"His grace's command." And too noble for the pleasure of exciting the distrust that delights frivolous minds as the proof of power, Sibyll added, "The king has been kindly speaking to me of my father's health." The courtier's brow cleared; he mused a moment, and said, in a whisper, "I beseech thee to meet me an hour hence at the eastern rampart."
Since the return of Lord Hastings to the palace there had been an estrangement and distance in his manner, ill suiting one who enjoyed the rights of an accepted suitor, and wounding alike to Sibyll's affection and her pride; but her confidence in his love and truth was entire. Her admiration for him partook of worship, and she steadily sought to reason away any causes for alarm by recalling the state cares which pressed heavily upon him, and whispering to herself that word of "wife," which, coming in passionate music from those beloved lips, had thrown a mist over the present, a glory over the future! and in the king's retention of Adam Warner, despite the Duchess of Bedford's strenuous desire to carry him off with Friar Bungey, and restore him to his tasks of alchemist and multiplier, as well as in her own promotion to the queen's service, Sibyll could not but recognize the influence of her powerful lover. His tones now were tender, though grave and earnest. Surely, in the meeting he asked, all not comprehended would be explained. And so, with a light heart, she passed on.
Hastings sighed as his eye followed her from the room, and thus said he to himself, "Were I the obscure gentleman I once was, how sweet a lot would that girl's love choose to me from the urn of fate! But, oh! when we taste of power and greatness, and master the world's dark wisdom, what doth love shrink to?—an hour's bliss and a life's folly." His delicate lip curled, and breaking from his soliloquy, he entered the king's closet. Edward was resting his face upon the palms of his hands, and his bright eyes dwelt upon vacant space, till they kindled into animation as they lighted on his favourite.
"Dear Will," said the king, "knowest thou that men say thou art bewitched?"
"Beau sire, often have men, when a sweet face hath captured thy great heart, said the same of thee!"
"It may be so with truth, for verily love is the arch-devil's birth."
The king rose, and strode his chamber with a quick step; at last pausing,—
"Hastings," he said, "so thou lovest the multiplier's pretty daughter? She has just left me. Art thou jealous?"
"Happily your Highness sees no beauty in looks that have the gloss of the raven, and eyes that have the hue of the violet."
"No, I am a constant man, constant to one idea of beauty in a thousand forms,—eyes like the summer's light-blue sky, and locks like its golden sunbeams! But to set thy mind at rest, Will, know that I have but compassionated the sickly state of the scholar, whom thou prizest so highly; and I have placed thy fair Sibyll's chamber near her father's. Young Lovell says thou art bent on wedding the wizard's daughter."
"And if I were, beau sire?"
Edward looked grave.
"If thou wert, my poor Will, thou wouldst lose all the fame for shrewd wisdom which justifies thy sudden fortunes. No, no; thou art the flower and prince of my new seignorie,—thou must mate thyself with a name and a barony that shall be worthy thy fame and thy prospects. Love beauty, but marry power, Will. In vain would thy king draw thee up, if a despised wife draw thee down!"
Hastings listened with profound attention to these words. The king did not wait for his answer, but added laughingly,—
"It is thine own fault, crafty gallant, if thou dost not end all her spells."
"What ends the spells of youth and beauty, beau sire?"
"Possession!" replied the king, in a hollow and muttered voice.
Hastings was about to answer, when the door opened, and the officer in waiting announced the Duke of Clarence. "Ha!" said Edward, "George comes to importune me for leave to depart to the government of Ireland, and I have to make him weet that I think my Lord Worcester a safer viceroy of the two."
"Your Highness will pardon me; but, though I deemed you too generous in the appointment, it were dangerous now to annul it."
"More dangerous to confirm it. Elizabeth has caused me to see the folly of a grant made over the malmsey,—a wine, by the way, in which poor George swears he would be content to drown himself. Viceroy of Ireland! My father had that government, and once tasting the sweets of royalty, ceased to be a subject! No, no, Clarence—"
"Can never meditate treason against a brother's crown. Has he the wit or the energy or the genius for so desperate an ambition?"
"No; but he hath the vanity. And I will wager thee a thousand marks to a silver penny that my jester shall talk giddie Georgie into advancing a claim to be soldan of Egypt or Pope of Rome!"
CHAPTER IV. THE FOSTER-BROTHERS.
Sir Marmaduke Nevile was sunning his bravery in the Tower Green, amidst the other idlers of the court, proud of the gold chain and the gold spurs which attested his new rank, and not grieved to have exchanged the solemn walls of Middleham for the gay delights of the voluptuous palace, when to his pleasure and surprise, he perceived his foster-brother enter the gateway; and no sooner had Nicholas entered, than a bevy of the younger courtiers hastened eagerly towards him.
"Gramercy!" quoth Sir Marmaduke, to one of the bystanders, "what hath chanced to make Nick Alwyn a man of such note, that so many wings of satin and pile should flutter round him like sparrows round an owl?—which, by the Holy Rood, his wise face somewhat resembleth."
"Know you not that Master Alwyn, since he hath commenced trade for himself, hath acquired already the repute of the couthliest goldsmith in London? No dague-hilts, no buckles are to be worn, save those that he fashions; and—an he live, and the House of York prosper—verily, Master Alwyn the goldsmith will ere long be the richest and best man from Mile-end to the Sanctuary."
"Right glad am I to hear it," said honest Marmaduke, heartily; and approaching Alwyn, he startled the precise trader by a friendly slap on the shoulder.
"What, man, art thou too proud to remember Marmaduke Nevile? Come to my lodgment yonder, and talk of old days over the king's canary."
"I crave your pardon, dear Master Nevile."
"Master—avaunt! Sir Marmaduke,—knighted by the hand of Lord Warwick,—Sir Marmaduke Nevile, lord of a manor he hath never yet seen, sober Alwyn."
Then drawing his foster-brother's arm in his, Marmaduke led him to the chamber in which he lodged.
The young men spent some minutes in congratulating each other on their respective advances in life: the gentleman who had attained competence and station simply by devotion to a powerful patron, the trader who had already won repute and the prospect of wealth by ingenuity, application, and toil; and yet, to do justice, as much virtue went to Marmaduke's loyalty to Warwick as to Alwyn's capacities for making a fortune. Mutual compliments over, Alwyn said hesitatingly,—
"And dost thou find Mistress Sibyll more gently disposed to thee than when thou didst complain to me of her cruelty?"
"Marry, good Nicholas, I will be frank with thee. When I left the court to follow Lord Warwick, there were rumours of the gallantries of Lord Hastings to the girl, which grieved me to the heart. I spoke to her thereof bluntly and honourably, and got but high looks and scornful words in return. Good fellow, I thank thee for that squeeze of the hand and that doleful sigh. In my absence at Middleham, I strove hard to forget one who cared so little for me. My dear Alwyn, those Yorkshire lasses are parlously comely, and mighty douce and debonaire. So I stormed cruel Sibyll out of my heart perforce of numbers."
"And thou lovest her no more?"
"Not I, by this goblet! On coming back, it is true, I felt pleased to clank my gold spurs in her presence, and curious to see if my new fortunes would bring out a smile of approval; and verily, to speak sooth, the donzell was kind and friendly, and spoke to me so cheerly of the pleasure she felt in my advancement, that I adventured again a few words of the old folly. But my lassie drew up like a princess, and I am a cured man."
"By your troth?"
"By my troth!"
Alwyn's head sank on his bosom in silent thought. Sir Marmaduke emptied his goblet; and really the young knight looked so fair and so gallant, in his new surcoat of velvet, that it was no marvel if he should find enough food for consolation in a court where men spent six hours a day in making love,—nor in vain.
"And what say they still of the Lord Hastings?" asked Alwyn, breaking silence. "Nothing, I trow and trust, that arraigns the poor lady's honour, though much that may scoff at her simple faith in a nature so vain and fickle. 'The tongue's not steel, yet it cuts,' as the proverb saith of the slanderer."
"No! scandal spares her virtue as woman, to run down her cunning as witch! They say that Hastings hath not prevailed, nor sought to prevail,—that he is spell-bound. By Saint Thomas, from a maid of such character Marmaduke Nevile is happily rescued!"
"Sir Marmaduke," then said Alwyn, in a grave and earnest voice, "it behooves me, as true friend, though humble, and as honest man, to give thee my secret, in return for thine own. I love this girl. Ay, ay! thou thinkest that love is a strange word on a craftsman's lips, but 'cold flint hides hot fire.' I would not have been thy rival, Heaven forefend! hadst thou still cherished a hope, or if thou now wilt forbid my aspiring; but if thou wilt not say me nay, I will try my chance in delivering a pure soul from a crafty wooer."
Marmaduke stared in great surprise at his foster-brother; and though, no doubt, he spoke truth when he said he was cured of his love for Sibyll, he yet felt a sort of jealousy at Alwyn's unexpected confession, and his vanity was hurt at the notion that the plain-visaged trader should attempt where the handsome gentleman had failed.—However, his blunt, generous, manly nature after a brief struggle got the better of these sore feelings; and holding out his hand to Alwyn, he said, "My dear foster-brother, try the hazard and cast thy dice, if thou wilt. Heaven prosper thee, if success be for thine own good! But if she be given to witchcraft (plague on thee, man, sneer not at the word), small comfort to bed and hearth can such practices bring!"
"Alas!" said Alwyn, "the witchcraft is on the side of Hastings,—the witchcraft of fame and rank, and a glozing tongue and experienced art. But she shall not fall, if a true arm can save her; and 'though Hope be a small child; she can carry a great anchor.'"
These words were said so earnestly, that they opened new light into Marmaduke's mind; and his native generosity standing in lieu of intellect, he comprehended sympathetically the noble motives which actuated the son of commerce.
