheery word and dauntless bearing among their loyal and devoted soldiers.
The king stopped when he had reached a spot from which a good portion of his host could hear him, and raised his hand.
Every man stood silent as he spoke.
"My loyal subjects, we must meet to-day a host greater than we in number, but not greater in valour. Fight, I charge you, for the honour of your country. My son here leads the first division of my army. This is his first battle, and sure I am he will quit himself like a man. Do you the same, and God will give us the victory."
With such encouraging and confident words the king addressed his men, who cheered him and the brave prince long and loud.
Then every man took his helmet and his bow, and waited for the enemy.
The morning passed, but still no foe appeared. But the distant murmur was now grown to a loud and ever-increasing din; and as they sat the English could hear shouts and the neighing of horses and the tumult of many voices, which betokened the near approach of the host of King Philip of France.
It was not till about three in the afternoon that the French army came in sight of Crecy. They had had a rapid and fatiguing march since daybreak, and were now in no condition, even with their vastly superior numbers, to grapple with the refreshed and inspirited Englishmen. So thought and said many of Philip's officers, and did their best to persuade him to put off the encounter till next day.
But however much Philip might have been inclined to adopt this good advice, his army was in such a state of confusion and disorder, owing to their rapid march, that they were quite unmanageable. When the officers bade those in front to halt, those behind, shouting and impatient, still pressed on, so much so that the king and all his nobles were carried along with them into the very face of the English, who stood awaiting the attack.
When Philip saw the collision could not be put off, that the battle was inevitable, he shouted loudly, "Bring forward the Genoese bowmen!"
Now these bowmen, 15,000 in number, on whom Philip depended to scatter and drive from the field the main portion of his enemy's force, were in no sort of condition for beginning a battle after their long, fatiguing march, and with the strings of their crossbows all loose with damp, and with a dazzling sun now glaring full in their eyes. But Philip, too confident to heed any such trifles, impatiently, nay, angrily, ordered them to the front, and bade them shoot a volley against the English archers, who stood opposite.
So these foreigners stepped forward, and, as their manner was, gave three leaps in the air, with the idea of terrifying the foes, and then raised their bows to their cheeks, and let fly their arrows wildly in the direction of the English.
The trusty English archers, with the sun behind them, were not the men to be intimidated by leapings into the air, nor panic-struck by a discharge so ill-aimed that scarce one arrow in ten even grazed their armour.
Their reply to the Genoese was a sudden step forward, and a sharp, determined twang of their bow-strings. Then the air was white with the cloud of their arrows, and next moment the foremost ranks of the Genoese were seen to drop like one man.
This was enough for those already dispirited hirelings. They fell back in panic disorder; they cut their bow-strings; they rushed among the very feet of the horsemen that Philip, in his rage, had ordered "to ride forward and cut down the cowardly villains!" Then the confusion of the French army was complete.
The English followed up their first advantage steadily and quickly. Knight after knight of the French dropped from his horse, troop after troop fell back, standard after standard tottered.
Nowhere was the fight fiercer than where the young Black Prince led the van of the English; and from a windmill on a near hill, the eager eyes of King Edward watched with pride that figure clad in black armour ever in the thick of the fight, and never halting an instant where danger or duty called.
It would be too long to tell of all the fighting that day. Philip, with his great army, could not dislodge his compact foe from their position; nor could he shelter his men from the deadly flight of their arrows. Bravely he rushed himself into the fray to rally his men, but to no avail. Everywhere they fell back before their invincible enemy.
Once, indeed, it seemed as if his brave knights would surround and drive back the division of which the boy prince was leader. An English noble sent post-haste a message to Edward to say, "Send help; the prince is in danger."
But Edward knew more of battles than most of his officers. He replied coolly—
"Is the prince slain?"
"Is he wounded?"
"Is he struck down?"
"Then go, tell him the battle he has won so far shall be his, and his only. To-day he must win his own spurs."
The words flew like wildfire among the English ranks, and our brave men fought with renewed valour.
That evening, as the sun was getting low in the west, Philip and his host turned their backs on Crecy and fled—all that were left of them— anywhere to be out of the reach of the army of that invincible boy. Horsemen and footmen, bag and baggage, they fled, with the English close at their heels, and never drew rein till night and darkness put an end to the pursuit.
Meanwhile, there were rejoicing and thanksgiving on the field of Crecy. The English king hastened from his post of observation, and, in the presence of the whole army, embraced his brave son, and gave him the honours of that glorious victory, wherein two kings, eleven princes, 1,200 knights, and 30,000 men had fallen. A sad price for glory! "Sweet son," said he, "God give you good perseverance. You are my true and valiant son, and have this day shown yourself worthy of a crown."
