Hastings, who in this went thoroughly with the earl and the popular feeling, and whose only enemies in England were the Woodvilles, replied simply,—
"These are cheap terms, sire, for a king's life and the crown of England."
Edward started, and his eyes flashed that cold, cruel fire, which makes eyes of a light colouring so far more expressive of terrible passions than the quicker and warmer heat of dark orbs. "Think you so, sir? By God's blood, he who proffered them shall repent it in every vein of his body! Hark ye, William Hastings de Hastings, I know you to be a deep and ambitious man; but better for you had you covered that learned brain under the cowl of a mendicant friar than lent one thought to the counsels of the Earl of Warwick."
Hastings, who felt even to fondness the affection which Edward generally inspired in those about his person, and who, far from sympathizing, except in hate of the Woodvilles, with the earl, saw that beneath that mighty tree no new plants could push into their fullest foliage, reddened with anger at this imperious menace.
"My liege," said he, with becoming dignity and spirit, "if you can thus address your most tried confidant and your lealest friend, your most dangerous enemy is yourself."
"Stay, man," said the king, softening. "I was over warm, but the wild beast within me is chafed. Would Gloucester were here!"
"I can tell you what would be the counsels of that wise young prince, for I know his mind," answered Hastings.
"Ay, he and you love each other well. Speak out."
"Prince Richard is a great reader of Italian lere. He saith that those small States are treasuries of all experience. From that lere Prince Richard would say to you, 'Where a subject is so great as to be feared, and too much beloved to be destroyed, the king must remember how Tarpeia was crushed."
"I remember naught of Tarpeia, and I detest parables."
"Tarpeia, sire (it is a story of old Rome), was crushed under the weight of presents. Oh, my liege," continued Hastings, warming with that interest which an able man feels in his own superior art, "were I king for a year, by the end of it Warwick should be the most unpopular (and therefore the weakest) lord in England!"
"And how, O wise in thine own conceit?"
"Beau sire," resumed Hastings, not heeding the rebuke—and strangely enough he proceeded to point out, as the means of destroying the earl's influence, the very method that the archbishop had detailed to Montagu as that which would make the influence irresistible and permanent—"Beau sire," resumed Hastings, "Lord Warwick is beloved by the people, because they consider him maltreated; he is esteemed by the people, because they consider him above all bribe; he is venerated by the people, because they believe that in all their complaints and struggles he is independent (he alone) of the king. Instead of love, I would raise envy; for instead of cold countenance I would heap him with grace. Instead of esteem and veneration I would raise suspicion; for I would so knit him to your House, that he could not stir hand or foot against you; I would make his heirs your brothers. The Duke of Clarence hath married one daughter,—wed the other to Lord Richard. Betroth your young princess to Montagu's son, the representative of all the Neviles. The earl's immense possessions must thus ultimately pass to your own kindred. The earl himself will be no longer a power apart from the throne, but a part of it. The barons will chafe against one who half ceases to be of their order, and yet monopolizes their dignities; the people will no longer see in the earl their champion, but a king's favourite and deputy. Neither barons nor people will flock to his banner."
"All this is well and wise," said Edward, musing; "but meanwhile my queen's blood? Am I to reign in a solitude?—for look you, Hastings, you know well that, uxorious as fools have deemed me, I had purpose and design in the elevation of new families; I wished to raise a fresh nobility to counteract the pride of the old, and only upon new nobles can a new dynasty rely."
"My Lord, I will not anger you again; but still, for a while, the queen's relations will do well to retire."
"Good night, Hastings," interrupted Edward, abruptly, "my pillow in this shall be my counsellor."
Whatever the purpose solitude and reflection might ripen in the king's mind, he was saved from immediate decision by news, the next morning, of fresh outbreaks. The commons had risen in Lincolnshire and the county of Warwick; and Anthony Woodville wrote word that, if the king would but show himself among the forces he had raised near Coventry, all the gentry around would rise against the rebellious rabble. Seizing advantage of these tidings, borne to him by his own couriers, and eager to escape from the uncertain soldiery quartered at Olney, Edward, without waiting to consult even with the earl, sprang to horse, and his trumpets were the first signal of departure that he deigned to any one.
This want of ceremony displeased the pride of Warwick; but he made no complaint, and took his place by the king's side, when Edward said shortly,—
"Dear cousin, this is a time that needs all our energies. I ride towards Coventry, to give head and heart to the raw recruits I shall find there; but I pray you and the archbishop to use all means, in this immediate district, to raise fresh troops; for at your name armed men spring up from pasture and glebe, dyke and hedge. Join what troops you can collect in three days with mine at Coventry, and, ere the sickle is in the harvest, England shall be at peace. God speed you! Ho! there, gentlemen, away!—a franc etrier!"
Without pausing for reply,—for he wished to avoid all questioning, lest Warwick might discover that it was to a Woodville that he was bound,—the king put spurs to his horse, and, while his men were yet hurrying to and fro, rode on almost alone, and was a good mile out of the town before the force led by St. John and Raoul de Fulke, and followed by Hastings, who held no command, overtook him.
"I misthink the king," said Warwick, gloomily; "but my word is pledged to the people, and it shall be kept."
"A man's word is best kept when his arm is the strongest," said the sententious archbishop; "yesterday, you dispersed an army; to-day, raise one!"
Warwick answered not, but, after a moment's thought, beckoned to Marmaduke.
"Kinsman," said he, "spur on, with ten of my little company, to join the king. Report to me if any of the Woodvilles be in his camp near Coventry."
"Whither shall I send the report?"
"To my castle of Warwick."
Marmaduke bowed his head, and, accustomed to the brevity of the earl's speech, proceeded to the task enjoined him. Warwick next summoned his second squire.
"My lady and her children," said he, "are on their way to Middleham. This paper will instruct you of their progress. Join them with all the rest of my troop, except my heralds and trumpeters; and say that I shall meet them ere long at Middleham."
"It is a strange way to raise an army," said the archbishop, dryly, "to begin by getting rid of all the force one possesses!"
"Brother," answered the earl, "I would fain show my son-in-law, who may be the father of a line of kings, that a general may be helpless at the head of thousands, but that a man may stand alone who has the love of a nation."
"May Clarence profit by the lesson! Where is he all this while?"
"Abed," said the stout earl, with a slight accent of disdain; and then, in a softer voice, he added, "youth is ever luxurious. Better the slow man than the false one."
Leaving Warwick to discharge the duty enjoined him, we follow the dissimulating king.
CHAPTER VI. WHAT BEFALLS KING EDWARD ON HIS ESCAPE FROM OLNEY.
As soon as Edward was out of sight of the spire of Olney, he slackened his speed, and beckoned Hastings to his side.
"Dear Will," said the king, "I have thought over thy counsel, and will find the occasion to make experiment thereof. But, methinks, thou wilt agree with me that concessions come best from a king who has an army of his own. 'Fore Heaven, in the camp of a Warwick I have less power than a lieutenant! Now mark me. I go to head some recruits raised in haste near Coventry. The scene of contest must be in the northern counties. Wilt thou, for love of me, ride night and day, thorough brake, thorough briar, to Gloucester on the Borders? Bid him march, if the Scot will let him, back to York; and if he cannot himself quit the Borders, let him send what men can be spared under thy banner. Failing this, raise through Yorkshire all the men-at-arms thou canst collect. But, above all, see Montagu. Him and his army secure at all hazards. If he demur, tell him his son shall marry his king's daughter, and wear the coronal of a duke. Ha, ha! a large bait for so large a fish! I see this is no casual outbreak, but a general convulsion of the realm; and the Earl of Warwick must not be the only man to smile or to frown back the angry elements."
"In this, beau sire," answered Hastings, "you speak as a king and a warrior should, and I will do my best to assert your royal motto,—'Modus et ordo.' If I can but promise that your Highness has for a while dismissed the Woodville lords, rely upon it that ere two months I will place under your truncheon an army worthy of the liege lord of hardy England."
"Go, dear Hastings, I trust all to thee!" answered the king. The nobleman kissed his sovereign's extended hand, closed his visor, and, motioning to his body-squire to follow him, disappeared down a green lane, avoiding such broader thoroughfares as might bring him in contact with the officers left at Olney.
In a small village near Coventry Sir Anthony Woodville had collected about two thousand men, chiefly composed of the tenants and vassals of the new nobility, who regarded the brilliant Anthony as their head. The leaders were gallant and ambitious gentlemen, as they who arrive at fortunes above their birth mostly are; but their vassals were little to be trusted. For in that day clanship was still strong, and these followers had been bred in allegiance to Lancastrian lords, whose confiscated estates were granted to the Yorkist favourites. The shout that welcomed the arrival of the king was therefore feeble and lukewarm; and, disconcerted by so chilling a reception, he dismounted, in less elevated spirits than those in which he had left Olney, at the pavilion of his brother-in-law.
The mourning-dress of Anthony, his countenance saddened by the barbarous execution of his father and brother, did not tend to cheer the king.
But Woodville's account of the queen's grief and horror at the afflictions of her House, and of Jacquetta's indignation at the foul language which the report of her practices put into the popular mouth, served to endear to the king's mind the family that he considered unduly persecuted. Even in the coldest breasts affection is fanned by opposition, and the more the queen's kindred were assailed, the more obstinately Edward clung to them. By suiting his humour, by winking at his gallantries, by a submissive sweetness of temper, which soothed his own hasty moods, and contrasted with the rough pride of Warwick and the peevish fickleness of Clarence, Elizabeth had completely wound herself into the king's heart. And the charming graces, the elegant accomplishments, of Anthony Woodville were too harmonious with the character of Edward, who in all—except truth and honour—was the perfect model of the gay gentilhomme of the time, not to have become almost a necessary companionship. Indolent natures may be easily ruled, but they grow stubborn when their comforts and habits are interfered with. And the whole current of Edward's merry, easy life seemed to him to lose flow and sparkle if the faces he loved best were banished, or even clouded.
He was yet conversing with Woodville, and yet assuring him that, however he might temporize, he would never abandon the interests of his queen's kindred, when a gentleman entered aghast, to report that the Lords St. John and de Fulke, on hearing that Sir Anthony Woodville was in command of the forces, had, without even dismounting, left the camp, and carried with them their retainers, amounting to more than half of the little troop that rode from Olney.