"My poor Alwyn," he said, "if thou canst save this young maid,—whom by my troth I loved well, and who tells me yet that she loveth me as a sister loves,—right glad shall I be. But thou stakest thy peace of mind against hers! Fair luck to thee, say I again,—and if thou wilt risk thy chance at once (for suspense is love's purgatory), seize the moment. I saw Sibyll, just ere we met, pass to the ramparts, alone; at this sharp season the place is deserted; go."
"I will, this moment!" said Alwyn, rising and turning very pale; but as he gained the door, he halted—"I had forgot, Master Nevile, that I bring the king his signet-ring, new set, of the falcon and fetter-lock."
"They will keep thee three hours in the anteroom. The Duke of Clarence is now with the king. Trust the ring to me, I shall see his highness ere he dines."
Even in his love, Alwyn had the Saxon's considerations of business; he hesitated—"May I not endanger thereby the king's favour and loss of custom?" said the trader.
"Tush, man! little thou knowest King Edward; he cares naught for the ceremonies: moreover, the Neviles are now all-puissant in favour. I am here in attendance on sweet Lady Anne, whom the king loves as a daughter, though too young for sire to so well-grown a donzell; and a word from her lip, if need be, will set all as smooth as this gorget of lawn!"
Thus assured, Alwyn gave the ring to his friend, and took his way at once to the ramparts. Marmaduke remained behind to finish the canary and marvel how so sober a man should form so ardent a passion. Nor was he much less surprised to remark that his friend, though still speaking with a strong provincial accent, and still sowing his discourse with rustic saws and proverbs, had risen in language and in manner with the rise of his fortunes. "An he go on so, and become lord mayor," muttered Marmaduke, "verily he will half look like a gentleman!"
To these meditations the young knight was not long left in peace. A messenger from Warwick House sought and found him, with the news that the earl was on his road to London, and wished to see Sir Marmaduke the moment of his arrival, which was hourly expected. The young knight's hardy brain somewhat flustered by the canary, Alwyn's secret, and this sudden tidings, he hastened to obey his chief's summons, and forgot, till he gained the earl's mansion, the signet ring intrusted to him by Alwyn. "What matters it?" said he then, philosophically,—"the king hath rings eno' on his fingers not to miss one for an hour or so, and I dare not send any one else with it. Marry, I must plunge my head in cold water, to get rid of the fumes of the wine."
CHAPTER V. THE LOVER AND THE GALLANT—WOMAN'S CHOICE.
Alwyn bent his way to the ramparts, a part of which then resembled the boulevards of a French town, having rows of trees, green sward, a winding walk, and seats placed at frequent intervals for the repose of the loungers. During the summer evenings, the place was a favourite resort of the court idlers; but now, in winter, it was usually deserted, save by the sentries, placed at distant intervals. The trader had not gone far in his quest when he perceived, a few paces before him, the very man he had most cause to dread; and Lord Hastings, hearing the sound of a footfall amongst the crisp, faded leaves that strewed the path, turned abruptly as Alwyn approached his side.
At the sight of his formidable rival, Alwyn had formed one of those resolutions which occur only to men of his decided, plain-spoken, energetic character. His distinguishing shrewdness and penetration had given him considerable insight into the nobler as well as the weaker qualities of Hastings; and his hope in the former influenced the determination to which he came. The reflections of Hastings at that moment were of a nature to augur favourably to the views of the humbler lover; for, during the stirring scenes in which his late absence from Sibyll had been passed, Hastings had somewhat recovered from her influence; and feeling the difficulties of reconciling his honour and his worldly prospects to further prosecution of the love, rashly expressed but not deeply felt, he had determined frankly to cut the Gordian knot he could not solve, and inform Sibyll that marriage between them was impossible. With that view he had appointed this meeting, and his conference with the king but confirmed his intention. It was in this state of mind that he was thus accosted by Alwyn:—
"My lord, may I make bold to ask for a few moments your charitable indulgence to words you may deem presumptuous?"
"Be brief, then, Master Alwyn,—I am waited for."
"Alas, my lord! I can guess by whom,—by the one whom I seek myself,—by Sibyll Warner."
"How, Sir Goldsmith!" said Hastings, haughtily, "what knowest thou of my movements, and what care I for thine?"
"Hearken, my Lord Hastings,—hearken!" said Alwyn, repressing his resentment, and in a voice so earnest that it riveted the entire attention of the listener—"hearken, and judge not as noble judges craftsman, but as man should judge man. As the saw saith, 'We all lie alike in our graves.' From the first moment I saw this Sibyll Warner I loved her. Yes; smile disdainfully, but listen still. She was obscure and in distress. I loved her not for her fair looks alone; I loved her for her good gifts, for her patient industry, for her filial duty, for her struggles to give bread to her father's board. I did not say to myself, 'This girl will make a comely fere, a delicate paramour!' I said, 'This good daughter will make a wife whom an honest man may take to his heart and cherish!'" Poor Alwyn stopped, with tears in his voice, struggled with his emotions, and pursued: "My fortunes were more promising than hers; there was no cause why I might not hope. True, I had a rival then; young as myself, better born, comelier; but she loved him not. I foresaw that his love for her—if love it were—would cease. Methought that her mind would understand mine; as mine—verily I say it—yearned for hers! I could not look on the maidens of mine own rank, and who had lived around me, but what—oh, no, my lord, again I say, not the beauty, but the gifts, the mind, the heart of Sibyll, threw them all into the shade. You may think it strange that I—a plain, steadfast, trading, working, careful man—should have all these feelings; but I will tell you wherefore such as I sometimes have them, nurse them, brood on them, more than you lords and gentlemen, with all your graceful arts in pleasing. We know no light loves! no brief distractions to the one arch passion! We sober sons of the stall and the ware are no general gallants,—we love plainly, we love but once, and we love heartily. But who knows not the proverb, 'What's a gentleman but his pleasure?'—and what's pleasure but change? When Sibyll came to the palace, I soon heard her name linked with yours; I saw her cheek blush when you spoke. Well, well, well! after all, as the old wives tell us, 'Blushing is virtue's livery.' I said, 'She is a chaste and high-hearted girl.' This will pass, and the time will come when she can compare your love and mine. Now, my lord, the time has come. I know that you seek her. Yea, at this moment, I know that her heart beats for your footstep. Say but one word,—say that you love Sibyll Warner with the thought of wedding her,—say that, on your honour, noble Hastings, as gentleman and peer, and I will kneel at your feet, and beg your pardon for my vain follies, and go back to my ware, and work, and not repine. Say it! You are silent? Then I implore you, still as peer and gentleman, to let the honest love save the maiden from the wooing that will blight her peace and blast her name! And now, Lord Hastings, I wait your gracious answer."
The sensations experienced by Hastings, as Alwyn thus concluded, were manifold and complicated; but, at the first, admiration and pity were the strongest.
"My poor friend," said he, kindly, "if you thus love a demoiselle deserving all my reverence, your words and your thoughts bespeak you no unworthy pretender; but take my counsel, good Alwyn. Come not—thou from the Chepe—come not to the court for a wife. Forget this fantasy."
"My lord, it is impossible! Forget I cannot, regret I may.
"Thou canst not succeed, man," resumed the nobleman, more coldly, "nor couldst if William Hastings had never lived. The eyes of women accustomed to gaze on the gorgeous externals of the world are blinded to plain worth like thine. It might have been different had the donzell never abided in a palace; but as it is, brave fellow, learn how these wounds of the heart scar over, and the spot becomes hard and callous evermore. What art thou, Master Nicholas Alwyn," continued Hastings, gloomily, and with a withering smile—"what art thou, to ask for a bliss denied to me—to all of us,—the bliss of carrying poetry into life, youth into manhood, by winning—the FIRST LOVED? But think not, sir lover, that I say this in jealousy or disparagement. Look yonder, by the leafless elm, the white robe of Sibyll Warner. Go and plead thy suit."
"Do I understand you, my lord?" said Alwyn, somewhat confused and perplexed by the tone and the manner Hastings adopted. "Does report err, and you do not love this maiden?"
"Fair master," returned Hastings, scornfully, "thou hast no right that I trow of to pry into my thoughts and secrets; I cannot acknowledge my judge in thee, good jeweller and goldsmith,—enough, surely, in all courtesy, that I yield thee the precedence. Tell thy tale, as movingly, if thou wilt, as thou hast told it to me; say of me all that thou fanciest thou hast reason to suspect; and if, Master Alwyn, thou woo and win the lady, fail not to ask me to thy wedding!"
There was in this speech and the bearing of the speaker that superb levity, that inexpressible and conscious superiority, that cold, ironical tranquillity, which awe and humble men more than grave disdain or imperious passion. Alwyn ground his teeth as he listened, and gazed in silent despair and rage upon the calm lord. Neither of these men could strictly be called handsome. Of the two, Alwyn had the advantage of more youthful prime, of a taller stature, of a more powerful, though less supple and graceful, frame. In their very dress, there was little of that marked distinction between classes which then usually prevailed, for the dark cloth tunic and surcoat of Hastings made a costume even simpler than the bright-coloured garb of the trader, with its broad trimmings of fur, and its aiglettes of elaborate lace. Between man and man, then, where was the visible, the mighty, the insurmountable difference in all that can charm the fancy and captivate the eye, which, as he gazed, Alwyn confessed to himself there existed between the two? Alas! how the distinctions least to be analyzed are ever the sternest! What lofty ease in that high-bred air; what histories of triumph seemed to speak in that quiet eye, sleeping in its own imperious lustre; what magic of command in that pale brow; what spells of persuasion in that artful lip! Alwyn muttered to himself, bowed his head involuntarily, and passed on at once from Hastings to Sibyll, who now, at the distance of some yards, had arrested her steps, in surprise to see the conference between the nobleman and the burgher.
But as he approached Sibyll, poor Alwyn felt all the firmness and courage he had exhibited with Hastings melt away. And the trepidation which a fearful but deep affection ever occasions in men of his character, made his movements more than usually constrained and awkward, as he cowered beneath the looks of the maid he so truly loved.