And the brave boy bowed low before his father, and modestly disclaimed the whole glory of the victory.
Loud and long did the loyal knights and soldiers cheer their brave king and their heroic prince; and when they saw the latter bind on his helmet the plume of three ostrich feathers, worn by the most illustrious of his slain foemen, John, King of Bohemia, with the noble motto Ich dien ("I serve") beneath, their enthusiasm knew no bounds. And the motto has descended from prince to prince since then, and remains to this day as a glorious memorial of this famous boy, who earned it by doing his duty in the face of danger, and setting an example to all about him that "he who serves rules."
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
HENRY OF MONMOUTH, THE PRINCE WHOM A JUDGE SENT TO PRISON.
A strange crowd thronged the Court of King's Bench one memorable day four and a half centuries ago. Nobles and commoners alike jostled their way into the sombre hall, every one intent on securing a good place, some talking loudly, others arguing angrily, all highly excited and impatient. It was evident that the trial about to take place was one of unusual interest and extraordinary importance, for the gloomy court was not used to be so crowded, and seldom attracted so mixed and so eager a throng as that which now filled it.
Suddenly a lull fell on the scene, heads were uncovered, the jostling and wrangling ceased, and order prevailed.
The judge, Lord Justice Gascoigne, entered and took his seat. He was a grave, quiet man, but there was something in his look so dignified and so firm, that it awed into respectful silence all within that place as if by a spell. Then he said—"Bring hither the prisoner."
All eyes turned now to the door by which the officer of the court went out to obey the order.
Presently it swung back, and there entered, between two jailors, a man of dissipated appearance and reckless demeanour, whose flushed cheeks and extravagant attire told only too plainly their own sad tale of intemperance and debauchery.
He regarded with an indifferent look judge, jury, and the crowd which his trial had drawn together, and took his place at the bar rather with the air of a man harassed and ill-used than of one guilty and overawed.
The trial began. The story of the man's crime was a short and simple one. He had been ringleader in a highway robbery lately committed, and taken in the very act, with the booty upon his person. The evidence was clear as daylight; no one attempted to dispute it or deny the accusation.
Was this, then, all that had brought the assembly together? The man was of a name known to comparatively few of those present. His crime was an ordinary felony, and his defence appeared to be hopeless. It was evidently something else than this for which these onlookers had crowded into court, and it was not long before their curiosity was satisfied.
A witness stood forward to be questioned as to the associates of the prisoner. He gave several names, and then stopped.
"Have no others joined him in these expeditions?" inquired the judge.
The witness hesitated.
"The law requires that you shall tell the whole truth," calmly said the judge. "Have no others joined the prisoner in these expeditions?"
Then the truth came out.
"The Prince Henry of Wales has borne the prisoner company on divers occasions."
What! A Prince of Wales, the coming King of England, implicated in a disgraceful, discreditable highway robbery! Though the crowd had heard of it already, a buzz of astonishment passed through their midst, as the fact was thus clearly and indisputably established.
"Was the prince concerned in the robbery for which the prisoner is now charged?"
Witness could not say.
In reply to further questions, however, it was stated that the prince frequently formed one of the party which indulged in these illegal practices; that he was as lawless and desperate as the worst of them; and that he was known to boast among his boon companions of his exploits as a common highwayman, and to exhibit proudly the plunder he had thus acquired.
It was enough. The judge reminded the court that they were met to try, not the prince, but the prisoner at the bar; and painful as the fact was, it was no affair of theirs at that time to investigate the conduct of another man, except in as far as it threw light on the present case.
The good judge was not the only man in England who had watched the dissipated career of the young prince with sorrow and concern. All to whom the honour of their country was dear bewailed the wasted youth and misused talents of this boy, whom his father's jealousy and illiberality had driven into courses of riot and debauchery. They longed for the time to come, ere it was too late, when the serious duties of the camp or the throne would call out those better traits of his disposition which at present lay hidden beneath what was discreditable and wretched. They saw in him a nobility disfigured and a chivalry marred, still capable of asserting itself, but which as yet every rebuke and every warning had failed to arouse; and on this account the good people of England sorrowed with a jealous sorrow over their "Prince Hal," and looked forward with trembling to see how all this would end.
But to return. The case against the prisoner was full and complete, and nothing now remained but to pronounce him guilty, and sentence him to the penalty his crime required. This duty the judge was proceeding to discharge, when at the door of the court was heard a commotion. For a moment the judge's words were drowned in the shuffling of feet and the sound of voices; then the door opened, and in walked a youth, scarcely more than a boy, tall, slender, and handsome, with flushed cheeks and wild eye, fashionably dressed, with a sword at his side and a plumed hat upon his head.