"Let them go," said Edward, frowning; "a day shall dawn upon their headless trunks!"
"Oh, my king," said Anthony, now Earl of Rivers,—who, by far the least selfish of his House, was struck with remorse at the penalty Edward paid for his love marriage,—"now that your Highness can relieve me of my command, let me retire from the camp. I would fain go a pilgrim to the shrine of Compostella to pray for my father's sins and my sovereign's weal."
"Let us first see what forces arrive from London," answered the king. "Richard ere long will be on the march from the frontiers, and whatever Warwick resolves, Montagu, whose heart I hold in my hand, will bring his army to my side. Let us wait."
But the next day brought no reinforcements, nor the next; and the king retired betimes to his tent, in much irritation and perplexity; when at the dead of the night he was startled from slumber by the tramp of horses, the sound of horns, the challenge of the sentinels, and, as he sprang from his couch, and hurried on his armour in alarm, the Earl of Warwick abruptly entered. The earl's face was stern, but calm and sad; and Edward's brave heart beat loud as he gazed on his formidable subject.
"King Edward," said Warwick, slowly and mournfully, "you have deceived me! I promised to the commons the banishment of the Woodvilles, and to a Woodville you have flown."
"Your promise was given to rebels, with whom no faith can be held; and I passed from a den of mutiny to the camp of a loyal soldier."
"We will not now waste words, king," answered Warwick. "Please you to mount and ride northward. The Scotch have gained great advantages on the marches. The Duke of Gloucester is driven backwards. All the Lancastrians in the North have risen. Margaret of Anjou is on the coast of Normandy, [at this time Margaret was at Harfleur—Will. Wyre] ready to set sail at the first decisive victory of her adherents."
"I am with you," answered Edward; "and I rejoice to think that at last I may meet a foe. Hitherto it seems as if I had been chased by shadows. Now may I hope to grasp the form and substance of danger and of battle."
"A steed prepared for your Grace awaits you."
"Whither ride we first?"
"To my castle of Warwick, hard by. At noon to-morrow all will be ready for our northward march."
Edward, by this time having armed himself, strode from the tent into the open air. The scene was striking: the moon was extremely bright and the sky serene, but around the tent stood a troop of torch-bearers, and the red glare shone luridly upon the steel of the serried horsemen and the banners of the earl, in which the grim white bear was wrought upon an ebon ground, quartered with the dun bull, and crested in gold with the eagle of the Monthermers. Far as the king's eye could reach, he saw but the spears of Warwick; while a confused hum in his own encampment told that the troops Anthony Woodville had collected were not yet marshalled into order. Edward drew back.
"And the Lord Anthony of Scales and Rivers?" said he, hesitatingly.
"Choose, king, between the Lord Anthony of Scales and Rivers and Richard Nevile!" answered Warwick, in a stern whisper.
Edward paused, and at that moment Anthony himself emerged from his tent (which adjoined the king's) in company with the Archbishop of York, who had rode thither in Warwick's train.
"My liege," said that gallant knight, putting his knee to the ground, "I have heard from the archbishop the new perils that await your Highness, and I grieve sorely that, in this strait, your councillors deem it meet to forbid me the glory of fighting or falling by your side! I know too well the unhappy odium attached to my House and name in the northern parts, to dispute the policy which ordains my absence from your armies. Till these feuds are over, I crave your royal leave to quit England, and perform my pilgrimage to the sainted shrine of Compostella."
A burning flush passed over the king's face as he raised his brother-in-law, and clasped him to his bosom.
"Go or stay, as you will, Anthony!" said he; "but let these proud men know that neither time nor absence can tear you from your king's heart. But envy must have its hour Lord Warwick, I attend you; but it seems rather as your prisoner than your liege."
Warwick made no answer: the king mounted, and waved his hand to Anthony. The torches tossed to and fro, the horns sounded, and in a silence moody and resentful on either part Edward and his terrible subject rode on to the towers of Warwick.
The next day the king beheld with astonishment the immense force that, in a time so brief, the earl had collected round his standard.
From his casement, which commanded that lovely slope on which so many a tourist now gazes with an eye that seeks to call back the stormy and chivalric past, Edward beheld the earl on his renowned black charger, reviewing the thousands that, file on file and rank on rank, lifted pike and lance in the cloudless sun.
"After all," muttered the king, "I can never make a new noble a great baron! And if in peace a great baron overshadows the throne, in time of war a great baron is a throne's bulwark! Gramercy, I had been mad to cast away such an army,—an army fit for a king to lead! They serve Warwick now; but Warwick is less skilful in the martial art than I, and soldiers, like hounds, love best the most dexterous huntsman!"
CHAPTER VII. HOW KING EDWARD ARRIVES AT THE CASTLE OF MIDDLEHAM.
On the ramparts of feudal Middleham, in the same place where Anne had confessed to Isabel the romance of her childish love, again the sisters stood, awaiting the coming of their father and the king. They had only, with their mother, reached Middleham two days before, and the preceding night an advanced guard had arrived at the castle to announce the approach of the earl with his royal comrade and visitor. From the heights, already they beheld the long array winding in glorious order towards the mighty pile.
"Look!" exclaimed Isabel, "look! already methinks I see the white steed of Clarence. Yes! it is he! it is my George, my husband! The banner borne before shows his device."
"Ah, happy Isabel!" said Anne, sighing; "what rapture to await the coming of him one loves!"
"My sweet Anne," returned Isabel, passing her arm tenderly round her sister's slender waist, "when thou hast conquered the vain folly of thy childhood, thou wilt find a Clarence of thine own. And yet," added the young duchess, smiling, "it must be the opposite of a Clarence to be to thy heart what a Clarence is to mine. I love George's gay humour,—thou lovest a melancholy brow. I love that charming weakness which supples to my woman will,—thou lovest a proud nature that may command thine own. I do not respect George less, because I know my mind stronger than his own; but thou (like my gentle mother) wouldst have thy mate lord and chief in all things, and live from his life as the shadow from the sun. But where left you our mother?"
"In the oratory, at prayer."
"She has been sad of late."
"The dark times darken her; and she ever fears the king's falseness or caprice will stir the earl up to some rash emprise. My father's letter, brought last night to her, contains something that made her couch sleepless."
"Ha!" exclaimed the duchess, eagerly, "my mother confides in thee more than me. Saw you the letter?"
"Edward will make himself unfit to reign," said Isabel, abruptly. "The barons will call on him to resign; and then—and then, Anne—sister Anne,—Warwick's daughters cannot be born to be simple subjects!"
"Isabel, God temper your ambition! Oh, curb it, crush it down! Abuse not your influence with Clarence. Let not the brother aspire to the brother's crown."
"Sister, a king's diadem covers all the sins schemed in the head that wins it!"
As the duchess spoke, her eyes flashed and her form dilated. Her beauty seemed almost terrible.
The gentle Anne gazed and shuddered; but ere she found words to rebuke, the lovely shape of the countess-mother was seen moving slowly towards them. She was dressed in her robes of state to receive her kingly guest; the vest fitting high to the throat, where it joined the ermine tippet, and thickly sown with jewels; the sleeves tight, with the second or over sleeves, that, loose and large, hung pendent and sweeping even to the ground; and the gown, velvet of cramousin, trimmed with ermine,—made a costume not less graceful than magnificent, and which, where compressed, set off the exquisite symmetry of a form still youthful, and where flowing added majesty to a beauty naturally rather soft and feminine than proud and stately. As she approached her children, she looked rather like their sister than their mother, as if Time, at least, shrunk from visiting harshly one for whom such sorrows were reserved.
The face of the countess was so sad in its aspect of calm and sweet resignation that even the proud Isabel was touched; and kissing her mother's hand, she asked if any ill tidings preceded her father's coming.
"Alas, my Isabel, the times themselves are bad tidings! Your youth scarcely remembers the days when brother fought against brother, and the son's sword rose against the father's breast. But I, recalling them, tremble to hear the faintest murmur that threatens a civil war." She paused, and forcing a smile to her lips, added, "Our woman fears must not, however, sadden our lords with an unwelcome countenance; for men returning to their hearths have a right to a wife's smile; and so, Isabel, thou and I, wives both, must forget the morrow in to-day. Hark! the trumpets sound near and nearer! let us to the hall."
Before, however, they had reached the castle, a shrill blast rang at the outer gate. The portcullis was raised; the young Duke of Clarence, with a bridegroom's impatience, spurred alone through the gloomy arch, and Isabel, catching sight of his countenance lifted towards the ramparts, uttered a cry, and waved her hand. Clarence beard and saw, leaped from his steed, and had clasped Isabel to his breast, almost before Anne or the countess had recognized the new comer.
Isabel, however, always stately, recovered in an instant from the joy she felt at her lord's return, and gently escaping his embrace, she glanced with a blush towards the battlements crowded with retainers; Clarence caught and interpreted the look.
"Well, belle mere," he said, turning to the countess, "and if yon faithful followers do witness with what glee a fair bride inspires a returning bridegroom, is there cause for shame in this cheek of damascene?"
"Is the king still with my father?" asked Isabel, hastily, and interrupting the countess's reply.
"Surely, yes; and hard at hand. And pardon me that I forgot, dear lady, to say that my royal brother has announced his intention of addressing the principal officers of the army in Middleham Hall. This news gave me fair excuse for hastening to you and Isabel."
"All is prepared for his highness," said the countess, "save our own homage. We must quicken our steps; come, Anne." The countess took the arm of the younger sister, while the duchess made a sign to Clarence. He lingered behind, and Isabel, drawing him aside, asked,
"Is my father reconciled to Edward?"
"No,—nor Edward to him."
"Good! The king has no soldiers of his own amidst yon armed train?"
"Save a few of Anthony Woodville's recruits, none. Raoul de Fulke and St. John have retired to their towers in sullen dudgeon. But have you no softer questions for my return, bella mia?"
"Pardon me, many—my king."
"What other name should the successor of Edward IV. bear?"
"Isabel," said Clarence, in great emotion, "what is it you would tempt me to? Edward IV. spares the life of Henry VI., and shall Edward IV.'s brother conspire against his own?"