"Seekest thou me, Master Alwyn?" asked Sibyll, gently, seeing that, though he paused by her side, he spoke not.
"I do," returned Alwyn, abruptly, and again he was silent. At length, lifting his eyes and looking round him, he saw Hastings at the distance, leaning against the rampart, with folded arms; and the contrast of his rival's cold and arrogant indifference, and his own burning veins and bleeding heart, roused up his manly spirit, and gave to his tongue the eloquence which emotion gains when it once breaks the fetters it forges for itself.
"Look, look, Sibyll!" he said, pointing to Hastings "look! that man you believe loves you. If so—if he loved thee,—would he stand yonder—mark him—aloof, contemptuous, careless—while he knew that I was by your side?"
Sibyll turned upon the goldsmith eyes full of innocent surprise,—eyes that asked, plainly as eyes could speak, "And wherefore not, Master Alwyn?"
Alwyn so interpreted the look, and replied, as if she had spoken: "Because he must know how poor and tame is that feeble fantasy which alone can come from a soul worn bare with pleasure, to that which I feel and now own for thee,—the love of youth, born of the heart's first vigour; because he ought to fear that that love should prevail with thee; because that love ought to prevail. Sibyll, between us there are not imparity and obstacle. Oh, listen to me,—listen still! Frown not, turn not away." And, stung and animated by the sight of his rival, fired by the excitement of a contest on which the bliss of his own life and the weal of Sibyll's might depend, his voice was as the cry of a mortal agony, and affected the girl to the inmost recesses of her soul. "Oh, Alwyn, I frown not!" she said sweetly; "oh, Alwyn, I turn not away! Woe is me to give pain to so kind and brave a heart; but—"
"No, speak not yet. I have studied thee, I have read thee as a scholar would read a book. I know thee proud; I know thee aspiring; I know thou art vain of thy gentle blood, and distasteful of my yeoman's birth. There, I am not blind to thy faults, but I love thee despite them; and to please those faults I have toiled, schemed, dreamed, risen. I offer to thee the future with the certainty of a man who can command it. Wouldst thou wealth?—be patient (as ambition ever is): in a few years thou shalt have more gold than the wife of Lord Hastings can command; thou shalt lodge more statelily, fare more sumptuously; [This was no vain promise of Master Alwyn. At that time a successful trader made a fortune with signal rapidity, and enjoyed greater luxuries than most of the barons. All the gold in the country flowed into the coffers of the London merchants.] thou shalt walk on cloth-of-gold if thou wilt! Wouldst thou titles?—I will win them. Richard de la Pole, who founded the greatest duchy in the realm, was poorer than I, when he first served in a merchant's ware. Gold buys all things now. Oh, would to Heaven it could but buy me thee!"
"Master Alwyn, it is not gold that buys love. Be soothed. What can I say to thee to soften the harsh word 'Nay'?"
"You reject me, then, and at once? I ask not your hand now. I will wait, tarry, hope,—I care not if for years; wait till I can fulfil all I promise thee!"
Sibyll, affected to tears, shook her head mournfully; and there was a long and painful silence. Never was wooing more strangely circumstanced than this,—the one lover pleading while the other was in view; the one, ardent, impassioned, the other, calm and passive; and the silence of the last, alas! having all the success which the words of the other lacked. It might be said that the choice before Sibyll was a type of the choice ever given, but in vain, to the child of genius. Here a secure and peaceful life, an honoured home, a tranquil lot, free from ideal visions, it is true, but free also from the doubt and the terror, the storms of passion; there, the fatal influence of an affection, born of imagination, sinister, equivocal, ominous, but irresistible. And the child of genius fulfilled her destiny!
"Master Alwyn," said Sibyll, rousing herself to the necessary exertion, "I shall never cease gratefully to recall thy generous friendship, never cease to pray fervently for thy weal below. But forever and forever let this content thee,—I can no more."
Impressed by the grave and solemn tone of Sibyll, Alwyn hushed the groan that struggled to his lips, and gloomily replied: "I obey you, fair mistress, and I return to my workday life; but ere I go, I pray you misthink me not if I say this much: not alone for the bliss of hoping for a day in which I might call thee mine have I thus importuned, but, not less—I swear not less—from the soul's desire to save thee from what I fear will but lead to woe and wayment, to peril and pain, to weary days and sleepless nights. 'Better a little fire that warms than a great that burns.' Dost thou think that Lord Hastings, the vain, the dissolute—"
"Cease, sir!" said Sibyll, proudly; "me reprove if thou wilt, but lower not my esteem for thee by slander against another!"
"What!" said Alwyn, bitterly; "doth even one word of counsel chafe thee? I tell thee that if thou dreamest that Lord Hastings loves Sibyll Warner as man loves the maiden he would wed, thou deceivest thyself to thine own misery. If thou wouldst prove it, go to him now,—go and say, 'Wilt thou give me that home of peace and honour, that shelter for my father's old age under a son's roof which the trader I despise proffers me in vain?"
"If it were already proffered me—by him?" said Sibyll, in a low voice, and blushing deeply.
Alwyn started. "Then I wronged him; and—and—" he added generously, though with a faint sickness at his heart, "I can yet be happy in thinking thou art so. Farewell, maiden, the saints guard thee from one memory of regret at what hath passed between us!"
He pulled his bonnet hastily over his brows, and departed with unequal and rapid strides. As he passed the spot where Hastings stood leaning his arm upon the wall, and his face upon his hand, the nobleman looked up, and said,—
"Well, Sir Goldsmith, own at least that thy trial hath been a fair one!" Then struck with the anguish written upon Alwyn's face, he walked up to him, and, with a frank, compassionate impulse, laid his hand on his shoulder. "Alwyn," he said, "I have felt what you feel now; I have survived it, and the world hath not prospered with me less! Take with you a compassion that respects, and does not degrade you."
"Do not deceive her, my lord,—she trusts and loves you! You never deceived man,—the wide world says it,—do not deceive woman! Deeds kill men, words women!" Speaking thus simply, Alwyn strode on, and vanished.
Hastings slowly and silently advanced to Sibyll. Her rejection of Alwyn had by no means tended to reconcile him to the marriage he himself had proffered. He might well suppose that the girl, even if unguided by affection, would not hesitate between a mighty nobleman and an obscure goldsmith. His pride was sorely wounded that the latter should have even thought himself the equal of one whom he had proposed, though but in a passionate impulse, to raise to his own state. And yet as he neared Sibyll, and, with a light footstep, she sprang forward to meet him, her eyes full of sweet joy and confidence, he shrank from an avowal which must wither up a heart opening thus all its bloom of youth and love to greet him.
"Ah, fair lord," said the maiden, "was it kindly in thee to permit poor Alwyn to inflict on me so sharp a pain, and thou to stand calmly distant? Sure, alas! that had thy humble rival proffered a crown, it had been the same to Sibyll! Oh, how the grief it was mine to cause grieved me; and yet, through all, I had one selfish, guilty gleam of pleasure,—to think that I had not been loved so well, if I were all unworthy the sole love I desire or covet!"
"And yet, Sibyll, this young man can in all, save wealth and a sounding name, give thee more than I can,—a heart undarkened by moody memories, a temper unsoured by the world's dread and bitter lore of man's frailty and earth's sorrow. Ye are not far separated by ungenial years, and might glide to a common grave hand in hand; but I, older in heart than in age, am yet so far thine elder in the last, that these hairs will be gray, and this form bent, while thy beauty is in its prime, and—but thou weepest!"
"I weep that thou shouldst bring one thought of time to sadden my thoughts, which are of eternity. Love knows no age, it foresees no grave! its happiness and its trust behold on the earth but one glory, melting into the hues of heaven, where they who love lastingly pass calmly on to live forever! See, I weep not now!"
"And did not this honest burgher," pursued Hastings, softened and embarrassed, but striving to retain his cruel purpose, "tell thee to distrust me; tell thee that my vows were false?"
"Methinks, if an angel told me so, I should disbelieve!"
"Why, look thee, Sibyll, suppose his warning true; suppose that at this hour I sought thee with intent to say that that destiny which ambition weaves for itself forbade me to fulfil a word hotly spoken; that I could not wed thee,—should I not seem to thee a false wooer, a poor trifler with thy earnest heart; and so, couldst thou not recall the love of him whose truer and worthier homage yet lingers in thine ear, and with him be happy?"
Sibyll lifted her dark eyes, yet humid, upon the unrevealing face of the speaker, and gazed on him with wistful and inquiring sadness; then, shrinking from his side, she crossed her arms meekly on her bosom, and thus said,—
"If ever, since we parted, one such thought hath glanced across thee—one thought of repentance at the sacrifice of pride, or the lessening of power—which (she faltered, broke off the sentence, and resumed)—in one word, if thou wouldst retract, say it now, and I will not accuse thy falsehood, but bless thy truth."
"Thou couldst be consoled, then, by thy pride of woman, for the loss of an unworthy lover?"
"My lord, are these questions fair?"
Hastings was silent. The gentler part of his nature struggled severely with the harder. The pride of Sibyll moved him no less than her trust; and her love in both was so evident, so deep, so exquisitely contrasting the cold and frivolous natures amidst which his lot had fallen, that he recoiled from casting away forever a heart never to be replaced. Standing on that bridge of life, with age before and youth behind, he felt that never again could he be so loved, or, if so loved by one so worthy of whatever of pure affection, of young romance, was yet left to his melancholy and lonely soul.
He took her hand, and, as she felt its touch, her firmness forsook her, her head drooped upon her bosom, and she burst into an agony of tears.