"The Prince of Wales!" broke from the lips of a score of onlookers, as they recognised in that youth the heir to the crown, towards whose delinquencies their thoughts had that moment been turned.
He advanced gaily and recklessly to the bench, the crowd falling back on either side to give him passage. As he passed the bar at which the prisoner stood awaiting his sentence, he stopped, and, nodding familiarly, exclaimed—
"What ho, comrade! I heard thou wast in trouble, and have come myself to ease thee; so cheer up, lad!" Then approaching the judge, he said, "Good Master Gascoigne, your prisoner is a friend of mine, too gay a comrade to languish in bonds for a trifling scrape like this. Spare yourself, therefore, further pains on his account, and come, solace your gravity with a party of boon companions who assemble to-night to celebrate their hero's emancipation from your clutches!"
Gravely and sorrowfully the judge regarded the prince who thus flippantly defied the law of which he was the guardian, but his face was firm and his voice authoritative as he replied—
"Prince, my duty is to defend the laws of the king, your father, not to break them. As you entered, I was passing the sentence of imprisonment on the prisoner which he has merited by his evil deeds. That sentence must now be put in force."
Prince Henry's face clouded, and he scowled as he exclaimed—
"What I would you defy the Prince of Wales to his very face? Liberate my comrade, I charge you, at once, or it shall be the worse for you!"
"Be warned, prince. They who obstruct the law incur the penalties of the law, be they princes or peasants. Officers, remove the prisoner."
Henry flushed angrily, and his eyes glared like fire. Advancing a step, he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword, and drew it from its scabbard.
The judge rose quietly to his feet, and laying his hand gently on the foolish boy's shoulder, said, in a voice calm and clear, which all could hear—
"Henry, Prince of Wales, I arrest thee in the name of the king, your father, whose laws you have defied, and whose court you have insulted! Officers, remove the prince in custody."
There was a strange and solemn pause as the judge resumed his seat, and all eyes turned on Henry. The firmness of the judge had touched the right chord at last. The sword dropped back into its sheath, the scowl of passion gave place to the flush of shame, the wild eyes sought the ground, and the haughty head hung down in confusion. Without a word he submitted to the officers of the court, and accompanied them to the place of his confinement, humble and repentant.
Years after this a gay throng of courtiers were assembled at court to do homage to King Henry the Fifth of England on his accession to the throne. There were there princes and nobles and ladies—some the friends of the late king, some the friends of the new. In the faces of not a few of the former might be detected traces of uneasiness and anxiety; while the latter talked and looked, for the most part, confident and triumphant. It was easy to guess the cause of this strange variety of feeling. The gay young reveller was now king. There were some there who had made no secret of their disapproval of his wild courses as a prince. How would he regard them now the crown was on his head? Others there were who had borne him company in his excesses, drinking from the same bowl, and sharing in all the lawlessness of his lawless youth. Was not the time for their advancement come, now that the fountain of honour was in the person of their own boon companion and comrade?
Amid waving and acclamation, the young king stepped into the presence chamber to receive the homage of his subjects.
In general appearance he was not much changed from the tall, handsome youth who, a few years ago, had openly defied the law and insulted its dignity; but the more serious expression of his face, and the more sedate pose of his lips, betokened an inward change of no small importance. And now that the whole court was eagerly looking for some indication of his conduct under the new honours and duties which had this day devolved upon him, he was not long in satisfying their curiosity in a decided and significant manner.
Glancing for a moment among the gay throng which surrounded him, his eye lit on a grave, dignified man, with clear eye and firm mouth, now advanced in years, and clad in the robes of a judge.
King Henry stepped towards him, and, with a friendly smile, took him by the hand.
"Good Master Gascoigne," he said, "I know you of old. What my father said of you, let me say too, in the hearing of all these people. Happy is the king that has such a man who dares to execute justice even on the king's son. You did well by me when you once committed me to prison; you shall still be my councillor and the trusted guardian of my laws."
The judge bowed low as he replied, "My lord, your father added yet another word to that you have yourself recalled. Happy, said he, the king that has such a son, who will submit even his princely self to the hand of justice."
And a tear stood in the grave man's eye as he kissed the hand of him who had once been his prisoner, but was now his king and his friend.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
LAMBERT SIMNEL, THE BAKER'S BOY WHO PRETENDED TO BE A KING.
A scene of unwonted excitement was being enacted in Dublin. The streets were thronged with people, the houses were gay with flags, soldiers lined the paths, and nobles in their grand carriages went by in procession. The common folk shouted till they were hoarse, and pressed forward on every hand towards the great church of the city, to witness the ceremony which was taking place there.