"Saints forefend!" exclaimed Isabel; "can you so wrong my honest meaning? O George! can you conceive that your wife—Warwick's daughter—harbours the thought of murder? No! surely the career before you seems plain and spotless! Can Edward reign? Deserted by the barons, and wearing away even my father's long-credulous love; odious! except in luxurious and unwarlike London, to all the commons—how reign? What other choice left? none,—save Henry of Lancaster or George of York."
"Were it so!" said the weak duke; and yet be added falteringly, "believe me, Warwick meditates no such changes in my favour."
"Time is a rapid ripener," answered Isabel; "but hark! they are lowering the drawbridge for our guests."
CHAPTER VIII. THE ANCIENTS RIGHTLY GAVE TO THE GODDESS OF ELOQUENCE A CROWN.
The lady of Warwick stood at the threshold of the porch, which, in the inner side of the broad quadrangle, admitted to the apartments used by the family; and, heading the mighty train that, line after line, emerged through the grim jaws of the arch, came the earl on his black destrier, and the young king.
Even where she stood, the anxious chatelaine beheld the moody and gloomy air with which Edward glanced around the strong walls of the fortress, and up to the battlements that bristled with the pikes and sallets of armed men, who looked on the pomp below, in the silence of military discipline.
"Oh, Anne!" she whispered to her youngest daughter, who stood beside her, "what are women worth in the strife of men? Would that our smiles could heal the wounds which a taunt can make in a proud man's heart!"
Anne, affected and interested by her mother's words, and with a secret curiosity to gaze upon the man who ruled on the throne of the prince she loved, came nearer and more in front; and suddenly, as he turned his head, the king's regard rested upon her intent eyes and blooming face.
"Who is that fair donzell, cousin of Warwick?" he asked.
"My daughter, sire."
"Ah, your youngest!—I have not seen her since she was a child."
Edward reined in his charger, and the earl threw himself from his selle, and held the king's stirrup to dismount. But he did so with a haughty and unsmiling visage. "I would be the first, sire," said he, with a slight emphasis, and as if excusing to himself his condescension, "to welcome to Middleham the son of Duke Richard."
"And your suzerain, my lord earl," added Edward, with no less proud a meaning, and leaning his hand lightly on Warwick's shoulder, he dismounted slowly. "Rise, lady," he said, raising the countess, who knelt at the porch, "and you too, fair demoiselle. Pardieu, we envy the knee that hath knelt to you." So saying, with royal graciousness, he took the countess's hand, and they entered the hall as the musicians, in the gallery raised above, rolled forth their stormy welcome.
The archbishop, who had followed close to Warwick and the king, whispered now to his brother,
"Why would Edward address the captains?"
"I know not."
"He hath made himself familiar with many in the march."
"Familiarity with a steel casque better becomes a king than waisall with a greasy flat-cap."
"You do not fear lest he seduce from the White Bear its retainers?"
"As well fear that he can call the stars from their courses around the sun."
While these words were interchanged, the countess conducted the king to a throne-chair raised upon the dais, by the side of which were placed two seats of state, and, from the dais, at the same time, advanced the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. The king prevented their kneeling, and kissed Isabel slightly and gravely on the forehead. "Thus, noble lady, I greet the entrance of the Duchess of Clarence into the royalty of England."
Without pausing for reply, he passed on and seated himself on the throne, while Isabel and her husband took possession of the state chairs on either hand. At a gesture of the king's the countess and Anne placed themselves on seats less raised, but still upon the dais. But now as Edward sat, the hall grew gradually full of lords and knights who commanded in Warwick's train, while the earl and the archbishop stood mute in the centre, the one armed cap-a-pie, leaning on his sword, the other with his arms folded in his long robes.
The king's eye, clear, steady, and majestic, roved round that martial audience, worthy to be a monarch's war-council, and not one of whom marched under a monarch's banner! Their silence, their discipline, the splendour of their arms, the greater splendour of their noble names, contrasted painfully with the little mutinous camp of Olney, and the surly, untried recruits of Anthony Woodville. But Edward, whose step, whose form, whose aspect, proclaimed the man conscious of his rights to be lord of all, betrayed not to those around him the kingly pride, the lofty grief, that swelled within his heart. Still seated, he raised his left hand to command silence; with the right he replaced his plumed cap upon his brow.
"Lords and gentlemen," he said (arrogating to himself at once, as a thing of course, that gorgeous following), "we have craved leave of our host to address to you some words,—words which it pleases a king to utter, and which may not be harsh to the ears of a loyal subject. Nor will we, at this great current of unsteady fortune, make excuse, noble ladies, to you, that we speak of war to knighthood, which is ever the sworn defender of the daughter and the wife,—the daughters and the wife of our cousin Warwick have too much of hero-blood in their blue veins to grow pale at the sight of heroes. Comrades in arms! thus far towards our foe upon the frontier we have marched, without a sword drawn or an arrow launched from an archer's bow. We believe that a blessing settles on the head of a true king, and that the trumpet of a good angel goes before his path, announcing the victory which awaits him. Here, in the hall of the Earl of Warwick, our captain-general, we thank you for your cheerful countenance and your loyal service; and here, as befits a king, we promise to you those honours a king alone worthily can bestow." He paused, and his keen eye glanced from chief to chief as he resumed: "We are informed that certain misguided and traitor lords have joined the Rose of Lancaster. Whoever so doth is attainted, life and line, evermore! His lands and dignities are forfeit to enrich and to ennoble the men who strike for me. Heaven grant I may have foes eno' to reward all my friends! To every baron who owns Edward IV. king (ay, and not king in name, king in banquet and in bower, but leader and captain in the war), I trust to give a new barony, to every knight a new knight's fee, to every yeoman a hyde of land, to every soldier a year's pay. What more I can do, let it be free for any one to suggest,—for my domains of York are broad, and my heart is larger still!"
A murmur of applause and reverence went round. Vowed, as those warriors were, to the earl, they felt that A MONARCH was amongst them.
"What say you, then? We are ripe for glory. Three days will we halt at Middleham, guest to our noble subject."
"Three days, sire!" repeated Warwick, in a voice of surprise.
"Yes; and this, fair cousin, and ye, lords and gentlemen, is my reason for the delay. I have despatched Sir William, Lord de Hastings, to the Duke of Gloucester, with command to join us here (the archbishop started, but instantly resumed his earnest, placid aspect); to the Lord Montagu, Earl of Northumberland, to muster all the vassals of our shire of York. As three streams that dash into the ocean, shall our triple army meet and rush to the war. Not even, gentlemen, not even to the great Earl of Warwick will Edward IV. be so beholden for roiaulme and renown, as to march but a companion to the conquest. If ye were raised in Warwick's name, not mine,—why, be it so! I envy him such friends; but I will have an army of mine own, to show mine English soldiery how a Plantagenet battles for his crown. Gentlemen, ye are dismissed to your repose. In three days we march! and if any of you know in these fair realms the man, be he of York or of Lancaster, more fit to command brave subjects than he who now addresses you, I say to that man, turn rein, and leave us! Let tyrants and cowards enforce reluctant service,—my crown was won by the hearts of my people! Girded by those hearts, let me reign, or, mourned by them, let me fall! So God and Saint George favour me as I speak the truth!"
And as the king ceased, he uncovered his head, and kissed the cross of his sword. A thrill went through the audience. Many were there, disaffected to his person, and whom Warwick's influence alone could have roused to arms; but at the close of an address spirited and loyal in itself, and borrowing thousand-fold effect by the voice and mien of the speaker, no feeling but that of enthusiastic loyalty, of almost tearful admiration, was left in those steel-clad breasts.
As the king lifted on high the cross of his sword, every blade leaped from its scabbard, and glittered in the air; and the dusty banners in the hall waved, as to a mighty blast, when, amidst the rattle of armour, burst forth the universal cry, "Long live Edward IV.! Long live the king!"
The sweet countess, even amidst the excitement, kept her eyes anxiously fixed on Warwick, whose countenance, however shaded by the black plumes of his casque, though the visor was raised, revealed nothing of his mind. Her daughters were more powerfully affected; for Isabel's intellect was not so blinded by her ambition but that the kingliness of Edward forced itself upon her with a might and solemn weight, which crushed, for the moment, her aspiring hopes.
Was this the man unfit to reign? This the man voluntarily to resign a crown? This the man whom George of Clarence, without fratricide, could succeed? No!—there spoke the soul of the First and the Third Edward! There shook the mane and there glowed the eye of the indomitable lion of the august Plantagenets! And the same conviction, rousing softer and holier sorrow, sat on the heart of Anne; she saw, as for the first time, clearly before her the awful foe with whom her ill-omened and beloved prince had to struggle for his throne. In contrast beside that form, in the prime of manly youth—a giant in its strength, a god in its beauty—rose the delicate shape of the melancholy boy who, afar in exile, coupled in his dreams, the sceptre and the bride! By one of those mysteries which magnetism seeks to explain, in the strong intensity of her emotions, in the tremor of her shaken nerves, fear seemed to grow prophetic. A stream as of blood rose up from the dizzy floors. The image of her young prince, bound and friendless, stood before the throne of that warrior-king. In the waving glitter of the countless swords raised on high, she saw the murderous blade against the boy-heir of Lancaster descend—descend! Her passion, her terror, at the spectre which fancy thus evoked, seized and overcame her; and ere the last hurrah sent its hollow echo to the raftered roof, she sank from her chair to the ground, hueless and insensible as the dead.
The king had not without design permitted the unwonted presence of the women in this warlike audience,—partly because he was not unaware of the ambitious spirit of Isabel, partly because he counted on the affection shown to his boyhood by the countess, who was said to have singular influence over her lord, but principally because in such a presence he trusted to avoid all discussion and all questioning, and to leave the effect of his eloquence, in which he excelled all his contemporaries, Gloucester alone excepted, single and unimpaired; and therefore, as he rose, and returned with a majestic bend the acclamation of the warriors, his eye now turned towards the chairs where the ladies sat, and he was the first to perceive the swoon of the fair Anne.
With the tender grace that always characterized his service to women, he descended promptly from his throne, and raised the lifeless form in his stalwart arms; and Anne, as he bent over her, looked so strangely lovely in her marble stillness, that even in that hour a sudden thrill shot through a heart always susceptible to beauty as the harp-string to the breeze.