"Oh, Sibyll, forgive me! Smile on me again, Sibyll!" exclaimed Hastings, subdued and melted. But, alas! the heart once bruised and galled recovers itself but slowly, and it was many minutes before the softest words the eloquent lover could shape to sound sufficed to dry those burning tears, and bring back the enchanting smile,—nay, even then the smile was forced and joyless. They walked on for some moments, both in thought, till Hastings said: "Thou lovest me, Sibyll, and art worthy of all the love that man can feel for maid; and yet, canst thou solve me this question, nor chide me that I ask it, Dost thou not love the world and the world's judgments more than me? What is that which women call honour? What makes them shrink from all love that takes not the form and circumstance of the world's hollow rites? Does love cease to be love, unless over its wealth of trust and emotion the priest mouths his empty blessing? Thou in thy graceful pride art angered if I, in wedding thee, should remember the sacrifice which men like me—I own it fairly—deem as great as man can make; and yet thou wouldst fly my love if it wooed thee to a sacrifice of thine own."
Artfully was the question put, and Hastings smiled to himself in imagining the reply it must bring; and then Sibyll answered, with the blush which the very subject called forth,
"Alas, my lord, I am but a poor casuist, but I feel that if I asked thee to forfeit whatever men respect,—honour and repute for valour, to be traitor and dastard,—thou couldst love me no more; and marvel you if, when man woos woman to forfeit all that her sex holds highest,—to be in woman what dastard and traitor is in man,—she hears her conscience and her God speak in a louder voice than can come from a human lip? The goods and pomps of the world we are free to sacrifice, and true love heeds and counts them not; but true love cannot sacrifice that which makes up love,—it cannot sacrifice the right to be loved below; the hope to love on in the realm above; the power to pray with a pure soul for the happiness it yearns to make; the blessing to seem ever good and honoured in the eyes of the one by whom alone it would be judged. And therefore, sweet lord, true love never contemplates this sacrifice; and if once it believes itself truly loved, it trusts with a fearless faith in the love on which it leans."
"Sibyll, would to Heaven I had seen thee in my youth! Would to Heaven I were more worthy of thee!" And in that interview Hastings had no heart to utter what he had resolved, "Sibyll, I sought thee but to say Farewell."
CHAPTER VI. WARWICK RETURNS—APPEASES A DISCONTENTED PRINCE—AND CONFERS WITH A REVENGEFUL CONSPIRATOR.
It was not till late in the evening that Warwick arrived at his vast residence in London, where he found not only Marmaduke Nevile ready to receive him, but a more august expectant, in George Duke of Clarence. Scarcely had the earl crossed the threshold, when the duke seized his arm, and leading him into the room that adjoined the hall, said,—
"Verily, Edward is besotted no less than ever by his wife's leech-like family. Thou knowest my appointment to the government of Ireland; Isabel, like myself, cannot endure the subordinate vassalage we must brook at the court, with the queen's cold looks and sour words. Thou knowest, also, with what vain pretexts Edward has put me of; and now, this very day, he tells me that he hath changed his humour,—that I am not stern enough for the Irish kernes; that he loves me too well to banish me, forsooth; and that Worcester, the people's butcher but the queen's favourite, must have the post so sacredly pledged to me. I see in this Elizabeth's crafty malice. Is this struggle between king's blood and queen's kith to go on forever?"
"Calm thyself, George; I will confer with the king tomorrow, and hope to compass thy not too arrogant desire. Certes, a king's brother is the fittest vice-king for the turbulent kernes of Ireland, who are ever flattered into obeisance by ceremony and show. The government was pledged to thee—Edward can scarcely be serious. Moreover, Worcester, though forsooth a learned man—Mort-Dieu! methinks that same learning fills the head to drain the heart!—is so abhorred for his cruelties that his very landing in Ireland will bring a new rebellion to add to our already festering broils and sores. Calm thyself, I say. Where didst thou leave Isabel?"
"With my mother."
"And Anne?—the queen chills not her young heart with cold grace?"
"Nay, the queen dare not unleash her malice against Edward's will; and, to do him justice, he hath shown all honour to Lord Warwick's daughter."
"He is a gallant prince, with all his faults," said the father, heartily, "and we must bear with him, George; for verily he hath bound men by a charm to love him. Stay thou and share my hasty repast, and over the wine we will talk of thy views. Spare me now for a moment; I have to prepare work eno' for a sleepless night. This Lincolnshire rebellion promises much trouble. Lord Willoughby has joined it; more than twenty thousand men are in arms. I have already sent to convene the knights and barons on whom the king can best depend, and must urge their instant departure for their halls, to raise men and meet the foe. While Edward feasts, his minister must toil. Tarry a while till I return." The earl re-entered the hall, and beckoned to Marmaduke, who stood amongst a group of squires.
"Follow me; I may have work for thee." Warwick took a taper from one of the servitors, and led the way to his own more private apartment. On the landing of the staircase, by a small door, stood his body-squire—"Is the prisoner within?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Good!"—The earl opened the door by which the squire had mounted guard, and bade Marmaduke wait without.
The inmate of the chamber, whose dress bore the stains of fresh travel and hard riding, lifted his face hastily as the earl entered.
"Robin Hilyard," said Warwick, "I have mused much how to reconcile my service to the king with the gratitude I owe to a man who saved me from great danger. In the midst of thy unhappy and rebellious designs thou wert captured and brought to me; the papers found on thee attest a Lancastrian revolt, so ripening towards a mighty gathering, and so formidable from the adherents whom the gold and intrigues of King Louis have persuaded to risk land and life for the Red Rose, that all the king's friends can do to save his throne is now needed. In this revolt thou hast been the scheming brain, the master hand, the match to the bombard, the fire brand to the flax. Thou smilest, man! Alas! seest thou not that it is my stern duty to send thee bound hand and foot before the king's council, for the brake to wring from thee thy guilty secrets, and the gibbet to close thy days?"
"I am prepared," said Hilyard; "when the bombard explodes, the match has become useless; when the flame smites the welkin, the firebrand is consumed!"
"Bold man! what seest thou in this rebellion that can profit thee?"
"I see, looming through the chasms and rents made in the feudal order by civil war, the giant image of a free people."
"And thou wouldst be a martyr for the multitude, who deserted thee at Olney?"
"As thou for the king who dishonoured thee at Shene!"
Warwick frowned, and there was a moment's pause; at last, said the earl: "Look you, Robin, I would fain not have on my hands the blood of a man who saved my life. I believe thee, though a fanatic and half madman,—I believe thee true in word as rash of deed. Swear to me on the cross of this dagger that thou wilt lay aside all scheme and plot for this rebellion, all aid and share in civil broil and dissension, and thy life and liberty are restored to thee. In that intent, I have summoned my own kinsman, Marmaduke Nevile. He waits without the door; he shall conduct thee safely to the seashore; thou shalt gain in peace my government of Calais, and my seneschal there shall find thee all thou canst need,—meat for thy hunger and moneys for thy pastime. Accept my mercy, take the oath, and begone."
"My lord," answered Hilyard, much touched and affected, "blame not thyself if this carcass feed the crows—my blood be on mine own head! I cannot take this oath; I cannot live in peace; strife and broil are grown to me food and drink. Oh, my lord! thou knowest not what dark and baleful memories made me an agent in God's hand against this ruthless Edward!" and then passionately, with whitening lips and convulsive features, Hilyard recounted to the startled Warwick the same tale which had roused the sympathy of Adam Warner.
The earl, whose affections were so essentially homely and domestic, was even more shocked than the scholar by the fearful narrative.
"Unhappy man!" he said with moistened eyes, "from the core of my heart I pity thee. But thou, the scathed sufferer from civil war, wilt thou be now its dread reviver?"
"If Edward had wronged thee, great earl, as me, poor franklin, what would be thine answer? In vain moralize to him whom the spectre of a murdered child and the shriek of a maniac wife haunt and hound on to vengeance! So send me to rack and halter. Be there one curse more on the soul of Edward!"
"Thou shalt not die through my witness," said the earl, abruptly; and he quitted the chamber.
Securing the door by a heavy bolt on the outside, he gave orders to his squire to attend to the comforts of the prisoner; and then turning into his closet with Marmaduke, said: "I sent for thee, young cousin, with design to commit to thy charge one whose absence from England I deemed needful—that design I must abandon. Go back to the palace, and see, if thou canst, the king before he sleeps; say that this rising in Lincolnshire is more than a riot,—it is the first burst of a revolution! that I hold council here to-night, and every shire, ere the morrow, shall have its appointed captain. I will see the king at morning. Yet stay—gain sight of my child Anne; she will leave the court to-morrow. I will come for her; bid her train be prepared; she and the countess must away to Calais,—England again hath ceased to be a home for women! What to do with this poor rebel?" muttered the earl, when alone; "release him I cannot; slay him I will not. Hum, there is space enough in these walls to inclose a captive."
CHAPTER VII. THE FEAR AND THE FLIGHT.
King Edward feasted high, and Sibyll sat in her father's chamber,—she silent with thought of love, Adam silent in the toils of science. The Eureka was well-nigh finished, rising from its ruins more perfect, more elaborate, than before. Maiden and scholar, each seeming near to the cherished goal,—one to love's genial altar, the other to fame's lonely shrine.
Evening advanced, night began, night deepened. King Edward's feast was over, but still in his perfumed chamber the wine sparkled in the golden cup. It was announced to him that Sir Marmaduke Nevile, just arrived from the earl's house, craved an audience. The king, pre-occupied in deep revery, impatiently postponed it till the morrow.
"To-morrow," said the gentleman in attendance, "Sir Marmaduke bids me say, fearful that the late hour would forbid his audience, that Lord Warwick himself will visit your Grace. I fear, sire, that the disturbances are great indeed, for the squires and gentlemen in Lady Anne's train have orders to accompany her to Calais to-morrow."
"To-morrow, to-morrow!" repeated the king—"well, sir, you are dismissed."
The Lady Anne (to whom Sibyll had previously communicated the king's kindly consideration for Master Warner) had just seen Marmaduke, and learned the new dangers that awaited the throne and the realm. The Lancastrians were then openly in arms for the prince of her love, and against her mighty father!