Whence was all this excitement? How came the Irish capital into such a state of festivity and holiday-making? The story is a short one and a strange.
Some weeks before, a man in the dress of a priest, accompanied by a good-looking boy, had landed in Dublin, and made his way to the residence of the governor of the place, with whom he sought an interview. On being admitted, he much astonished that nobleman by the tale he told.
It was well known that Richard the Third had during his lifetime shut up in prison the young Earl of Warwick, his nephew, whose title to the crown was better than his own. The cruel uncle, who seemed unable to endure the presence of any of those whom he had so basely robbed of their inheritance, had already, as is well known, murdered those other two nephews whose claims were most prominent and unmistakable. The young Earl of Warwick, however, was allowed to keep his life, but remained a close prisoner in a castle in Yorkshire.
When Henry the Seventh took the crown from Richard and became king, he was by no means disposed to liberate a prince who was clearly nearer to the throne than himself. So he had him removed from Yorkshire to the Tower of London, where he remained almost forgotten amid the bustle of coronation festivities of the new king.
Now the story told by the priest was that this prince had succeeded in escaping from the Tower, and indeed was none other than the lad who now stood at his side, having made his way to Ireland in the company of his tutor and friend, to beg the aid of the Governor of Dublin in an effort to recover his lawful inheritance.
The Earl of Kildare (that was the governor's name) looked in astonishment from one to the other, and bade them repeat their story, asking the boy many questions about his childhood and the companions of his youth, which the latter answered so glibly and unhesitatingly that the foolish governor was fully persuaded this was no other than the rightful King of England.
He caused the lad to be treated with all the honour due to royalty; he gave him a guard of soldiers, he showed him to the populace, who welcomed him with enthusiasm, and he set to work to organise an army which should follow to enforce his claim to the throne of England.
The boy took all this sudden glory in a half-bewildered manner, but adhered so correctly to his plausible story that none of those generous Irish folk doubted that he was any other than the disinherited prince he professed to be.
Had they only known that the youth about whom they were so enthusiastic was no better than a baker's son, named Lambert Simnel, they might have been less pleased.
Well, in due time it was decided to crown the new king with all honour. And this was the occasion about which, as we have seen, Dublin was in such a state of festivity and holiday.
The boy was conducted with great pomp to church, amid the shouts of the people, and there crowned with a diadem taken from a statue of the Virgin Mary. Afterwards, according to custom, he was borne on the shoulders of a huge Irish chieftain back to the castle, where he lived as a king for some time.
All this while the real Earl of Warwick was safe in the Tower, and now when the rumour of Lambert Simnel's doings in Ireland reached King Henry, he had him brought out from his prison and exhibited in public, so that every one might be convinced of the imposture of the boy who set himself up to be the same person.
But though the people of England were thus kept from being deceived, as the Irish had been, there were a good many of them who heartily disliked King Henry, and were ready to join in any movement against him, irrespective of right or wrong. The consequence was, Lambert Simnel—or rather the people who instigated him in his falsehood—found they might count on a fair amount of support even from those who discredited their story; and this encouraged them to attempt an invasion of England, and venture their scheme on the field of battle. So, with a force of about 8,000 men, they landed in Lancashire. There is no need to tell the result of this expedition. After many disappointments occasioned by the reluctance of the people to join them, they encountered the king's army near Newark, and after a desperate battle were defeated, and lost all their leaders. Lambert Simnel and the priest were taken prisoners, and for a time there was an end of this silly attempt to deceive the nation.
In the following years of Henry's reign, any one entering the royal kitchens might have observed a boy, meanly dressed, following his occupation as a turnspit; and that boy, had he felt disposed to give you his history, would have told you how once upon a time he was crowned a king, and lived in a palace, how nobles bowed the knee before him, and troops fought at his bidding. He would have told how people had hailed him as King Edward of England, and rushed along beside his carriage, eager to catch so much as a glance from his eye. And then he would go on to tell how all this was because designing men had put into his head foolish ambitions, and taught him to repeat a likely-looking story. And if one had questioned him further, doubtless he would have confessed that he was happier far now as a humble turnspit than ever he had been as a sham king, and would have warned one sadly that cheats never prosper, however successful they may seem for a time; and that contentment with one's lot, humble though it be, brings with it rewards infinitely greater than riches or power wrongly acquired.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
EDWARD AND RICHARD PLANTAGENET, THE BOYS WHO WERE MURDERED IN THE TOWER.