"It is but the heat, lady," said he, to the alarmed countess, "and let me hope that interest which my fair kinswoman may take in the fortunes of Warwick and of York, hitherto linked together—"
"May they ever be so!" said Warwick, who, on seeing his daughter's state, had advanced hastily to the dais; and, moved by the king's words, his late speech, the evils that surrounded his throne, the gentleness shown to the beloved Anne, forgetting resentment and ceremony alike, he held out his mailed hand. The king, as he resigned Anne to her mother's arms, grasped with soldierly frankness, and with the ready wit of the cold intellect which reigned beneath the warm manner, the hand thus extended, and holding still that iron gauntlet in his own ungloved and jewelled fingers, he advanced to the verge of the dais, to which, in the confusion occasioned by Anne's swoon, the principal officers had crowded, and cried aloud,—
"Behold! Warwick and Edward thus hand in hand, as they stood when the clarions sounded the charge at Towton! and that link what swords forged on a mortal's anvil can rend or sever?"
In an instant every knee there knelt; and Edward exultingly beheld that what before had been allegiance to the earl was now only homage to the king.
CHAPTER IX. WEDDED CONFIDENCE AND LOVE—THE EARL AND THE PRELATE—THE PRELATE AND THE KING—SCHEMES—WILES—AND THE BIRTH OF A DARK THOUGHT DESTINED TO ECLIPSE A SUN.
While, preparatory to the banquet, Edward, as was then the daily classic custom, relaxed his fatigues, mental or bodily, in the hospitable bath, the archbishop sought the closet of the earl.
"Brother," said he, throwing himself with some petulance into the only chair the room, otherwise splendid, contained, "when you left me to seek Edward in the camp of Anthony Woodville, what was the understanding between us?"
"I know of none," answered the earl, who having doffed his armour, and dismissed his squires, leaned thoughtfully against the wall, dressed for the banquet, with the exception of the short surcoat, which lay glittering on the tabouret.
"You know of none? Reflect! Have you brought hither Edward as a guest or as a prisoner?"
The earl knit his brows—"A prisoner, archbishop?"
The prelate regarded him with a cold smile.
"Warwick, you, who would deceive no other man, now seek to deceive yourself." The earl drew back, and his hardy countenance grew a shade paler. The prelate resumed: "You have carried Edward from his camp, and severed him from his troops; you have placed him in the midst of your own followers; you have led him, chafing and resentful all the way, to this impregnable keep; and you now pause, amazed by the grandeur of your captive,—a man who leads to his home a tiger, a spider who has entangled a hornet in its web!"
"Nay, reverend brother," said the earl, calmly, "ye churchmen never know what passes in the hearts of those who feel and do not scheme. When I learned that the king had fled to the Woodvilles, that he was bent upon violating the pledge given in his name to the insurgent commons, I vowed that he should redeem my honour and his own, or that forever I would quit his service. And here, within these walls which sheltered his childhood, I trusted, and trust still, to make one last appeal to his better reason."
"For all that, men now, and history hereafter, will consider Edward as your captive."
"To living men my words and deeds can clear themselves; and as for history, let clerks and scholars fool themselves in the lies of parchment! He who has acted history, despises the gownsmen who sit in cloistered ease, and write about what they know not." The earl paused, and then continued: "I confess, however, that I have had a scheme. I have wished to convince the king how little his mushroom lords can bestead him in the storm; and that he holds his crown only from his barons and his people."
"That is, from the Lord Warwick!"
"Perhaps I am the personation of both seignorie and people; but I design this solely for his welfare. Ah, the gallant prince—how well he bore himself to-day!"
"Ay, when stealing all hearts from thee to him."
"And, Vive Dieu, I never loved him so well as when he did! Methinks it was for a day like this that I reared his youth and achieved his crown. Oh, priest, priest, thou mistakest me. I am rash, hot, haughty, hasty; and I love not to bow my knees to a man because they call him king, if his life be vicious and his word be false. But could Edward be ever as to-day, then indeed should I hail a sovereign whom a baron may reverence and a soldier serve!"
Before the archbishop could reply, the door gently opened, and the countess appeared. Warwick seemed glad of the interruption; he turned quickly—"And how fares my child?"
"Recovered from her strange swoon, and ready to smile at thy return. Oh, Warwick, thou art reconciled to the king?"
"That glads thee, sister?" said the archbishop.
"Surely. Is it not for my lord's honour?"
"May he find it so!" said the prelate, and he left the room.
"My priest-brother is chafed," said the earl, smiling. "Pity he was not born a trader, he would have made a shrewd hard bargain. Verily, our priests burn the Jews out of envy! Ah, m'amie, how fair thou art to-day! Methinks even Isabel's cheek less blooming." And the warrior drew the lady towards him, and smoothed her hair, and tenderly kissed her brow. "My letter vexed thee, I know, for thou lovest Edward, and blamest me not for my love to him. It is true that he hath paltered with me, and that I had stern resolves, not against his crown, but to leave him to his fate, and in these halls to resign my charge. But while he spoke, and while he looked, methought I saw his mother's face, and heard his dear father's tone, and the past rushed over me, and all wrath was gone. Sonless myself, why would he not be my son?" The earl's voice trembled, and the tears stood in his dark eyes.
"Speak thus, dear lord, to Isabel, for I fear her overvaulting spirit—"
"Ah, had Isabel been his wife!" he paused and moved away. Then, as if impatient to escape the thoughts that tended to an ungracious recollection, he added, "And now, sweetheart, these slight fingers have ofttimes buckled on my mail; let them place on my breast this badge of St. George's chivalry; and, if angry thoughts return, it shall remind me that the day on which I wore it first, Richard of York said to his young Edward, 'Look to that star, boy, if ever, in cloud and trouble, thou wouldst learn what safety dwells in the heart which never knew deceit.'"
During the banquet, the king, at whose table sat only the Duke of Clarence and the earl's family, was gracious as day to all, but especially to the Lady Anne, attributing her sudden illness to some cause not unflattering to himself; her beauty, which somewhat resembled that of the queen, save that it had more advantage of expression and of youth, was precisely of the character he most admired. Even her timidity, and the reserve with which she answered him, had their charms; for, like many men, themselves of imperious nature and fiery will, he preferred even imbecility in a woman to whatever was energetic or determined; and hence perhaps his indifference to the more dazzling beauty of Isabel. After the feast, the numerous demoiselles, high-born and fair, who swelled the more than regal train of the countess, were assembled in the long gallery, which was placed in the third story of the castle and served for the principal state apartment. The dance began; but Isabel excused herself from the pavon, and the king led out the reluctant and melancholy Anne. The proud Isabel, who had never forgiven Edward's slight to herself, resented deeply his evident admiration of her sister, and conversed apart with the archbishop, whose subtle craft easily drew from her lips confessions of an ambition higher even than his own. He neither encouraged nor dissuaded; he thought there were things more impossible than the accession of Clarence to the throne, but he was one who never plotted,—save for himself and for the Church.
As the revel waned, the prelate approached the earl, who, with that remarkable courtesy which charmed those below his rank and contrasted with his haughtiness to his peers, had well played amongst his knights the part of host, and said, in a whisper, "Edward is in a happy mood—let us lose it not. Will you trust me to settle all differences ere he sleep? Two proud men never can agree without a third of a gentler temper."
"You are right," said Warwick, smiling; "yet the danger is that I should rather concede too much than be too stubborn. But look you, all I demand is satisfaction to mine own honour and faith to the army I disbanded in the king's name."
"All!" muttered the archbishop, as he turned away, "but that call is everything to provoke quarrel for you, and nothing to bring power to me!"
The earl and the archbishop attended the king to his chamber, and after Edward was served with the parting refection, or livery, the earl said, with his most open smile, "Sire, there are yet affairs between us; whom will you confer with,—me or the archbishop?"
"Oh, the archbishop, by all means, fair cousin," cried Edward, no less frankly; "for if you and I are left alone, the Saints help both of us!—when flint and steel meet, fire flies, and the house may burn."
The earl half smiled at the candour, half sighed at the levity, of the royal answer, and silently left the room. The king, drawing round him his loose dressing-robe, threw himself upon the gorgeous coverlid of the bed, and lying at lazy length, motioned to the prelate to seat himself at the foot. The archbishop obeyed. Edward raised himself on his elbow, and, by the light of seven gigantic tapers, set in sconces of massive silver, the priest and the king gravely gazed on each other without speaking.
At last Edward, bursting into his hale, clear, silvery laugh, said, "Confess, dear sir and cousin,—confess that we are like two skilful masters of Italian fence, each fearing to lay himself open by commencing the attack."
"Certes," quoth the archbishop, "your Grace over-estimates my vanity, in opining that I deemed myself equal to so grand a duello. If there were dispute between us, I should only win by baring my bosom."
The king's bow-like lip curved with a slight sneer, quickly replaced by a serious and earnest expression. "Let us leave word-making, and to the point, George. Warwick is displeased because I will not abandon my wife's kindred; you, with more reason, because I have taken from your hands the chancellor's great seal—"
"For myself, I humbly answer that your Grace errs. I never coveted other honours than those of the Church."
"Ay," said Edward, keenly examining the young prelate's smooth face, "is it so? Yes, now I begin to comprehend thee. What offence have I given to the Church? Have I suffered the law too much to sleep against the Lollards. If so, blame Warwick."
"On the contrary, sire, unlike other priests, I have ever deemed that persecution heals no schism. Blow not dying embers. Rather do I think of late that too much severity hath helped to aid, by Lollard bows and pikes, the late rising. My lady, the queen's mother, unjustly accused of witchcraft, hath sought to clear herself, and perhaps too zealously, in exciting your Grace against that invisible giant yclept heresy."