The Lady Anne sat a while, sorrowful and musing, and then, before yon crucifix, the Lady Anne knelt in prayer. Sir Marmaduke Nevile descends to the court below, and some three or four busy, curious gentlemen, not yet a-bed, seize him by the arm, and pray him to say what storm is in the wind.
The night deepened still. The wine is drained in King Edward's goblet; King Edward has left his chamber; and Sibyll, entreating her father, but in vain, to suspend his toil, has kissed the damps from his brow, and is about to retire to her neighbouring room. She has turned to the threshold, when, hark! a faint—a distant cry, a woman's shriek, the noise of a clapping door! The voice—it is the voice of Anne! Sibyll passed the threshold, she is in the corridor; the winter moon shines through the open arches, the air is white and cold with frost. Suddenly the door at the farther end is thrown wide open, a form rushes into the corridor, it passes Sibyll, halts, turns round. "Oh, Sibyll!" cried the Lady Anne, in a voice wild with horror, "save me—aid—help! Merciful Heaven, the king!"
Instinctively, wonderingly, tremblingly, Sibyll drew Anne into the chamber she had just quitted, and as they gained its shelter, as Anne sank upon the floor, the gleam of cloth-of-gold flashed through the dim atmosphere, and Edward, yet in the royal robe in which he had dazzled all the eyes at his kingly feast, stood within the chamber. His countenance was agitated with passion, and its clear hues flushed red with wine. At his entrance Anne sprang from the floor, and rushed to Warner, who, in dumb bewilderment, had suspended his task, and stood before the Eureka, from which steamed and rushed the dark, rapid smoke, while round and round, labouring and groaning, rolled its fairy wheels. [The gentle reader will doubtless bear in mind that Master Warner's complicated model had but little resemblance to the models of the steam-engine in our own day, and that it was usually connected with other contrivances, for the better display of the principle it was intended to illustrate.]
"Sir," cried Anne, clinging to him convulsively, "you are a father; by your child's soul, protect Lord Warwick's daughter!"
Roused from his abstraction by this appeal, the poor scholar wound his arm round the form thus clinging to him, and raising his head with dignity, replied, "Thy name, youth, and sex protect thee!"
"Unhand that lady, vile sorcerer," exclaimed the king, "I am her protector. Come, Anne, sweet Anne, fair lady, thou mistakest,—come!" he whispered. "Give not to these low natures matter for guesses that do but shame thee. Let thy king and cousin lead thee back to thy sweet rest."
He sought, though gently, to loosen the arms that wound themselves round the old man; but Anne, not heeding, not listening, distracted by a terror that seemed to shake her whole frame and to threaten her very reason, continued to cry out loudly upon her father's name,—her great father, wakeful, then, for the baffled ravisher's tottering throne!
Edward had still sufficient possession of his reason to be alarmed lest some loiterer or sentry in the outer court might hear the cries which his attempts to soothe but the more provoked. Grinding his teeth, and losing patience, he said to Adam, "Thou knowest me, friend,—I am thy king. Since the Lady Anne, in her bewilderment, prefers thine aid to mine, help to bear her back to her apartment; and thou, young mistress, lend thine arm. This wizard's den is no fit chamber for our high-born guest."
"No, no; drive me not hence, Master Warner—that man—that king—give me not up to his—his—"
"Beware!" exclaimed the king.
It was not till now that Adam's simple mind comprehended the true cause of Anne's alarm, which Sibyll still conjectured not, but stood trembling by her friend's side, and close to her father.
"Do not fear, maiden;" said Adam Warner, laying his hand upon the loosened locks that swept over his bosom, "for though I am old and feeble, God and his angels are in every spot where virtue trembles and resists. My lord king, thy sceptre extends not over a human soul!"
"Dotard, prate not to me!" said Edward, laying his hand on his dagger. Sibyll saw the movement, and instinctively placed herself between her father and the king. That slight form, those pure, steadfast eyes, those features, noble at once and delicate, recalled to Edward the awe which had seized him in his first dark design; and again that awe came over him. He retreated.
"I mean harm to none," said he, almost submissively; "and if I am so unhappy as to scare with my presence the Lady Anne, I will retire, praying you, donzell, to see to her state, and lead her back to her chamber when it so pleases herself. Saying this much, I command you, old man, and you, maiden, to stand back while I but address one sentence to the Lady Anne."
With these words he gently advanced to Anne, and took her hand; but, snatching it from him, the poor lady broke from Adam, rushed to the casement, opened it, and seeing some figures indistinct and distant in the court below, she called out in a voice of such sharp agony that it struck remorse and even terror into Edward's soul.
"Alas!" he muttered, "she will not listen to me! her mind is distraught! What frenzy has been mine! Pardon—pardon, Anne,—oh, pardon!"
Adam Warner laid his hand on the king's arm, and he drew the imperious despot away as easily as a nurse leads a docile child.
"King!" said the brave old man, "may God pardon thee; for if the last evil hath been wrought upon this noble lady, David sinned not more heavily than thou."
"She is pure, inviolate,—I swear it!" said the king, humbly. "Anne, only say that I am forgiven."
But Anne spoke not: her eyes were fixed, her lips had fallen; she was insensible as a corpse,—dumb and frozen with her ineffable dread. Suddenly steps were heard upon the stairs; the door opened, and Marmaduke Nevile entered abruptly.
"Surely I heard my lady's voice,—surely! What marvel this?—the king! Pardon, my liege!" and he bent his knee.
The sight of Marmaduke dissolved the spell of awe and repentant humiliation which had chained a king's dauntless heart. His wonted guile returned to him with his self-possession.
"Our wise craftsman's strange and weird invention"—and Edward pointed to the Eureka—"has scared our fair cousin's senses, as, by sweet Saint George, it well might! Go back, Sir Marmaduke, we will leave Lady Anne for the moment to the care of Mistress Sibyll. Donzell, remember my command. Come, sir"—(and he drew the wondering Marmaduke from the chamber); but as soon as he had seen the knight descend the stairs and regain the court, he returned to the room, and in a low, stern voice, said, "Look you, Master Warner, and you, damsel, if ever either of ye breathe one word of what has been your dangerous fate to hear and witness, kings have but one way to punish slanderers, and silence but one safeguard!—trifle not with death!"
He then closed the door, and resought his own chamber. The Eastern spices, which were burned in the sleeping-rooms of the great, still made the air heavy with their feverish fragrance. The king seated himself, and strove to recollect his thoughts, and examine the peril he had provoked. The resistance and the terror of Anne had effectually banished from his heart the guilty passion it had before harboured; for emotions like his, and in such a nature, are quick of change. His prevailing feeling was one of sharp repentance and reproachful shame. But as he roused himself from a state of mind which light characters ever seek to escape, the image of the dark-browed earl rose before him, and fear succeeded to mortification; but even this, however well-founded, could not endure long in a disposition so essentially scornful of all danger. Before morning the senses of Anne must return to her. So gentle a bosom could be surely reasoned out of resentment, or daunted, at least, from betraying to her stern father a secret that, if told, would smear the sward of England with the gore of thousands. What woman will provoke war and bloodshed? And for an evil not wrought, for a purpose not fulfilled? The king was grateful that his victim had escaped him. He would see Anne before the earl could, and appease her anger, obtain her silence! For Warner and for Sibyll, they would not dare to reveal; and, if they did, the lips that accuse a king soon belie themselves, while a rack can torture truth, and the doomsman be the only judge between the subject and the head that wears a crown.
Thus reasoning with himself, his soul faced the solitude. Meanwhile Marmaduke regained the courtyard, where, as we have said, he had been detained in conferring with some of the gentlemen in the king's service, who, hearing that he brought important tidings from the earl, had abstained from rest till they could learn if the progress of the new rebellion would bring their swords into immediate service. Marmaduke, pleased to be of importance, had willingly satisfied their curiosity, as far as he was able, and was just about to retire to his own chamber, when the cry of Anne had made him enter the postern-door which led up the stairs to Adam's apartment, and which was fortunately not locked; and now, on returning, he had again a new curiosity to allay. Having briefly said that Master Warner had taken that untoward hour to frighten the women with a machine that vomited smoke and howled piteously, Marmaduke dismissed the group to their beds, and was about to seek his own, when, looking once more towards the casement, he saw a white hand gleaming in the frosty moonlight, and beckoning to him.
The knight crossed himself, and reluctantly ascended the stairs, and re-entered the wizard's den.
The Lady Anne had so far recovered herself, that a kind of unnatural calm had taken possession of her mind, and changed her ordinary sweet and tractable nature into one stern, obstinate resolution,—to escape, if possible, that unholy palace. And as soon as Marmaduke re-entered, Anne met him at the threshold, and laying her hand convulsively on his arm, said, "By the name you bear, by your love to my father, aid me to quit these walls."
In great astonishment, Marmaduke stared, without reply. "Do you deny me, sir?" said Anne, almost sternly.
"Lady and mistress mine," answered Marmaduke, "I am your servant in all things. Quit these walls, the palace!—How?—the gates are closed. Nay, and what would my lord say, if at night—"
"If at night!" repeated Anne, in a hollow voice; and then pausing, burst into a terrible laugh. Recovering herself abruptly, she moved to the door, "I will go forth alone, and trust in God and Our Lady."
Sibyll sprang forward to arrest her steps, and Marmaduke hastened to Adam, and whispered, "Poor lady, is her mind unsettled? Hast thou, in truth, distracted her with thy spells and glamour?"
"Hush!" answered the old man; and he whispered in Nevile's ear.
Scarcely had the knight caught the words, than his cheek paled, his eyes flashed fire. "The great earl's daughter!" he exclaimed. "Infamy—horror—she is right!" He broke from the student, approached Anne, who still struggled with Sibyll, and kneeling before her, said, in a voice choked with passions at once fierce and tender,—
"Lady, you are right. Unseemly it may be for one of your quality and sex to quit this place with me, and alone; but at least I have a man's heart, a knight's honour. Trust to me your safety, noble maiden, and I will cut your way, even through yon foul king's heart, to your great father's side!"