A horseman stood at the gate of the Tower of London, and demanded entrance in the name of the king, Richard Iii.
On hearing the summons, and the authority claimed by the stranger, the governor, Sir Thomas Brackenbury, directed that he should be admitted, and deliver his message.
"Read this," said the man, handing a missive sealed with the royal seal.
Sir Thomas read the document hastily, and as he read his face grew troubled. For a long time he was silent; then addressing the king's messenger, he said—
"Know you the contents of this letter?"
"How should I know?" replied the other evasively.
"The king directs me here," said Sir Thomas, "to do a deed horrible and unworthy of a man. He demands that I should rid him of the two lads now lying in this Tower in my custody."
"And what of that?" said the king's messenger. "Is it not necessary to the country's peace? And will you, Sir Thomas, render so base an ingratitude for the favours you have received at the king's hands by refusing him this service?"
"Not even with the sanction of a king will Thomas Brackenbury hire himself out as a butcher. My office and all I have," he added, "I hold at His Majesty's pleasure. He may take them from me if he will, but my hands shall at least stay free from innocent blood!"
With that he bade the messenger return to his master and deliver his reply.
When Richard, away in Gloucestershire, heard of the refusal of the Governor of the Tower to execute his commands, he was very wroth, and vowed he would yet carry out his cruel purpose with regard to his two helpless nephews.
These two boys, the sons of Edward the Fourth, were the principal obstacles to Richard's undisturbed possession of the throne he had usurped. The elder of them, a boy of thirteen, had already been crowned as Edward the Fifth, but he was a king in name only. Scarcely had the coronation taken place when his bad uncle, under the pretence of offering his protection, got him into his power, and shut him up, with his young brother Richard, in the Tower, while he himself plotted for the crown to which he had neither right nor title.
How he succeeded in his evil schemes history has recorded.
By dint of falsehood and cunning he contrived to make himself acknowledged king by an unwilling people; and then, when the height of his ambition had been attained, he could not rest till those whom he had so shamefully robbed of their inheritance were out of his path.
Therefore it was he sent his messenger to Sir Robert Brackenbury.
Foiled in his design of making this officer the instrument of his base scheme, he summoned to his presence Sir James Tyrrel, a man of reckless character, ready for whatever might bring him profit or preferment; and to him he confided his wishes.
That same day Tyrrel started for London, armed with a warrant entrusting him with the Governorship of the Tower for one day, during which Sir Robert Brackenbury was to hand over the fortress and all it contained to his keeping.
The brave knight had nothing for it but to obey this order, though he well knew its meaning, and could foretell only too readily its result.
In a lofty room of that gloomy fortress, that same summer evening, the two hapless brothers were sitting, little dreaming of the fate so nearly approaching.
The young king had indeed for some time past seemed to entertain a vague foreboding that he would never again breathe the free air outside his prison. He had grown melancholy, and the buoyant spirits of youth had given place to a listlessness and heaviness strangely out of keeping with his tender years. He cared neither for talk nor exercise, and neglected both food and dress. His brother, two years younger than himself, was of a more hopeful demeanour, perhaps realising less fully the hardships and dangers of their present imprisonment. As they sat this evening in their lonely chamber, he tried to rally his elder brother from his melancholy.
"Look not so black, brother; we shall soon be free. Why should we give up hope?"
The young king answered nothing, and apparently did not heed his brother's words.
"Nay," persisted the latter, "should we not be glad our lives are spared us, and that our imprisonment is made easy by the care of good Sir Robert, our governor?"
Still Edward remained absorbed in his own gloomy reflections, and the younger lad, thus foiled in his efforts at cheerfulness, became silent too, and sad, and so continued till a warder entered their chamber with food, and remained to attend them to bed.
They tasted little that evening, for the shadow of what was to come seemed already to have crept over their spirits.
"Will Sir Robert come to see us, as is his wont, before we retire to rest?" inquired Richard of the warder.
"Sir Robert is not now Governor of the Tower," curtly replied the man.
Now indeed they felt themselves utterly friendless, and as they crept to their bed they clung one to the other, in all the loneliness of despair.
Then the warder took his leave, and they heard the key turn in the lock behind him, and counted his footsteps as he descended the stairs.
Presently sleep mercifully fell upon their weary spirits, and closed their weeping eyes with her gentle touch.
At dead of night three men stole up the winding staircase that led to their chamber, armed, and carrying a light. The leader of these was Sir James Tyrrel, and his evil-looking companions were the men he had hired to carry out the cruel order of the king. The key turned in the door, and they entered the apartment.