"Pass on," said Edward. "It is not then indifference to the ecclesia that you complain of. Is it neglect of the ecclesiastic? Ha, ha! you and I, though young, know the colours that make up the patchwork world. Archbishop, I love an easy life; if your brother and his friends will but give me that, let them take all else. Again, I say, to the point,—I cannot banish my lady's kindred, but I will bind your House still more to mine. I have a daughter, failing male issue, the heiress to my crown. I will betroth her to your nephew, my beloved Montagu's son. They are children yet, but their ages not unsuited. And when I return to London, young Nevile shall be Duke of Bedford, a title hitherto reserved to the royal race. [And indeed there was but one Yorkist duke then in England out of the royal family,—namely, the young boy Buckingham, who afterwards vainly sought to bend the Ulysses bow of Warwick against Richard III.] Let that be a pledge of peace between the queen's mother, bearing the same honours, and the House of Nevile, to which they pass."
The cheek of the archbishop flushed with proud pleasure; he bowed his head, and Edward, ere he could answer, went on: "Warwick is already so high that, pardie, I have no other step to give him, save my throne itself, and, God's truth, I would rather be Lord Warwick than King of England! But for you—listen—our only English cardinal is old and sickly; whenever he pass to Abraham's bosom, who but you should have the suffrage of the holy college? Thou knowest that I am somewhat in the good favour of the sovereign pontiff. Command me to the utmost. Now, George, are we friends?" The archbishop kissed the gracious hand extended to him, and, surprised to find, as by magic, all his schemes frustrated by sudden acquiescence in the objects of them all, his voice faltered with real emotion as he gave vent to his gratitude. But abruptly he checked himself, his brow lowered, and with a bitter remembrance of his brother's plain, blunt sense of honour, he said, "Yet, alas! my liege, in all this there is nought to satisfy our stubborn host."
"By dear Saint George and my father's head!" exclaimed Edward, reddening, and starting to his feet, "what would the man have?"
"You know," answered the archbishop, "that Warwick's pride is only roused when he deems his honour harmed. Unhappily, as he thinks, by your Grace's full consent, he pledged himself to the insurgents of Olney to the honourable dismissal of the lords of the Woodville race. And unless this be conceded, I fear me that all else he will reject, and the love between ye can be but hollow!"
Edward took but three strides across the chamber, and then halted opposite the archbishop, and lay both hands on his shoulders, as, looking him full in the face, he said, "Answer me frankly, am I a prisoner in these towers or not?"
"You palter with me, priest. I have been led hither against my will. I am almost without an armed retinue. I am at the earl's mercy. This chamber might be my grave, and this couch my bed of death."
"Holy Mother! Can you think so of Warwick? Sire, you freeze my blood."
"Well, then, if I refuse to satisfy Warwick's pride, and disdain to give up loyal servants to rebel insolence, what will Warwick do? Speak out, archbishop."
"I fear me, sire, that he will resign all office, whether of peace or war. I fear me that the goodly army now at sleep within and around these walls will vanish into air, and that your Highness will stand alone amidst new men, and against the disaffection of the whole land!"
Edward's firm hand trembled. The prelate continued, with a dry, caustic smile,—
"Sire, Sir Anthony Woodville, now Lord Rivers, has relieved you of all embarrassment; no doubt, my Lord Dorset and his kinsmen will be chevaliers enough to do the same. The Duchess of Bedford will but suit the decorous usage to retire a while into privacy, to mourn her widowhood. And when a year is told, if these noble persons reappear at court, your word and the earl's will at least have been kept."
"I understand thee," said the king, half laughing; "but I have my pride as well as Warwick. To concede this point is to humble the conceder."
"I have thought how to soothe all things, and without humbling either party. Your Grace's mother is dearly beloved by Warwick and revered by all. Since your marriage she hath lived secluded from all state affairs. As so nearly akin to Warwick, so deeply interested in your Grace, she is a fitting mediator in all disputes. Be they left to her to arbitrate."
"Ah, cunning prelate, thou knowest how my proud mother hates the Woodvilles; thou knowest how her judgment will decide."
"Perhaps so; but at least your Grace will be spared all pain and all abasement."
"Will Warwick consent to this?"
"I trust so."
"Learn, and report to me. Enough for to-night's conference." Edward was left alone, and his mind ran rapidly over the field of action open to him.
"I have half won the earl's army," he thought; "but it would be to lose all hold in their hearts again, if they knew that these unhappy Woodvilles were the cause of a second breach between us. Certes, the Lancastrians are making strong head! Certes, the times must be played with and appeased! And yet these poor gentlemen love me after my own fashion, and not with the bear's hug of that intolerable earl. How came the grim man by so fair a daughter? Sweet Anne! I caught her eye often fixed on me, and with a soft fear which my heart beat loud to read aright. Verily, this is the fourth week I have passed without hearing a woman's sigh! What marvel that so fair a face enamours me! Would that Warwick made her his ambassador; and yet it were all over with the Woodvilles if he did! These men know not how to manage me, and well-a-day, that task is easy eno' to women!" He laughed gayly to himself as he thus concluded his soliloquy, and extinguished the tapers. But rest did not come to his pillow; and after tossing to and fro for some time in vain search for sleep, he rose and opened his casement to cool the air which the tapers had overheated. In a single casement, in a broad turret, projecting from an angle in the building, below the tower in which his chamber was placed, the king saw a solitary light burning steadily. A sight so unusual at such an hour surprised him. "Peradventure, the wily prelate," thought he. "Cunning never sleeps." But a second look showed him the very form that chased his slumbers. Beside the casement, which was partially open, he saw the soft profile of the Lady Anne; it was bent downwards; and what with the clear moonlight, and the lamp within her chamber, he could see distinctly that she was weeping. "Ah, Anne," muttered the amorous king, "would that I were by to kiss away those tears!" While yet the unholy wish murmured on his lips, the lady rose. The fair hand, that seemed almost transparent in the moonlight, closed the casement; and though the light lingered for some minutes ere it left the dark walls of the castle without other sign of life than the step of the sentry, Anne was visible no more.
"Madness! madness! madness!" again murmured the king. "These Neviles are fatal to me in all ways,—in hatred or in love!"
BOOK VIII. IN WHICH THE LAST LINK BETWEEN KING-MAKER AND KING SNAPS ASUNDER.
CHAPTER I. THE LADY ANNE VISITS THE COURT.
It was some weeks after the date of the events last recorded. The storm that hung over the destinies of King Edward was dispersed for the hour, though the scattered clouds still darkened the horizon: the Earl of Warwick had defeated the Lancastrians on the frontier, [Croyl. 552] and their leader had perished on the scaffold; but Edward's mighty sword had not shone in the battle. Chained by an attraction yet more powerful than slaughter, he had lingered at Middleham, while Warwick led his army to York; and when the earl arrived at the capital of Edward's ancestral duchy, he found that the able and active Hastings—having heard, even before he reached the Duke of Gloucester's camp, of Edward's apparent seizure by the earl and the march to Middleham—had deemed it best to halt at York, and to summon in all haste a council of such of the knights and barons as either love to the king or envy to Warwick could collect. The report was general that Edward was retained against his will at Middleham; and this rumour Hastings gravely demanded Warwick, on the arrival of the latter at York, to disprove. The earl, to clear himself from a suspicion that impeded all his military movements, despatched Lord Montagu to Middleham, who returned not only with the king, but the countess and her daughters, whom Edward, under pretence of proving the complete amity that existed between Warwick and himself, carried in his train. The king's appearance at York reconciled all differences; but he suffered Warwick to march alone against the enemy, and not till after the decisive victory, which left his reign for a while without an open foe, did he return to London.
Thither the earl, by the advice of his friends, also repaired, and in a council of peers, summoned for the purpose, deigned to refute the rumours still commonly circulated by his foes, and not disbelieved by the vulgar, whether of his connivance at the popular rising or his forcible detention of the king at Middleham. To this, agreeably to the counsel of the archbishop, succeeded a solemn interview of the heads of the Houses of York and Warwick, in which the once fair Rose of Raby (the king's mother) acted as mediator and arbiter. The earl's word to the commons at Olney was ratified. Edward consented to the temporary retirement of the Woodvilles, though the gallant Anthony yet delayed his pilgrimage to Compostella. The vanity of Clarence was contented by the government of Ireland, but, under various pretences, Edward deferred his brother's departure to that important post. A general amnesty was proclaimed, a parliament summoned for the redress of popular grievances, and the betrothal of the king's daughter to Montagu's heir was proclaimed: the latter received the title of Duke of Bedford; and the whole land rejoiced in the recovered peace of the realm, the retirement of the Woodvilles, and the reconciliation of the young king with his all-beloved subject. Never had the power of the Neviles seemed so secure; never did the throne of Edward appear so stable.
It was at this time that the king prevailed upon the earl and his countess to permit the Lady Anne to accompany the Duchess of Clarence in a visit to the palace of the Tower. The queen had submitted so graciously to the humiliation of her family, that even the haughty Warwick was touched and softened; and the visit of his daughter at such a time became a homage to Elizabeth which it suited his chivalry to render.
The public saw in this visit, which was made with great state and ceremony, the probability of a new and popular alliance. The archbishop had suffered the rumour of Gloucester's attachment to the Lady Anne to get abroad, and the young prince's return from the North was anxiously expected by the gossips of the day.
It was on this occasion that Warwick showed his gratitude for Marmaduke Nevile's devotion. "My dear and gallant kinsman," he said, "I forget not that when thou didst leave the king and the court for the discredited minister and his gloomy hall,—I forget not that thou didst tell me of love to some fair maiden, which had not prospered according to thy merits. At least it shall not be from lack of lands, or of the gold spur, which allows the wearer to ride by the side of king or kaisar, that thou canst not choose thy bride as the heart bids thee. I pray thee, sweet cousin, to attend my child Anne to the court, where the king will show thee no ungracious countenance; but it is just to recompense thee for the loss of thy post in his highness's chamber. I hold the king's commission to make knights of such as can pay the fee, and thy lands shall suffice for the dignity. Kneel down and rise up, Sir Marmaduke Nevile, lord of the Manor of Borrodaile, with its woodlands and its farms, and may God and our Lady render thee puissant in battle and prosperous in love!"
Accordingly, in his new rank, and entitled to ruffle it with the bravest, Sir Marmaduke Nevile accompanied the earl and the Lady Anne to the palace of the Tower.
As Warwick, leaving his daughter amidst the brilliant circle that surrounded Elizabeth, turned to address the king, he said, with simple and unaffected nobleness,—
"Ah, my liege, if you needed a hostage of my faith, think that my heart is here, for verily its best blood were less dear to me than that slight girl,—the likeness of her mother, when her lips first felt the touch of mine!"