Anne did not seem quite to understand his words; but she smiled on him as he knelt, and gave him her hand. The responsibility he had assumed quickened all the intellect of the young knight. As he took and kissed the hand extended to him, he felt the ring upon his finger,—the ring intrusted to him by Alwyn, the king's signet-ring, before which would fly open every gate. He uttered a joyous exclamation, loosened his long night-cloak, and praying Anne to envelop her form in its folds, drew the hood over her head; he was about to lead her forth when he halted suddenly.
"Alack," said he, turning to Sibyll, "even though we may escape the Tower, no boatman now can be found on the river. The way through the streets is dark and perilous, and beset with midnight ruffians."
"Verily," said Warner, "the danger is past now. Let the noble demoiselle rest here till morning. The king dare not again—"
"Dare not!" interrupted Marmaduke. "Alas! you little know King Edward."
At that name Anne shuddered, opened the door, and hurried down the stairs; Sibyll and Marmaduke followed her.
"Listen, Sir Marmaduke," said Sibyll. "Close without the Tower is the house of a noble lady, the dame of Longueville, where Anne may rest in safety, while you seek Lord Warwick. I will go with you, if you can obtain egress for us both."
"Brave damsel!" said Marmaduke, with emotion; "but your own safety—the king's anger—no—besides a third, your dress not concealed, would create the warder's suspicion. Describe the house."
"The third to the left, by the river's side, with an arched porch, and the fleur-de-lis embossed on the walls."
"It is not so dark but we shall find it. Fare you well, gentle mistress."
While they yet spoke, they had both reached the side of Anne. Sibyll still persisted in the wish to accompany her friend; but Marmaduke's representation of the peril to life itself that might befall her father, if Edward learned she had abetted Anne's escape, finally prevailed. The knight and his charge gained the outer gate.
"Haste, haste, Master Warder!" he cried, beating at the door with his dagger till it opened jealously,—"messages of importance to the Lord Warwick. We have the king's signet. Open!"
The sleepy warder glanced at the ring; the gates were opened; they were without the fortress, they hurried on. "Cheer up, noble lady; you are safe, you shall be avenged!" said Marmaduke, as he felt the steps of his companion falter. But the reaction had come. The effort Anne had hitherto made was for escape, for liberty; the strength ceased, the object gained; her head drooped, she muttered a few incoherent words, and then sense and life left her. Marmaduke paused in great perplexity and alarm. But lo, a light in a house before him! That house the third to the river,—the only one with the arched porch described by Sibyll. He lifted the light and holy burden in his strong arms, he gained the door; to his astonishment it was open; a light burned on the stairs; he heard, in the upper room, the sound of whispered voices, and quick, soft footsteps hurrying to and fro. Still bearing the insensible form of his companion, he ascended the staircase, and entered at once upon a chamber, in which, by a dim lamp, he saw some two or three persons assembled round a bed in the recess. A grave man advanced to him, as he paused at the threshold.
"Whom seek you?"
"The Lady Longueville."
"Who needs me?" said a faint voice, from the curtained recess.
"My name is Nevile," answered Marmaduke, with straightforward brevity. "Mistress Sibyll Warner told me of this house, where I come for an hour's shelter to my companion, the Lady Anne, daughter of the Earl of Warwick."
Marmaduke resigned his charge to an old woman, who was the nurse in that sick-chamber, and who lifted the hood and chafed the pale, cold hands of the young maiden; the knight then strode to the recess. The Lady of Longueville was on the bed of death—an illness of two days had brought her to the brink of the grave; but there was in her eye and countenance a restless and preternatural animation, and her voice was clear and shrill, as she said,—
"Why does the daughter of Warwick, the Yorkist, seek refuge in the house of the fallen and childless Lancastrian?"
"Swear by thy hopes in Christ that thou will tend and guard her while I seek the earl, and I reply."
"Stranger, my name is Longueville, my birth noble,—those pledges of hospitality and trust are stronger than hollow oaths. Say on!"
"Because, then," whispered the knight, after waving the bystanders from the spot, "because the earl's daughter flies dishonour in a king's palace, and her insulter is the king!"
Before the dying woman could reply, Anne, recovered by the cares of the experienced nurse, suddenly sprang to the recess, and kneeling by the bedside, exclaimed wildly,—"Save me! bide me! save me!"
"Go and seek the earl, whose right hand destroyed my house and his lawful sovereign's throne,—go! I will live till he arrives!" said the childless widow, and a wild gleam of triumph shot over her haggard features.
CHAPTER VIII. THE GROUP ROUND THE DEATH-BED OF THE LANCASTRIAN WIDOW.
The dawning sun gleamed through gray clouds upon a small troop of men, armed in haste, who were grouped round a covered litter by the outer door of the Lady Longueville's house; while in the death-chamber, the Earl of Warwick, with a face as pale as the dying woman's, stood beside the bed, Anne calmly leaning on his breast, her eyes closed, and tears yet moist on her long fringes.
"Ay, ay, ay!" said the Lancastrian noblewoman, "ye men of wrath and turbulence should reap what ye have sown! This is the king for whom ye dethroned the sainted Henry! this the man for whom ye poured forth the blood of England's best! Ha! ha! Look down from heaven, my husband, my martyr-sons! The daughter of your mightiest foe flies to this lonely hearth,—flies to the death-bed of the powerless woman for refuge from the foul usurper whom that foe placed upon the throne!"
"Spare me," muttered Warwick, in a low voice, and between his grinded teeth. The room had been cleared, and Dr. Godard (the grave man who had first accosted Marmaduke, and who was the priest summoned to the dying) alone—save the scarce conscious Anne herself—witnessed the ghastly and awful conference.
"Hush, daughter," said the man of peace, lifting the solemn crucifix,—"calm thyself to holier thoughts."
The lady impatiently turned from the priest, and grasping the strong right arm of Warwick with her shrivelled and trembling fingers, resumed in a voice that struggled to repress the gasps which broke its breath,—
"But thou—oh, thou wilt bear this indignity! thou, the chief of England's barons, wilt see no dishonour in the rank love of the vilest of England's kings! Oh, yes, ye Yorkists have the hearts of varlets, not of men and fathers!"
"By the symbol from which thou turnest, woman!" exclaimed the earl, giving vent to the fury which the presence of death had before suppressed, "by Him to whom, morning and night, I have knelt in grateful blessing for the virtuous life of this beloved child, I will have such revenge on the recreant whom I kinged, as shall live in the rolls of England till the trump of the Judgment Angel!"
"Father," said Anne, startled by her father's vehemence from her half-swoon, half-sleep—"Father, think no more of the past,—take me to my mother! I want the clasp of my mother's arms!"
"Leave us,—leave the dying, Sir Earl and son," said Godard. "I too am Lancastrian; I too would lay down my life for the holy Henry; but I shudder, in the hour of death, to hear yon pale lips, that should pray for pardon, preach to thee of revenge."
"Revenge!" shrieked out the dame of Longueville, as, sinking fast and fast, she caught the word—"revenge! Thou hast sworn revenge on Edward of York, Lord Warwick,—sworn it in the chamber of death, in the ear of one who will carry that word to the hero-dead of a hundred battlefields! Ha! the sun has risen! Priest—Godard—thine arms—support—raise—bear me to the casement! Quick—quick! I would see my king once more! Quick—quick! and then—then—I will hear thee pray!"
The priest, half chiding, yet half in pity, bore the dying woman to the casement. She motioned to him to open it; he obeyed. The sun, just above the welkin, shone over the lordly Thames, gilded the gloomy fortress of the Tower, and glittered upon the window of Henry's prison.
"There—there! It is he,—it is my king! Hither,—lord, rebel earl,—hither. Behold your sovereign. Repent, revenge!"
With her livid and outstretched hand, the Lancastrian pointed to the huge Wakefield tower. The earl's dark eye beheld in the dim distance a pale and reverend countenance, recognized even from afar. The dying woman fixed her glazing eyes upon the wronged and mighty baron, and suddenly her arm fell to her side, the face became set as into stone, the last breath of life gurgled within, and fled; and still those glazing eyes were fixed on the earl's hueless face, and still in his ear, and echoed by a thousand passions in his heart, thrilled the word which had superseded prayer, and in which the sinner's soul had flown,—REVENGE!
BOOK IX. THE WANDERERS AND THE EXILES.
CHAPTER I. HOW THE GREAT BARON BECOMES AS GREAT A REBEL.
Hilyard was yet asleep in the chamber assigned to him as his prison, when a rough grasp shook off his slumbers, and he saw the earl before him, with a countenance so changed from its usual open majesty, so dark and sombre, that he said involuntarily, "You send me to the doomsman,—I am ready!"
"Hist, man! Thou hatest Edward of York?"
"An it were my last word, yes!"
"Give me thy hand—we are friends! Stare not at me with those eyes of wonder, ask not the why nor wherefore! This last night gave Edward a rebel more in Richard Nevile! A steed waits thee at my gates; ride fast to young Sir Robert Welles with this letter. Bid him not be dismayed; bid him hold out, for ere many days are past, Lord Warwick, and it may be also the Duke of Clarence, will join their force with his. Mark, I say not that I am for Henry of Lancaster,—I say only that I am against Edward of York. Farewell, and when we meet again, blessed be the arm that first cuts its way to a tyrant's heart!"
Without another word, Warwick left the chamber. Hilyard at first could not believe his senses; but as he dressed himself in haste, he pondered over all those causes of dissension which had long notoriously subsisted between Edward and the earl, and rejoiced that the prophecy that he had long so shrewdly hazarded was at last fulfilled. Descending the stairs he gained the gate, where Marmaduke awaited him, while a groom held a stout haquenee (as the common riding-horse was then called), whose points and breeding promised speed and endurance.