It was a sight to touch any heart less hard than those of the three villains who now witnessed it, to see those two innocent boys sleeping peacefully in each other's arms, dreaming perhaps of liberty, and forgetting the sorrow which had left its traces even yet on their closed eyes. But to Tyrrel and his two assassins, Forest and Deighton, the spectacle suggested neither pity nor remorse.
At a signal from Tyrrel, who remained outside the room while the deed was being done, the ruffians snatched the pillows from under the heads of the sleepers, and ere they could either resist or cry out the poor lads were stifled beneath their own bedclothes, and so perished.
Then these two murderers called to Tyrrel to enter and look on their work, and bear witness that the king's command had been faithfully executed.
The cup of Richard's wickedness was now full. He concealed for some time the fate of his two victims, and few people knew what had become of their rightful king and his brother. But the vengeance of Heaven fell on the cruel uncle speedily and terribly. His own favourite son died, his family turned against him, his people rebelled: the kingdom so evilly gained was taken from him, and he himself, after months of remorse, and fear, and gathering misfortunes, was slain in battle, lamented by none, and hated by all.
Two centuries later, in the reign of King Charles the Second, some workmen, digging in the Tower, discovered under the stairs leading to the chapel of the White Tower a box containing the bones of two children, corresponding to the ages of the murdered princes. These were found to be without doubt their remains, and in a quiet comer of Westminster Abbey, whither they were removed, a simple memorial now marks their last resting-place, and records the fact of their cruel murder by perhaps the worst king who ever sat upon the throne of England.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
EDWARD OF LANCASTER, THE BOY WHOSE LIFE A ROBBER SAVED.
A terrible scene might have been witnessed near the small town of Hexham, in Northumberland, one May afternoon in the year 1464. A great battle had just been fought and won. Civil war, with all its hideous accompaniments, had laid desolate those fair fields where once cattle were wont to browse and peasants to follow their peaceful toil. But now all was confusion and tumult. On the ground in heaps lay men and horses, dead and dying—the vanquished were crying for mercy, the victors were shouting for vengeance. The country for miles round was alive with fugitives and their pursuers. Women, children, and old men, as well as soldiers, joined in that panic flight; and shrieks, and shouts, and groans told only too plainly of the slaughter and terror of the pursuit. To slaughter the victors added robbery and outrage. Far and wide they scoured the country in quest of victims and booty; houses were burned, villages were desolated, fields were laid bare, nor till night mercifully fell over the land did that scene of terror end. War is indeed a terrible scourge, and civil war the most terrible of all.
But while many of those who pursued did so in a blind thirst after plunder and blood, there were others more determined in their going, whose object was rather to capture than to slay, who passed without heeding the common fugitives, and gave chase only to such parties as seemed to be covering the flight of persons of distinction from the scene of their disaster. Of such parties one was known to contain the King of England, nobles, and officers, whom the victors desired to make captive and get into their power; while it was also rumoured that the Queen herself, with her youthful son, was among the fugitives. The soldiers of the Duke of York would indeed have been elated, had they succeeded in getting into their power the king and his son, whose throne they had seized for their own leader, and so they followed hard after the flying host in all directions.
That same evening, as the sun was sinking, and the distant sounds of battle were growing faint in the air, a tall, stately woman, leading by the hand a boy of scarcely six years, walked hastily in the direction of a wood which skirted the banks of the River Tyne. It was evident from her dress and the jewels she wore that she was a lady of no ordinary importance, and a certain imperious look in her worn face seemed to suggest that she was one of those more used to ruling than obeying, to receiving honour rather than rendering it. The boy who accompanied her was also richly dressed, and reflected in his handsome face the proud nature of his mother, as this lady seemed to be. Just at present, however, his expression was one of terror. He clung eagerly to the hand of his protectress, and once and again cast a frightened look behind, as if expecting to get sight of the pursuers, from whose clutches they were even now seeking shelter.
"Mother," said the lad, as they entered the wood, and for the first time abated somewhat of their hurried progress, "I am weary and hungry. May we not rest here awhile and eat something?"
"My child," said the lady, "there is naught here to eat, and we must go farther ere we are safe from our cruel foes."
So they went on, deep into the gloomy shade of the wood, till they were far beyond the sight of the outer world, and where the rays of the setting sun scarce gave the feeblest light.
"Mother," said the boy presently, "this is an awful place; we shall die here."
"Fear not, my child," replied the lady bravely. "Heaven will protect us when none else can."
"But do not robbers abound in these woods? Have I not heard you say so?"
"It is true; but they will not hurt thee or me. Remember whose son thou art."
"Ay, I am the king's son; but I would fain have a morsel to eat."
Just then there was a crackling among the underwood, and a sound of voices approaching the spot.