Edward's bold brow fell, and he blushed as he answered, "My Elizabeth will hold her as a sister. But, cousin, part you not now for the North?"
"By your leave I go first to Warwick."
"Ah, you do not wish to approve of my seeming preparations against France?"
"Nay, your Highness is not in earnest. I promised the commons that you would need no supplies for so thriftless a war."
"Thou knowest I mean to fulfil all thy pledges. But the country so swarms with disbanded soldiers, that it is politic to hold out to them a hope of service, and so let the clouds gradually pass away."
"Alack, my liege," said Warwick, gravely, "I suppose that a crown teaches the brow to scheme; but hearty peace or open war seems ever the best to me."
Edward smiled, and turned aside. Warwick glanced at his daughter, whom Elizabeth flatteringly caressed, stifled a sigh, and the air seemed lighter to the insects of the court as his proud crest bowed beneath the doorway, and, with the pomp of his long retinue, he vanished from the scene.
"And choose, fair Anne," said the queen, "choose from my ladies whom you will have for your special train. We would not that your attendance should be less than royal."
The gentle Anne in vain sought to excuse herself from an honour at once arrogant and invidious, though too innocent to perceive the cunning so characteristic of the queen; for, under the guise of a special compliment, Anne had received the royal request to have her female attendants chosen from the court, and Elizabeth now desired to force upon her a selection which could not fail to mortify those not preferred. But glancing timidly round the circle, the noble damsel's eye rested on one fair face, and in that face there was so much that awoke her own interest, and stirred up a fond and sad remembrance, that she passed involuntarily to the stranger's side, and artlessly took her hand. The high-born maidens, grouped around, glanced at each other with a sneer, and slunk back. Even the queen looked surprised; but recovering herself, inclined her head graciously, and said, "Do we read your meaning aright, Lady Anne, and would you this gentlewoman, Mistress Sibyll Warner, as one of your chamber?"
"Sibyll, ah, I knew that my memory failed me not," murmured Anne; and, after bowing assent to the queen, she said, "Do you not also recall, fair demoiselle, our meeting, when children long years ago?"
"Well, noble dame," [The title of dame was at that time applied indiscriminately to ladies whether married or single, if of high birth.] answered Sibyll. And as Anne turned, with her air of modest gentleness, yet of lofty birth and breeding, to explain to the queen that she had met Sibyll in earlier years, the king approached to monopolize his guest's voice and ear. It seemed natural to all present that Edward should devote peculiar attention to the daughter of Warwick and the sister of the Duchess of Clarence; and even Elizabeth suspected no guiltier gallantry in the subdued voice, the caressing manner, which her handsome lord adopted throughout that day, even to the close of the nightly revel, towards a demoiselle too high (it might well appear) for licentious homage.
But Anne herself, though too guileless to suspect the nature of Edward's courtesy, yet shrank from it in vague terror. All his beauty, all his fascination, could not root from her mind the remembrance of the exiled prince; nay, the brilliancy of his qualities made her the more averse to him. It darkened the prospects of Edward of Lancaster that Edward of York should wear so gracious and so popular a form. She hailed with delight the hour when she was conducted to her chamber, and dismissing gently the pompous retinue allotted to her, found herself alone with the young maiden whom she had elected to her special service.
"And you remember me, too, fair Sibyll?" said Anne, with her dulcet and endearing voice.
"Truly, who would not? for as you, then, noble lady, glided apart from the other children, hand in hand with the young prince, in whom all dreamed to see their future king, I heard the universal murmur of—a false prophecy!"
"Ah! and of what?" asked Anne.
"That in the hand the prince clasped with his small rosy fingers—the hand of great Warwick's daughter—lay the best defence of his father's throne."
Anne's breast heaved, and her small foot began to mark strange characters on the floor.
"So," she said musingly, "so even here, amidst a new court, you forget not Prince Edward of Lancaster. Oh, we shall find hours to talk of the past days. But how, if your childhood was spent in Margaret's court, does your youth find a welcome in Elizabeth's?"
"Avarice and power had need of my father's science. He is a scholar of good birth, but fallen fortunes, even now, and ever while night lasts, he is at work. I belonged to the train of her grace of Bedford; but when the duchess quitted the court, and the king retained my father in his own royal service, her highness the queen was pleased to receive me among her maidens. Happy that my father's home is mine!—who else could tend him?"
"Thou art his only child?—he must—love thee dearly?"
"Yet not as I love him; he lives in a life apart from all else that live. But after all, peradventure it is sweeter to love than to be loved."
Anne, whose nature was singularly tender and woman-like, was greatly affected by this answer. She drew nearer to Sibyll; she twined her arm round her slight form, and kissed her forehead.
"Shall I love thee, Sibyll?" she said, with a girl's candid simplicity, "and wilt thou love me?"
"Ah, lady! there are so many to love thee,—father, mother, sister,—all the world; the very sun shines more kindly upon the great!"
"Nay!" said Anne, with that jealousy of a claim to suffering to which the gentler natures are prone, "I may have sorrows from which thou art free. I confess to thee, Sibyll, that something I know not how to explain draws me strangely towards thy sweet face. Marriage has lost me my only sister, for since Isabel is wed she is changed to me—would that her place were supplied by thee! Shall I steal thee from the queen when I depart? Ah, my mother—at least thou wilt love her! for verily, to love my mother you have but to breathe the same air. Kiss me, Sibyll."
Kindness, of late, had been strange to Sibyll, especially from her own sex, one of her own age; it came like morning upon the folded blossom. She threw her arms round the new friend that seemed sent to her from heaven; she kissed Anne's face and hands with grateful tears.
"Ah!" she said at last, when she could command a voice still broken with emotion—"if I could ever serve—ever repay thee—though those gracious words were the last thy lips should ever deign to address to me!"
Anne was delighted; she had never yet found one to protect; she had never yet found one in whom thoroughly to confide. Gentle as her mother was, the distinction between child and parent was, even in the fond family she belonged to, so great in that day, that she could never have betrayed to the countess the wild weakness of her young heart.
The wish to communicate, to reveal, is so natural to extreme youth, and in Anne that disposition was so increased by a nature at once open and inclined to lean on others, that she had, as we have seen, sought a confidante in Isabel; but with her, even at the first, she found but the half-contemptuous pity of a strong and hard mind; and lately, since Edward's visit to Middleham, the Duchess of Clarence had been so rapt in her own imperious egotism and discontented ambition, that the timid Anne had not even dared to touch, with her, upon those secrets which it flushed her own bashful cheek to recall. And this visit to the court, this new, unfamiliar scene, this estrangement from all the old accustomed affections, had produced in her that sense of loneliness which is so irksome, till grave experience of real life accustoms us to the common lot. So with the exaggerated and somewhat morbid sensibility that belonged to her, she turned at once, and by impulse, to this sudden, yet graceful friendship. Here was one of her own age, one who had known sorrow, one whose voice and eyes charmed her, one who would not chide even folly, one, above all, who had seen her beloved prince, one associated with her fondest memories, one who might have a thousand tales to tell of the day when the outlaw boy was a monarch's heir. In the childishness of her soft years, she almost wept at another channel for so much natural tenderness. It was half the woman gaining a woman-friend, half the child clinging to a new playmate.
"Ah, Sibyll," she whispered, "do not leave me to-night; this strange place daunts me, and the figures on the arras seem so tall and spectre-like, and they say the old tower is haunted. Stay, dear Sibyll!"
And Sibyll stayed.
CHAPTER II. THE SLEEPING INNOCENCE—THE WAKEFUL CRIME.
While these charming girls thus innocently conferred; while, Anne's sweet voice running on in her artless fancies, they helped each other to undress; while hand in hand they knelt in prayer by the crucifix in the dim recess; while timidly they extinguished the light, and stole to rest; while, conversing in whispers, growing gradually more faint and low, they sank into guileless sleep,—the unholy king paced his solitary chamber, parched with the fever of the sudden and frantic passion that swept away from a heart in which every impulse was a giant all the memories of honour, gratitude, and law.
The mechanism of this strong man's nature was that almost unknown to the modern time; it belonged to those earlier days which furnish to Greece the terrible legends Ovid has clothed in gloomy fire, which a similar civilization produced no less in the Middle Ages, whether of Italy or the North,—that period when crime took a grandeur from its excess; when power was so great and absolute that its girth burst the ligaments of conscience; when a despot was but the incarnation of WILL; when honour was indeed a religion, but its faith was valour, and it wrote its decalogue with the point of a fearless sword.
The youth of Edward IV. was as the youth of an ancient Titan, of an Italian Borgia; through its veins the hasty blood rolled as a devouring flame. This impetuous and fiery temperament was rendered yet more fearful by the indulgence of every intemperance; it fed on wine and lust; its very virtues strengthened its vices,—its courage stifled every whisper of prudence; its intellect, uninured to all discipline, taught it to disdain every obstacle to its desires. Edward could, indeed, as we have seen, be false and crafty, a temporizer, a dissimulator; but it was only as the tiger creeps,—the better to spring, undetected, on its prey. If detected, the cunning ceased, the daring rose, and the mighty savage had fronted ten thousand foes, secure in its fangs and talons, its bold heart and its deadly spring. Hence, with all Edward's abilities, the astonishing levities and indiscretions of his younger years. It almost seemed, as we have seen him play fast and loose with the might of Warwick, and with that power, whether of barons or of people, which any other prince of half his talents would have trembled to arouse against an unrooted throne,—it almost seemed as if he loved to provoke a danger for the pleasure it gave the brain to baffle or the hand to crush it. His whole nature coveting excitement, nothing was left to the beautiful, the luxurious Edward, already wearied with pomp and pleasure, but what was unholy and forbidden. In his court were a hundred ladies, perhaps not less fair than Anne, at least of a beauty more commanding the common homage, but these he had only to smile on with ease to win. No awful danger, no inexpiable guilt, attended those vulgar frailties, and therefore they ceased to tempt. But here the virgin guest, the daughter of his mightiest subject, the beloved treasure of the man whose hand had built a throne, whose word had dispersed an army—here, the more the reason warned, the conscience started, the more the hell-born passion was aroused.