"Mount, Master Robin," said Marmaduke; "I little thought we should ever ride as friends together! Mount!—our way for some miles out of London is the same. You go into Lincolnshire, I into the shire of Hertford."
"And for the same purpose?" asked Hilyard, as he sprang upon his horse, and the two men rode briskly on.
"Lord Warwick is changed at last?"
"Good, I ask no more!"
A sound of hoofs behind made the franklin turn his head, and he saw a goodly troop, armed to the teeth, emerge from the earl's house and follow the lead of Marmaduke. Meanwhile Warwick was closeted with Montagu.
Worldly as the latter was, and personally attached to Edward, he was still keenly alive to all that touched the honour of his House; and his indignation at the deadly insult offered to his niece was even more loudly expressed than that of the fiery earl.
"To deem," he exclaimed, "to deem Elizabeth Woodville worthy of his throne, and to see in Anne Nevile the only worthy to be his leman!"
"Ay!" said the earl, with a calmness perfectly terrible, from its unnatural contrast to his ordinary heat, when but slightly chafed, "ay! thou sayest it! But be tranquil; cold,—cold as iron, and as hard! We must scheme now, not storm and threaten—I never schemed before! You are right,—honesty is a fool's policy! Would I had known this but an hour before the news reached me! I have already dismissed our friends to their different districts, to support King Edward's cause—he is still king,—a little while longer king! Last night, I dismissed them—last night, at the very hour when—O God, give me patience!" He paused, and added in a low voice, "Yet—yet—how long the moments are how long! Ere the sun sets, Edward, I trust, will be in my power!"
"He goes, to-day, to the More,—he will not go the less for what hath chanced; he will trust to the archbishop to make his peace with me,—churchmen are not fathers! Marmaduke Nevile hath my orders; a hundred armed men, who would march against the fiend himself, if I said the word, will surround the More, and seize the guest!"
"But what then? Who, if Edward, I dare not say the word—who is to succeed him?"
"Clarence is the male heir."
"But with what face to the people proclaim—"
"There—there it is!" interrupted Warwick. "I have thought of that,—I have thought of all things; my mind seems to have traversed worlds since daybreak! True! all commotion to be successful must have a cause that men can understand. Nevertheless, you, Montagu—you have a smoother tongue than I; go to our friends—to those who hate Edward—seek them, sound them!"
"And name to them Edward's infamy?"
"'S death, dost thou think it? Thou, a Monthermer and Montagu: proclaim to England the foul insult to the hearth of an English gentleman and peer! feed every ribald Bourdour with song and roundel of Anne's virgin shame! how King Edward stole to her room at the dead of night, and wooed and pressed, and swore, and—God of Heaven, that this hand were on his throat! No, brother, no! there are some wrongs we may not tell,—tumours and swellings of the heart which are eased not till blood can flow!"
During this conference between the brothers, Edward, in his palace, was seized with consternation and dismay on hearing that the Lady Anne could not be found in her chamber. He sent forthwith to summon Adam Warner to his presence, and learned from the simple sage, who concealed nothing, the mode in which Anne had fled from the Tower. The king abruptly dismissed Adam, after a few hearty curses and vague threats; and awaking to the necessity of inventing some plausible story, to account to the wonder of the court for the abrupt disappearance of his guest, he saw that the person who could best originate and circulate such a tale was the queen; and he sought her at once, with the resolution to choose his confidant in the connection most rarely honoured by marital trust in similar offences. He, however, so softened his narrative as to leave it but a venial error. He had been indulging over-freely in the wine-cup, he had walked into the corridor for the refreshing coolness of the air, he had seen the figure of a female whom he did not recognize; and a few gallant words, he scarce remembered what, had been misconstrued. On perceiving whom he had thus addressed, he had sought to soothe the anger or alarm of the Lady Anne; but still mistaking his intention, she had hurried into Warner's chamber; he had followed her thither, and now she had fled the palace. Such was his story, told lightly and laughingly, but ending with a grave enumeration of the dangers his imprudence had incurred.
Whatever Elizabeth felt, or however she might interpret the confession, she acted with her customary discretion; affected, after a few tender reproaches, to place implicit credit in her lord's account, and volunteered to prevent all scandal by the probable story that the earl, being prevented from coming in person for his daughter, as he had purposed, by fresh news of the rebellion which might call him from London with the early day, had commissioned his kinsman Marmaduke to escort her home. The quick perception of her sex told her that, whatever license might have terrified Anne into so abrupt a flight, the haughty earl would shrink no less than Edward himself from making public an insult which slander could well distort into the dishonour of his daughter; and that whatever pretext might be invented, Warwick would not deign to contradict it. And as, despite Elizabeth's hatred to the earl, and desire of permanent breach between Edward and his minister, she could not, as queen, wife, and woman, but be anxious that some cause more honourable in Edward, and less odious to the people, should be assigned for quarrel, she earnestly recommended the king to repair at once to the More, as had been before arranged, and to spare no pains, disdain no expressions of penitence and humiliation, to secure the mediation of the archbishop. His mind somewhat relieved by this interview and counsel, the king kissed Elizabeth with affectionate gratitude, and returned to his chamber to prepare for his departure to the archbishop's palace. But then, remembering that Adam and Sibyll possessed his secret, he resolved at once to banish them from the Tower. For a moment he thought of the dungeons of his fortress, of the rope of his doomsman; but his conscience at that hour was sore and vexed. His fierceness humbled by the sense of shame, he shrank from a new crime; and, moreover, his strong common-sense assured him that the testimony of a shunned and abhorred wizard ceased to be of weight the moment it was deprived of the influence it took from the protection of a king. He gave orders for a boat to be in readiness by the gate of St. Thomas, again summoned Adam into his presence, and said briefly, "Master Warner, the London mechanics cry so loudly against thine invention for lessening labour and starving the poor, the sailors on the wharfs are so mutinous at the thought of vessels without rowers, that, as a good king is bound, I yield to the voice of my people. Go home, then, at once; the queen dispenses with thy fair daughter's service, the damsel accompanies thee. A boat awaits ye at the stairs; a guard shall attend ye to your house. Think what has passed within these walls has been a dream,—a dream that, if told, is deathful, if concealed and forgotten hath no portent!"
Without waiting a reply, the king called from the anteroom one of his gentlemen, and gave him special directions as to the departure and conduct of the worthy scholar and his gentle daughter. Edward next summoned before him the warder of the gate, learned that he alone was privy to the mode of his guest's flight, and deeming it best to leave at large no commentator on the tale he had invented, sentenced the astonished warder to three months' solitary imprisonment,—for appearing before him with soiled hosen! An hour afterwards, the king, with a small though gorgeous retinue, was on his way to the More.
The archbishop had, according to his engagement, assembled in his palace the more powerful of the discontented seigneurs; and his eloquence had so worked upon them, that Edward beheld, on entering the hall, only countenances of cheerful loyalty and respectful welcome. After the first greetings, the prelate, according to the custom of the day, conducted Edward into a chamber, that he might refresh himself with a brief rest and the bath, previous to the banquet.
Edward seized the occasion, and told his tale; but however softened, enough was left to create the liveliest dismay in his listener. The lofty scaffolding of hope upon which the ambitious prelate was to mount to the papal throne seemed to crumble into the dust. The king and the earl were equally necessary to the schemes of George Nevile. He chid the royal layman with more than priestly unction for his offence; but Edward so humbly confessed his fault, that the prelate at length relaxed his brow, and promised to convey his penitent assurances to the earl.
"Not an hour should be lost," he said; "the only one who can soothe his wrath is your Highness's mother, our noble kinswoman. Permit me to despatch to her grace a letter, praying her to seek the earl, while I write by the same courier to himself."
"Be it all as you will," said Edward, doffing his surcoat, and dipping his hands in a perfumed ewer; "I shall not know rest till I have knelt to the Lady Anne, and won her pardon."
The prelate retired, and scarcely had he left the room when Sir John Ratcliffe, [Afterwards Lord Fitzwalter. See Lingard (note, vol. iii. p. 507, quarto edition), for the proper date to be assigned to this royal visit to the More,—a date we have here adopted, not, as Sharon Turner and others place (namely, upon the authority of Hearne's Fragm., 302, which subsequent events disprove), after the open rebellion of Warwick, but just before it; that is, not after Easter, but before Lent.] one of the king's retinue, and in waiting on his person, entered the chamber, pale and trembling.
"My liege," he said, in a whisper, "I fear some deadly treason awaits you. I have seen, amongst the trees below this tower, the gleam of steel; I have crept through the foliage, and counted no less than a hundred armed men,—their leader is Sir Marmaduke Nevile, Earl Warwick's kinsman!"
"Ha!" muttered the king, and his bold face fell, "comes the earl's revenge so soon?"
"And," continued Ratcliffe, "I overheard Sir Marmaduke say, 'The door of the Garden Tower is unguarded,—wait the signal!' Fly, my liege! Hark! even now I hear the rattling of arms!"
The king stole to the casement; the day was closing; the foliage grew thick and dark around the wall; he saw an armed man emerge from the shade,—a second, and a third.
"You are right, Ratcliffe! Flight—but how?"
"This way, my liege. By the passage I entered, a stair winds to a door on the inner court; there I have already a steed in waiting. Deign, for precaution, to use my hat and manteline."
The king hastily adopted the suggestion, followed the noiseless steps of Ratcliffe, gained the door, sprang upon his steed, and dashing right through a crowd assembled by the gate, galloped alone and fast, untracked by human enemy, but goaded by the foe that mounts the rider's steed, over field, over fell, over dyke, through hedge, and in the dead of night reined in at last before the royal towers of Windsor.
CHAPTER II. MANY THINGS BRIEFLY TOLD.