The boy clutched his mother's hand and trembled. She stood pale and motionless.
The sound of feet grew nearer, and presently the voices of those who spoke became distinguishable.
"Some will be sure to find their way to this wood," said one.
"I hope such as do may have full purses," said another. "I have taken nothing these three days."
"Ay, truly, and these wars have made folk so poor, they are not worth robbing when we do find them."
"Soft! methought I heard a voice!" suddenly said one of the speakers.
The band halted and listened, and then, hearing nothing, pushed on.
"It's as likely as not we might fall in with royalty itself this night, for I hear the king's rout has been complete at Hexham."
"And more than that, he has fled from the field in one direction, while his queen and son have sought another!"
"Hist!" again cried he who had spoken before. "I certainly heard a voice. This way, my men; follow me."
And advancing at as rapid a pace as the wooded ground allowed of, he conducted them in the direction of the voices. Suddenly they emerged into a clearing, where confronted them the lady and her boy.
Loud laughed these greedy robbers, for they spied the jewels on the lady's person and the rich robes on her and her son.
Like cowardly ruffians, as they were, they rushed forward, heedless of the sex or age of their victims, and threatening to slay them should they resist, tore away jewels, and gold, and silk—all that was of value, roughly handling the two in so doing, and meeting every attempt to speak or resist with the menace of a drawn sword.
It was a rich plunder, for the lady's jewels were large and precious, and, besides, she bore about her no small quantity of gold and other treasure. When they had taken all they could lay their wicked hands on, the men fell to dividing among themselves their ill-gotten booty, glorying as they did so in their crime, and laughing brutally at the expense of their two defenceless victims.
As might be supposed, the task of dividing the spoil was one not quietly accomplished. The robbers began to argue as to the division, and from arguing they went on to disputing, and from disputing they came to fighting, in the midst of which the lady and her boy took an opportunity to escape unobserved into the thicket, and hasten as best they might from the reach of their plunderers.
Thus they fled, robbed and penniless, exposed to the cold evening air, famishing for lack of food, smarting under insult and wrong, and not knowing where next to turn for shelter or safety.
The courage of the lady, hitherto so conspicuous, now fairly gave way. She sat down on the ground, and taking her boy to her arms, abandoned herself to a flood of tears. "My son," she cried, "better if we had died by the sword of our enemies, than die a shameful death in these woods! Alas! was ever woman so miserable as I?"
"But, mother," said the boy, who now in turn took upon him the office of comforter, "the robbers left us with our lives, and we shall surely find some food here. Cheer up, mother; did you not tell me God would take care of us when no one else could?"
The mother's only answer was to take her boy in a closer embrace and kiss him passionately.
Suddenly there appeared before them a man of fierce aspect, holding in his hand a drawn sword.
Escape was impossible; robbed as they already were, they had nothing but their lives to offer to this wild ruffian. And would he scruple to murder where he could not rob?
The courage of the lady, in this desperate case, returned as quickly as it had lately deserted her.
A sudden resolution gleamed in her face; then, rising majestically to her feet, and taking by the hand her trembling boy, she advanced proud and stately towards the robber. The man halted wonderingly. There was something in the imperious bearing of this tall, beautiful lady— something in the appealing looks of the gallant boy—which for a moment cowed his lawless resolve, and made him hesitate.
Noticing this, the lady advanced close to him, and said in clear, majestic tones,—
"Behold, my friend, I commit to your care the safety of your king's son!"
The man started back in astonishment, the sword dropped from his hand, and a look, half of alarm, half of perplexity, took possession of his face.
Then he fell on one knee, and respectfully bowed almost to the earth.
"Art thou, then, our good Queen Margaret?"
"I am she."
"And this youth, is he indeed our royal master's son?"
Once more the wild man bowed low. Then the queen bade him arise, told him how she and the young prince had come into the plight, and ended by asking if he could give them food and shelter for a short time.
"All I have is your majesty's," said the man, "even my life. I will at once conduct you to my humble dwelling." And he lifted the weary boy tenderly in his arms, and led the queen to his cottage in the wood, where they got both food and shelter, and every care and attention from the robber's good wife.
"Mother," said the young prince that night, "thou saidst right, that Heaven would protect us."
"Ay, my boy, and will still protect us!"
For some days they rested at the cottage, tended with endless care by the loyal robber and his wife, until the pursuit from the battle of Hexham was over. Then, with the aid of her protector, the queen made her way to the coast, where a vessel waited to convey her and the prince to Flanders. Thus, for a time they escaped from all their dangers. Had the young prince lived to become King of England, we may be sure that the kind act of the robber would not have been suffered to die unrewarded. But, alas! Edward of Lancaster was never King of England.