Like men of his peculiar constitution, Edward was wholly incapable of pure and steady love. His affection for his queen the most resembled that diviner affection; but when analyzed, it was composed of feelings widely distinct. From a sudden passion, not otherwise to be gratified, he had made the rashest sacrifices for an unequal marriage. His vanity, and something of original magnanimity, despite his vices, urged him to protect what he himself had raised,—to secure the honour of the subject who was honoured by the king. In common with most rude and powerful natures, he was strongly alive to the affections of a father, and the faces of his children helped to maintain the influence of the mother. But in all this, we need scarcely say that that true love, which is at once a passion and a devotion, existed not. Love with him cared not for the person loved, but solely for its own gratification; it was desire for possession,—nothing more. But that desire was the will of a king who never knew fear or scruple; and, pampered by eternal indulgence, it was to the feeble lusts of common men what the storm is to the west wind. Yet still, as in the solitude of night he paced his chamber, the shadow of the great crime advancing upon his soul appalled even that dauntless conscience. He gasped for breath; his cheeks flushed crimson, and the next moment grew deadly pale. He heard the loud beating of his heart. He stopped still. He flung himself on a seat, and hid his face with his hands; then starting up, he exclaimed, "No, no! I cannot shut out that sweet face, those blue eyes from my gaze. They haunt me to my destruction and her own. Yet why say destruction? If she love me, who shall know the deed? If she love me not, will she dare to reveal her shame? Shame!—nay, a king's embrace never dishonours. A king's bastard is a House's pride. All is still,—the very moon vanishes from heaven. The noiseless rushes in the gallery give no echo to the footstep. Fie on me! Can a Plantagenet know fear?" He allowed himself no further time to pause; he opened the door gently and stole along the gallery. He knew well the chamber, for it was appointed by his command, and, besides the usual door from the corridor, a small closet conducted to a secret panel behind the arras. It was the apartment occupied, in her visits to the court, by the queen's rival, the Lady Elizabeth Lucy. He passed into the closet; he lifted the arras; he stood in that chamber, which gratitude and chivalry and hospitable faith should have made sacred as a shrine. And suddenly, as he entered, the moon, before hid beneath a melancholy cloud, broke forth in awful splendour, and her light rushed through the casement opposite his eye, and bathed the room with the beams of a ghostlier day.
The abruptness of the solemn and mournful glory scared him as the rebuking face of a living thing; a presence as if not of earth seemed to interpose between the victim and the guilt. It was, however, but for a moment that his step halted. He advanced: he drew aside the folds of the curtain heavy with tissue of gold, and the sleeping face of Anne lay hushed before him. It looked pale in the moonlight, but ineffably serene, and the smile on its lips seemed still sweeter than that which it wore awake. So fixed was his gaze, so ardently did his whole heart and being feed through his eyes upon that exquisite picture of innocence and youth, that he did not see for some moments that the sleeper was not alone. Suddenly an exclamation rose to his lips. He clenched his hand in jealous agony; he approached; he bent over; he heard the regular breathing which the dreams of guilt never know; and then, when he saw that pure and interlaced embrace,—the serene yet somewhat melancholy face of Sibyll, which seemed hueless as marble in the moonlight, bending partially over that of Anne, as if even in sleep watchful; both charming forms so linked and woven that the two seemed as one life, the very breath in each rising and ebbing with the other; the dark ringlets of Sibyll mingling with the auburn gold of Anne's luxuriant hair, and the darkness and the gold, tress within tress, falling impartially over either neck, that gleamed like ivory beneath that common veil,—when he saw this twofold loveliness, the sentiment, the conviction of that mysterious defence which exists in purity, thrilled like ice through his burning veins. In all his might of monarch and of man, he felt the awe of that unlooked-for protection,—maidenhood sheltering maidenhood, innocence guarding innocence. The double virtue appalled and baffled him; and that slight arm which encircled the neck he would have perilled his realm to clasp, shielded his victim more effectually than the bucklers of all the warriors that ever gathered round the banner of the lofty Warwick. Night and the occasion befriended him; but in vain. While Sibyll was there, Anne was saved. He ground his teeth, and muttered to himself. At that moment Anne turned restlessly. This movement disturbed the light sleep of her companion. She spoke half inaudibly, but the sound was as the hoot of shame in the ear of the guilty king. He let fall the curtain, and was gone. And if one who lived afterwards to hear and to credit the murderous doom which, unless history lies, closed the male line of Edward, had beheld the king stealing, felon-like, from the chamber,—his step reeling to and fro the gallery floors, his face distorted by stormy passion, his lips white and murmuring, his beauty and his glory dimmed and humbled,—the spectator might have half believed that while Edward gazed upon those harmless sleepers, A VISION OF THE TRAGEDY TO COME had stricken down his thought of guilt, and filled up its place with horror,—a vision of a sleep as pure, of two forms wrapped in an embrace as fond, of intruders meditating a crime scarce fouler than his own; and the sins of the father starting into grim corporeal shapes, to become the deathsmen of the sons!
CHAPTER III. NEW DANGERS TO THE HOUSE OF YORK—AND THE KING'S HEART ALLIES ITSELF WITH REBELLION AGAINST THE KING'S THRONE.
Oh, beautiful is the love of youth to youth, and touching the tenderness of womanhood to woman; and fair in the eyes of the happy sun is the waking of holy sleep, and the virgin kiss upon virgin lips smiling and murmuring the sweet "Good-morrow!"
Anne was the first to wake; and as the bright winter morn, robust with frosty sunbeams shone cheerily upon Sibyll's face, she was struck with a beauty she had not sufficiently observed the day before; for in the sleep of the young the traces of thought and care vanish, the aching heart is lulled in the body's rest, the hard lines relax into flexile ease, a softer, warmer bloom steals over the cheek, and, relieved from the stiff restraints of dress, the rounded limbs repose in a more alluring grace! Youth seems younger in its slumber, and beauty more beautiful, and purity more pure. Long and dark, the fringe of the eyelash rested upon the white lids, and the freshness of the parting pouted lips invited the sister kiss that wakened up the sleeper.
"Ah, lady," said Sibyll, parting her tresses from her dark blue eyes, "you are here, you are safe!—blessed be the saints and our Lady! for I had a dream in the night that startled and appalled me."
"And my dreams were all blithe and golden," said Anne. "What was thine?"
"Methought you were asleep and in this chamber, and I not by your side, but watching you at a little distance; and lo! a horrible serpent glided from yon recess, and, crawling to your pillow, I heard its hiss, and strove to come to your aid, but in vain; a spell seemed to chain my limbs. At last I found voice, I cried aloud, I woke; and mock me not, but I surely heard a parting footstep, and the low grating of some sliding door."
"It was the dream's influence, enduring beyond the dream. I have often felt it so,—nay, even last night; for I, too, dreamed of another, dreamed that I stood by the altar with one far away, and when I woke—for I woke also—it was long before I could believe it was thy hand I held, and thine arm that embraced me."
The young friends rose, and their toilet was scarcely ended, when again appeared in the chamber all the stateliness of retinue allotted to the Lady Anne. Sibyll turned to depart. "And whither go you?" asked Anne.
"To visit my father; it is my first task on rising," returned Sibyll, in a whisper.
"You must let me visit him, too, at a later hour. Find me here an hour before noon, Sibyll."
The early morning was passed by Anne in the queen's company. The refection, the embroidery frame, the closheys, filled up the hours. The Duchess of Clarence had left the palace with her lord to visit the king's mother at Baynard's Castle; and Anne's timid spirits were saddened by the strangeness of the faces round her, and Elizabeth's habitual silence. There was something in the weak and ill-fated queen that ever failed to conciliate friends. Though perpetually striving to form and create a party, she never succeeded in gaining confidence or respect. And no one raised so high was ever left so friendless as Elizabeth, when, in her awful widowhood, her dowry home became the sanctuary. All her power was but the shadow of her husband's royal sun, and vanished when the orb prematurely set; yet she had all gifts of person in her favour, and a sleek smoothness of manner that seemed to the superficial formed to win; but the voice was artificial, and the eye cold and stealthy. About her formal precision there was an eternal consciousness of self, a breathing egotism. Her laugh was displeasing,—cynical, not mirthful; she had none of that forgetfulness of self, that warmth when gay, that earnestness when sad, which create sympathy. Her beauty was without loveliness, her character without charm; every proportion in her form might allure the sensualist; but there stopped the fascination. The mind was trivial, though cunning and dissimulating; and the very evenness of her temper seemed but the clockwork of a heart insensible to its own movements. Vain in prosperity, what wonder that she was so abject in misfortune? What wonder that even while, in later and gloomier years, [Grafton, 806] accusing Richard III. of the murder of her royal sons, and knowing him, at least, the executioner of her brother and her child by the bridegroom of her youth, [Anthony Lord Rivers, and Lord Richard Gray. Not the least instance of the frivolity of Elizabeth's mind is to be found in her willingness, after all the woes of her second widowhood, and when she was not very far short of sixty years old, to take a third husband, James III., of Scotland,—a marriage prevented only by the death of the Scotch king.] she consented to send her daughters to his custody, though subjected to the stain of illegitimacy, and herself only recognized as the harlot?
The king, meanwhile, had ridden out betimes alone, and no other of the male sex presumed in his absence to invade the female circle. It was with all a girl's fresh delight that Anne escaped at last to her own chamber, where she found Sibyll; and, with her guidance, she threaded the gloomy mazes of the Tower. "Let me see," she whispered, "before we visit your father, let me see the turret in which the unhappy Henry is confined."