The events that followed the king's escape were rapid and startling. The barons assembled at the More, enraged at Edward's seeming distrust of them, separated in loud anger. The archbishop learned the cause from one of his servitors, who detected Marmaduke's ambush, but he was too wary to make known a circumstance suspicious to himself. He flew to London, and engaged the mediation of the Duchess of York to assist his own. [Lingard. See for the dates, Fabyan, 657.]
The earl received their joint overtures with stern and ominous coldness, and abruptly repaired to Warwick, taking with him the Lady Anne. There he was joined, the same day, by the Duke and Duchess of Clarence.
The Lincolnshire rebellion gained head: Edward made a dexterous feint in calling, by public commission, upon Clarence and Warwick to aid in dispersing it; if they refused, the odium of first aggression would seemingly rest with them. Clarence, more induced by personal ambition than sympathy with Warwick's wrong, incensed by his brother's recent slights, looking to Edward's resignation and his own consequent accession to the throne, and inflamed by the ambition and pride of a wife whom he at once feared and idolized, went hand in heart with the earl; but not one lord and captain whom Montagu had sounded lent favour to the deposition of one brother for the advancement of the next. Clarence, though popular, was too young to be respected: many there were who would rather have supported the earl, if an aspirant to the throne; but that choice forbidden by the earl himself, there could be but two parties in England,—the one for Edward IV., the other for Henry VI. Lord Montagu had repaired to Warwick Castle to communicate in person this result of his diplomacy. The earl, whose manner was completely changed, no longer frank and hearty, but close and sinister, listened in gloomy silence.
"And now," said Montagu, with the generous emotion of a man whose nobler nature was stirred deeply, "if you resolve on war with Edward, I am willing to renounce my own ambition, the hand of a king's daughter for my son, so that I may avenge the honour of our common name. I confess that I have so loved Edward that I would fain pray you to pause, did I not distrust myself, lest in such delay his craft should charm me back to the old affection. Nathless, to your arm and your great soul I have owed all, and if you are resolved to strike the blow, I am ready to share the hazard."
The earl turned away his face, and wrung his brother's hand.
"Our father, methinks, hears thee from the grave!" said he, solemnly, and there was a long pause. At length Warwick resumed: "Return to London; seem to take no share in my actions, whatever they be; if I fail, why drag thee into my ruin?—and yet, trust me, I am rash and fierce no more. He who sets his heart on a great object suddenly becomes wise. When a throne is in the dust, when from St. Paul's Cross a voice goes forth to Carlisle and the Land's End, proclaiming that the reign of Edward the Fourth is past and gone, then, Montagu, I claim thy promise of aid and fellowship,—not before!"
Meanwhile, the king, eager to dispel thought in action, rushed in person against the rebellious forces. Stung by fear into cruelty, he beheaded, against all kingly faith, his hostages, Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke, summoned Sir Robert Welles, the leader of the revolt, to surrender; received for answer, that Sir Robert Welles would not trust the perfidy of the man who had murdered his father!—pushed on to Erpingham, defeated the rebels in a signal battle, and crowned his victory by a series of ruthless cruelties, committed to the fierce and learned Earl of Worcester, "Butcher of England." [Stowe. "Warkworth Chronicle"—Cont. Croyl. Lord Worcester ordered Clapham (a squire to Lord Warwick) and nineteen others, gentlemen and yeomen, to be impaled, and from the horror the spectacle inspired, and the universal odium it attached to Worcester, it is to be feared that the unhappy men were still sensible to the agony of this infliction, though they appear first to have been drawn, and partially hanged,—outrage confined only to the dead bodies of rebels being too common at that day to have excited the indignation which attended the sentence Worcester passed on his victims. It is in vain that some writers would seek to cleanse the memory of this learned nobleman from the stain of cruelty by rhetorical remarks on the improbability that a cultivator of letters should be of a ruthless disposition. The general philosophy of this defence is erroneous. In ignorant ages a man of superior acquirements is not necessarily made humane by the cultivation of his intellect, on the contrary, he too often learns to look upon the uneducated herd as things of another clay. Of this truth all history is pregnant,—witness the accomplished tyrants of Greece, the profound and cruel intellect of the Italian Borgias. Richard III. and Henry VIII. were both highly educated for their age. But in the case of Tiptoft, Lord Worcester, the evidence of his cruelty is no less incontestable than that which proves his learning—the Croyland historian alone is unimpeachable. Worcester's popular name of "the Butcher" is sufficient testimony in itself. The people are often mistaken, to be sure, but can scarcely be so upon the one point, whether a man who has sat in judgment on themselves be merciful or cruel.]
With the prompt vigour and superb generalship which Edward ever displayed in war, he then cut his gory way to the force which Clarence and Warwick (though their hostility was still undeclared) had levied, with the intent to join the defeated rebels. He sent his herald, Garter King-at-arms, to summon the earl and the duke to appear before him within a certain day. The time expired; he proclaimed them traitors, and offered rewards for their apprehension. [One thousand pounds in money, or one hundred pounds a year in land; an immense reward for that day.]
So sudden had been Warwick's defection, so rapid the king's movements, that the earl had not time to mature his resources, assemble his vassals, consolidate his schemes. His very preparations, upon the night on which Edward had repaid his services by such hideous ingratitude, had manned the country with armies against himself. Girt but with a scanty force collected in haste (and which consisted merely of his retainers in the single shire of Warwick), the march of Edward cut him off from the counties in which his name was held most dear, in which his trumpet could raise up hosts. He was disappointed in the aid he had expected from his powerful but self-interested brother-in-law, Lord Stanley. Revenge had become more dear to him than life: life must not be hazarded, lest revenge be lost. On still marched the king; and the day that his troops entered Exeter, Warwick, the females of his family, with Clarence, and a small but armed retinue, took ship from Dartmouth, sailed for Calais (before which town, while at anchor, Isabel was confined of her first-born). To the earl's rage and dismay his deputy Vauclerc fired upon his ships. Warwick then steered on towards Normandy, captured some Flemish vessels by the way, in token of defiance to the earl's old Burgundian foe, and landed at Harfleur, where he and his companions were received with royal honours by the Admiral of France, and finally took their way to the court of Louis XI. at Amboise.
"The danger is past forever!" said King Edward, as the wine sparkled in his goblet. "Rebellion hath lost its head,—and now, indeed, and for the first time, a monarch I reign alone!" [Before leaving England, Warwick and Clarence are generally said to have fallen in with Anthony Woodville and Lord Audley, and ordered them to execution, from which they were saved by a Dorsetshire gentleman. Carte, who, though his history is not without great mistakes, is well worth reading by those whom the character of Lord Warwick may interest, says, that the earl had "too much magnanimity to put them to death immediately, according to the common practice of the times, and only imprisoned them in the castle of Wardour, from whence they were soon rescued by John Thornhill, a gentleman of Dorsetshire." The whole of this story is, however, absolutely contradicted by the "Warkworth Chronicle" (p. 9, edited by Mr. Halliwell), according to which authority Anthony Woodville was at that time commanding a fleet upon the Channel, which waylaid Warwick on his voyage; but the success therein attributed to the gallant Anthony, in dispersing or seizing all the earl's ships, save the one that bore the earl himself and his family, is proved to be purely fabulous, by the earl's well-attested capture of the Flemish vessels, as he passed from Calais to the coasts of Normandy, an exploit he could never have performed with a single vessel of his own. It is very probable that the story of Anthony Woodville's capture and peril at this time originates in a misadventure many years before, and recorded in the "Paston Letters," as well as in the "Chronicles."—In the year 1459, Anthony Woodville and his father, Lord Rivers (then zealous Lancastrians), really did fall into the hands of the Earl of March (Edward IV.), Warwick and Salisbury, and got off with a sound "rating" upon the rude language which such "knaves' sons" and "little squires" had held to those "who were of king's blood."]
CHAPTER III. THE PLOT OF THE HOSTELRY—THE MAID AND THE SCHOLAR IN THEIR HOME.
The country was still disturbed, and the adherents, whether of Henry or the earl, still rose in many an outbreak, though prevented from swelling into one common army by the extraordinary vigour not only of Edward, but of Gloucester and Hastings,—when one morning, just after the events thus rapidly related, the hostelry of Master Sancroft, in the suburban parish of Marybone, rejoiced in a motley crowd of customers and topers.
Some half-score soldiers, returned in triumph from the royal camp, sat round a table placed agreeably enough in the deep recess made by the large jutting lattice; with them were mingled about as many women, strangely and gaudily clad. These last were all young; one or two, indeed, little advanced from childhood. But there was no expression of youth in their hard, sinister features: coarse paint supplied the place of bloom; the very youngest had a wrinkle on her brow; their forms wanted the round and supple grace of early years. Living principally in the open air, trained from infancy to feats of activity, their muscles were sharp and prominent, their aspects had something of masculine audacity and rudeness; health itself seemed in them more loathsome than disease. Upon those faces of bronze, vice had set its ineffable, unmistaken seal. To those eyes never had sprung the tears of compassion or woman's gentle sorrow; on those brows never had flushed the glow of modest shame: their very voices half belied their sex,—harsh and deep and hoarse, their laughter loud and dissonant. Some amongst them were not destitute of a certain beauty, but it was a beauty of feature with a common hideousness of expression,—an expression at once cunning, bold, callous, licentious. Womanless through the worst vices of woman, passionless through the premature waste of passion, they stood between the sexes like foul and monstrous anomalies, made up and fashioned from the rank depravities of both. These creatures seemed to have newly arrived from some long wayfaring; their shoes and the hems of their robes were covered with dust and mire; their faces were heated, and the veins in their bare, sinewy, sunburned arms were swollen by fatigue. Each had beside her on the floor a timbrel, each wore at her girdle a long knife in its sheath: well that the sheaths hid the blades, for not one—not even that which yon cold-eyed child of fifteen wore—but had on its steel the dark stain of human blood!