The Wars of the Roses, as we all know, resulted in the utter defeat of the young prince's party. He was thirteen years old when the rival Houses of York and Lancaster fought their twelfth battle in the meadow at Tewkesbury. On that occasion Edward fought bravely in his own cause, but he and his followers were completely routed by the troops of King Edward the Fourth. Flying from the field of battle, he was arrested and brought before the young king.
"How dared you come here?" wrathfully inquired the usurper.
"To recover my father's crown and my own inheritance," boldly replied the prince.
Whereat, the history says, Edward struck at him with his iron gauntlet, and his attendants fell upon him and slew him with their swords.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
EDWARD THE SIXTH, THE GOOD KING OF ENGLAND.
It was a strange moment in the history of England when the great King Henry the Eighth. ("Bluff King Hal," as his subjects called him) breathed his last. However popular he may have been on account of his courage and energy, he possessed vices which must always withhold from him the name of a good king, and which, in fact, rendered his reign a continuous scene of cruelty and oppression. People were sick of hearing of the king and his wives—how he had beheaded one, and put away another, and ill-treated another, for no reason at all but his own selfish caprice. And men trembled for their lives when they remembered how Wolsey, and More, and Cromwell, and others had been sacrificed to the whimsical temper of this tyrannical sovereign. England, in fact, was tired out when Henry the Eighth died.
It was, at any rate, a change for them to find that their new king was in every respect the opposite of his father. Instead of the burly, hot- headed, self-willed, cruel Henry, they were now to be ruled by a frail, delicate, mild boy of nine, inheriting neither his father's vices nor his faults, and resembling him as little in mind as in body. But the chief difference of all was this—that this boy-king was good.
A good King of England. It was indeed and, alas! a novelty. How many, counting back to the day when the country first knew a ruler, could be so described? Had not the sceptre of England passed, almost without exception, down a line of usurpers, murderers, robbers, and butchers, and was it not a fact that the few kings who had not been knaves had been merely fools?
But now England had a good king and a clever king, what might not be expected of him?
On the day of his coronation all sorts of rumours were afloat respecting young Edward. Boy though he was, he was a scholar, and wrote letters in Latin. Young in years, he was mature in thought, he was a staunch Protestant, an earnest Christian. Tudor though he was, he loved peace, and had no pleasure in the sufferings of others. Was ever such a king?
"Alas," said some one, "that he is but a boy!"
The sight which presented itself within the walls of that gloomy fortress, the Tower of London, on the day of Edward the Sixth's proclamation, was an impressive one. Amidst a crowd of bishops and nobles, who bowed low as he advanced, the pale boy-king came forward to receive the homage of his new subjects.
Surely, thought some, as they looked, that little head is not fitted to the wearing of an irksome crown. But, for the most part, the crowd cheered, and shouted, "God save the king!" and not one was there who found it in his heart to wish young Edward Tudor ill.
The papist ceremony which had always before accompanied the coronation of English kings was now for the first time dispensed with. With joy the people heard good old Archbishop Cranmer urge the new king to see God truly worshipped, according to the doctrines of the Reformed religion; and with joy they heard the boy declare before them all his intention to rule his country according to the rules of God's Word and the Protestant faith.
Still, as we have said, many in the midst of their joy sighed as they looked at the frail boy, and wondered how so young a head would bear up amid all the perils and dangers of kingship; and well they might pity him.
The reign of Edward the Sixth is chiefly a history of the acts of his uncle, the Duke of Somerset, the Protector, and of the dissensions which embittered the government of that nobleman, leading finally to his death on the scaffold. Of Edward himself we do not hear much. We have occasional glimpses of him at his studies, under tutors chosen and superintended by Cranmer; but he does not seem to have taken much part— how could a boy of his age be expected to do so?—in the active duty of governing.
We know that such acts as the removal of popish restrictions from the clergy and people, the publication of the Book of Common Prayer, and the discouragement of all idolatrous and superstitious practices, had his hearty sympathy. In these and in such-like useful measures he interested himself, but as for the troubles and commotions of his reign, he had nothing to do with them.
His nobles, on the other hand, were by no means so passive. They made war in the king's name on Scotland, to capture a baby-wife for the poor boy, who was scarcely in his teens; they—accused and impeached one another; they brought their death warrants to Edward to sign, whether he liked or no (and he never did like); they persecuted those who disagreed with them; they goaded the common people into rebellion; they schemed how they should make their own fortunes after the young invalid was dead, and to that end worked upon his weakness and his timidity actually to disinherit his own sisters.