And Sibyll led her through the arch of that tower, now called "The Bloody," and showed her the narrow casement deep sunk in the mighty wall, without which hung the starling in the cage, basking its plumes in the wintry sun. Anne gazed with that deep interest and tender reverence which the parent of the man she loves naturally excites in a woman; and while thus standing sorrowful and silent, the casement was unbarred, and she saw the mild face of the human captive; he seemed to talk to the bird, which, in shrill tones and with clapping wings, answered his address. At that time a horn sounded at a little distance off; a clangour of arms, as the sentries saluted, was heard; the demoiselles retreated through the arch, and mounted the stair conducting to the very room, then unoccupied, in which tradition records the murder of the Third Richard's nephews; and scarcely had they gained this retreat, ere towards the Bloody Gate, and before the prison tower, rode the king who had mounted the captive's throne. His steed, gaudy with its housing, his splendid dress, the knights and squires who started forward from every corner to hold his gilded stirrup, his vigorous youth, so blooming and so radiant,—all contrasted, with oppressive force, the careworn face that watched him meekly through the little casement of the Wakefield tower. Edward's large, quick blue eye caught sudden sight of the once familiar features. He looked up steadily, and his gaze encountered the fallen king's. He changed countenance: but with the external chivalry that made the surface of his hollow though brilliant character, he bowed low to his saddle-bow as he saw his captive, and removed the plumed cap from his high brow.
Henry smiled sadly, and shook his reverend head, as if gently to rebuke the mockery; then he closed the casement; and Edward rode into the yard.
"How can the king hold here a court and here a prison? Oh, hard heart!" murmured Anne, as, when Edward had disappeared, the damsels bent their way to Adam's chamber.
"Would the Earl Warwick approve thy pity, sweet Lady Anne?" asked Sibyll.
"My father's heart is too generous to condemn it," returned Anne, wiping the tears from her eyes; "how often in the knight's galliard shall I see that face!"
The turret in which Warner's room was placed flanked the wing inhabited by the royal family and their more distinguished guests (namely, the palace, properly speaking, as distinct from the fortress), and communicated with the regal lodge by a long corridor, raised above cloisters and open to a courtyard. At one end of this corridor a door opened upon the passage, in which was situated the chamber of the Lady Anne; the other extremity communicated with a rugged stair of stone, conducting to the rooms tenanted by Warner. Leaving Sibyll to present her learned father to the gentle Anne, we follow the king into the garden, which he entered on dismounting. He found here the Archbishop of York, who had come to the palace in his barge, and with but a slight retinue, and who was now conversing with Hastings in earnest whispers.
The king, who seemed thoughtful and fatigued, approached the two, and said, with a forced smile, "What learned sententiary engages you two scholars?"
"Your Grace," said the archbishop, "Minerva was not precisely the goddess most potent over our thoughts at that moment. I received a letter last evening from the Duke of Gloucester, and as I know the love borne by the prince to the Lord Hastings, I inquired of your chamberlain how far he would have foreguessed the news it announced."
"And what may the tidings be?" asked Edward, absently.
The prelate hesitated.
"Sire," he said gravely, "the familiar confidence with which both your Highness and the Duke of Gloucester distinguish the chamberlain, permits me to communicate the purport of the letter in his presence. The young duke informs me that he hath long conceived an affection which he would improve into marriage, but before he address either the demoiselle or her father, he prays me to confer with your Grace, whose pleasure in this, as in all things, will be his sovereign law."
"Ah, Richard loves me with a truer love than George of Clarence! But who can he have seen on the Borders worthy to be a prince's bride?"
"It is no sudden passion, sire, as I before hinted; nay, it has been for some time sufficiently notorious to his friends and many of the court; it is an affection for a maiden known to him in childhood, connected to him by blood,—my niece, Anne Nevile."
As if stung by a scorpion, Edward threw off the prelate's arm, on which he had been leaning with his usual caressing courtesy.
"This is too much!" said he, quickly, and his face, before somewhat pale, grew highly flushed. "Is the whole royalty of England to be one Nevile? Have I not sufficiently narrowed the basis of my throne? Instead of mating my daughter to a foreign power,—to Spain or to Bretagne,—she is betrothed to young Montagu! Clarence weds Isabel, and now Gloucester—no, prelate, I will not consent!"
The archbishop was so little prepared for this burst, that he remained speechless. Hastings pressed the king's arm, as if to caution him against so imprudent a display of resentment; but the king walked on, not heeding him, and in great disturbance. Hastings interchanged looks with the archbishop, and followed his royal master.
"My king," he said, in an earnest whisper, "whatever you decide, do not again provoke unhappy feuds laid at rest. Already this morning I sought your chamber, but you were abroad, to say that I have received intelligence of a fresh rising of the Lancastrians in Lincolnshire, under Sir Robert Welles, and the warlike knight of Scrivelsby, Sir Thomas Dymoke. This is not yet an hour to anger the pride of the Neviles!"
"O Hastings! Hastings!" said the king, in a tone of passionate emotion, "there are moments when the human heart cannot dissemble! Howbeit your advice is wise and honest! No, we must not anger the Neviles!"
He turned abruptly; rejoined the archbishop, who stood on the spot on which the king had left him, his arms folded on his breast, his face calm, but haughty.
"My most worshipful cousin," said Edward, "forgive the well-known heat of my hasty moods! I had hoped that Richard would, by a foreign alliance, have repaired the occasion of confirming my dynasty abroad, which Clarence lost. But no matter! Of these things we will speak anon. Say naught to Richard till time ripens maturer resolutions: he is a youth yet. What strange tidings are these from Lincolnshire?"
"The house of your purveyor, Sir Robert de Burgh, is burned, his lands wasted. The rebels are headed by lords and knights. Robin of Redesdale, who, methinks, bears a charmed life, has even ventured to rouse the disaffected in my brother's very shire of Warwick."
"O Henry," exclaimed the king, casting his eyes towards the turret that held his captive, "well mightest then call a crown 'a wreath of thorns!'"
"I have already," said the archbishop, "despatched couriers to my brother, to recall him from Warwick, whither he went on quitting your Highness. I have done more; prompted by a zeal that draws me from the care of the Church to that of the State, I have summoned the Lords St. John, De Fulke, and others, to my house of the More,—praying your Highness to deign to meet them, and well sure that a smile from your princely lips will regain their hearts and confirm heir allegiance, at a moment when new perils require all strong arms."
"You have done most wisely. I will come to your palace,—appoint your own day."
"It will take some days for the barons to arrive from their castles. I fear not ere the tenth day from this."
"Ah," said the king, with a vivacity that surprised his listeners, aware of his usual impetuous energy, "the delay will but befriend us; as for Warwick, permit me to alter your arrangements; let him employ the interval, not in London, where he is useless, but in raising men in the neighbourhood of his castle, and in defeating the treason of this Redesdale knave. We will give commission to him and to Clarence to levy troops; Hastings, see to this forthwith. Ye say Sir Robert Welles leads the Lincolnshire varlets; I know the nature of his father, the Lord Welles,—a fearful and timorous one; I will send for him, and the father's head shall answer for the son's faith. Pardon me, dear cousin, that I leave you to attend these matters. Prithee visit our queen, meanwhile, she holds you our guest."
"Nay, your Highness must vouchsafe my excuse; I also have your royal interests too much at heart to while an hour in my pleasurement. I will but see the friends of our House now in London, and then back to the More, and collect the force of my tenants and retainers."
"Ever right, fair speed to you, cardinal that shall be! Your arm, Hastings."
The king and his favourite took their way into the state chambers.
"Abet not Gloucester in this alliance,—abet him not!" said the king, solemnly.
"Pause, sire! This alliance gives to Warwick a wise counsellor, instead of the restless Duke of Clarence. Reflect what danger may ensue if an ambitious lord, discontented with your reign, obtains the hand of the great earl's coheiress, and the half of a hundred baronies that command an army larger than the crown's."
Though these reasonings at a calmer time might well have had their effect on Edward, at that moment they were little heeded by his passions. He stamped his foot violently on the floor. "Hastings!" he exclaimed, "be silent! or—" He stopped short, mastered his emotion. "Go, assemble our privy council. We have graver matters than a boy's marriage now to think of."
It was in vain that Edward sought to absorb the fire of his nature in state affairs, in all needful provisions against the impending perils, in schemes of war and vengeance. The fatal frenzy that had seized him haunted him everywhere, by day and by night. For some days after the unsuspected visit which he had so criminally stolen to his guest's chamber, something of knightly honour, of religious scruple, of common reason,—awakened in him the more by the dangers which had sprung up and which the Neviles were now actively employed in defeating,—struggled against his guilty desire, and roused his conscience to a less feeble resistance than it usually displayed when opposed to passion; but the society of Anne, into which he was necessarily thrown so many hours in the day, and those hours chiefly after the indulgences of the banquet, was more powerful than all the dictates of a virtue so seldom exercised as to have none of the strength of habit. And as the time drew near when he must visit the archbishop, head his army against the rebels (whose force daily increased, despite the captivity of Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke, who, on the summons of the king, had first taken sanctuary, and then yielded their persons on the promise of pardon and safety), and restore Anne to her mother,—as this time drew near, his perturbation of mind became visible to the whole court; but, with the instinct of his native craft, he contrived to conceal its cause. For the first time in his life he had no confidant—he did not dare trust his secret to Hastings. His heart gnawed itself. Neither, though constantly stealing to Anne's side, could he venture upon language that might startle and enlighten her. He felt that even those attentions, which on the first evening of her arrival had been noticed by the courtiers, could not be safely renewed. He was grave and constrained, even when by her side, and the etiquette of the court allowed him no opportunity for unwitnessed conference. In this suppressed and unequal struggle with himself the time passed, till it was now but the day before that fixed for his visit to the More. And, as he rose at morning from his restless couch, the struggle was over, and the soul resolved to dare the crime. His first thought was to separate Anne from Sibyll. He affected to rebuke the queen for giving to his high-born guest an associate below her dignity, and on whose character, poor girl, rested the imputation of witchcraft; and when the queen replied that Lady Anne herself had so chosen, he hit upon the expedient of visiting Warner himself, under pretence of inspecting his progress,—affected to be struck by the sickly appearance of the sage, and sending for Sibyll, told her, with an air of gracious consideration, that her first duty was to attend her parent; that the queen released her for some days from all court duties; and that he had given orders to prepare the room adjoining Master Warner's, and held by Friar Bungey, till that worthy had retired with his patroness from the court, to which she would for the present remove.
Sibyll, wondering at this novel mark of consideration in the careless king, yet imputing it to the high value set on her father's labours, thanked Edward with simple earnestness, and withdrew. In the anteroom she encountered Hastings, on his way to the king. He started in surprise, and with a jealous pang: "What! thou, Sibyll! and from the king's closet! What led thee thither?"