"And if so?" said Montagu, watching his listener's countenance. Richard started, and gnawed his lip. "Mark me," continued the marquis, "I repeat that I would fain hope yet that Edward may appease the earl; but if not, and, rather than rest dishonoured and aggrieved, Warwick link himself with Lancaster, and thou join him as Anne's betrothed and lord, what matters who the puppet on the throne?—we and thou shall be the rulers; or, if thou reject," added the marquis, artfully, as he supposed, exciting the jealousy of the duke, "Henry has a son—a fair, and they say, a gallant prince—carefully tutored in the knowledge of our English laws, and who my lord of Oxford, somewhat in the confidence of the Lancastrians, assures me would rejoice to forget old feuds, and call Warwick 'father,' and my niece 'Lady and Princess of Wales.'"
With all his dissimulation, Richard could ill conceal the emotions of fear, of jealousy, of dismay, which these words excited.
"Lord Oxford!" he cried, stamping his foot. "Ha, John de Vere, pestilent traitor, plottest thou thus? But we can yet seize thy person, and will have thy head."
Alarmed at this burst, and suddenly made aware that he had laid his breast too bare to the boy, whom he had thought to dazzle and seduce to his designs, Montagu said falteringly, "But, my lord, our talk is but in confidence: at your own prayer, with your own plighted word of prince and of kinsman, that whatever my frankness may utter should not pass farther. Take," added the nobleman, with proud dignity—"take my head rather than Lord Oxford's; for I deserve death, if I reveal to one who can betray the loose words of another's intimacy and trust!"
"Forgive me, my cousin," said Richard, meekly; "my love to Anne transported me too far. Lord Oxford's words, as you report them, had conjured up a rival, and—but enough of this. And now," added the prince, gravely, and with a steadiness of voice and manner that gave a certain majesty to his small stature, "now as thou hast spoken openly, openly also will I reply. I feel the wrong to the Lady Anne as to myself; deeply, burningly, and lastingly, will it live in my mind; it may be, sooner or later, to rise to gloomy deeds, even against Edward and Edward's blood. But no, I have the king's solemn protestations of repentance; his guilty passion has burned into ashes, and he now sighs—gay Edward—for a lighter fere. I cannot join with Clarence, less can I join with the Lancastrians. My birth makes me the prop of the throne of York,—to guard it as a heritage (who knows?) that may descend to mine,—nay, to me! And, mark me well if Warwick attempt a war of fratricide, he is lost; if, on the other hand, he can submit himself to the hands of Margaret, stained with his father's gore, the success of an hour will close in the humiliation of a life. There is a third way left, and that way thou hast piously and wisely shown. Let him, like me, resign revenge, and, not exacting a confession and a cry of peccavi, which no king, much less King Edward the Plantagenet, can whimper forth, let him accept such overtures as his liege can make. His titles and castles shall be restored, equal possessions to those thou hast lost assigned to thee, and all my guerdon (if I can so negotiate) as all my ambition, his daughter's hand. Muse on this, and for the peace and weal of the realm so limit all thy schemes, my lord and cousin!"
With these words the prince pressed the hand of the marquis, and walked slowly towards the king's pavilion.
"Shame on my ripe manhood and lore of life," muttered Montagu, enraged against himself, and deeply mortified. "How sentence by sentence and step by step yon crafty pigmy led me on, till all our projects, all our fears and hopes, are revealed to him who but views them as a foe. Anne betrothed to one who even in fiery youth can thus beguile and dupe! Warwick decoyed hither upon fair words, at the will of one whom Italy (boy, there thou didst forget thy fence of cunning!) has taught how the great are slain not, but disappear! no, even this defeat instructs me now. But right, right! the reign of Clarence is impossible, and that of Lancaster is ill-omened and portentous; and after all, my son stands nearer to the throne than any subject, in his alliance with the Lady Elizabeth. Would to Heaven the king could yet—But out on me! this is no hour for musing on mine own aggrandizement; rather let me fly at once and warn Oxford—imperilled by my imprudence—against that dark eye which hath set watch upon his life."
At that thought, which showed that Montagu, with all his worldliness, was not forgetful of one of the first duties of knight and gentleman, the marquis hastened up the alley, in the opposite direction to that taken by Gloucester, and soon found himself in the courtyard, where a goodly company were mounting their haquenees and palfreys, to enjoy a summer ride through the neighbouring chase. The cold and half-slighting salutations of these minions of the hour, which now mortified the Nevile, despoiled of the possessions that had rewarded his long and brilliant services, contrasting forcibly the reverential homage he had formerly enjoyed, stung Montagu to the quick.
"Whither ride you, brother Marquis?" said young Lord Dorset (Elizabeth's son by her first marriage), as Montagu called to his single squire, who was in waiting with his horse. "Some secret expedition, methinks, for I have known the day when the Lord Montagu never rode from his king's palace with less than thirty squires."
"Since my Lord Dorset prides himself on his memory," answered the scornful lord, "he may remember also the day when, if a Nevile mounted in haste, he bade the first Woodville he saw hold the stirrup."
And regarding "the brother marquis" with a stately eye that silenced and awed retort, the long-descended Montagu passed the courtiers, and rode slowly on till out of sight of the palace; he then pushed into a hand-gallop, and halted not till he had reached London, and gained the house in which then dwelt the Earl of Oxford, the most powerful of all the Lancastrian nobles not in exile, and who had hitherto temporized with the reigning House.
Two days afterwards the news reached Edward that Lord Oxford and Jasper of Pembroke—uncle to the boy afterwards Henry VII.—had sailed from England.
The tidings reached the king in his chamber, where he was closeted with Gloucester. The conference between them seemed to have been warm and earnest, for Edward's face was flushed, and Gloucester's brow was perturbed and sullen.
"Now Heaven be praised!" cried the king, extending to Richard the letter which communicated the flight of the disaffected lords. "We have two enemies the less in our roiaulme, and many a barony the more to confiscate to our kingly wants. Ha, ha! these Lancastrians only serve to enrich us. Frowning still, Richard? smile, boy!"
"Foi de mon ame, Edward," said Richard, with a bitter energy, strangely at variance with his usual unctious deference to the king, "your Highness's gayety is ill-seasoned; you reject all the means to assure your throne, you rejoice in all the events that imperil it. I prayed you to lose not a moment in conciliating, if possible, the great lord whom you own you have wronged, and you replied that you would rather lose your crown than win back the arm that gave it you."
"Gave it me! an error, Richard! that crown was at once the heritage of my own birth and the achievement of my own sword. But were it as you say, it is not in a king's nature to bear the presence of a power more formidable than his own, to submit to a voice that commands rather than counsels; and the happiest chance that ever befell me is the exile of this earl. How, after what hath chanced, can I ever see his face again without humiliation, or he mine without resentment?"
"So you told me anon, and I answered, if that be so, and your Highness shrinks from the man you have injured, beware at least that Warwick, if he may not return as a friend, come not back as an irresistible foe. If you will not conciliate, crush! Hasten by all arts to separate Clarence from Warwick. Hasten to prevent the union of the earl's popularity and Henry's rights. Keep eye upon all the Lancastrian lords, and see that none quit the realm where they are captives, to join a camp where they can rise into leaders. And at the very moment I urge you to place strict watch upon Oxford, to send your swiftest riders to seize Jasper of Pembroke, you laugh with glee to hear that Oxford and Pembroke are gone to swell the army of your foes!"
"Better foes out of my realm than in it," answered Edward, dryly.
"My liege, I say no more," and Richard rose. "I would forestall a danger; it but remains for me to share it."
The king was touched. "Tarry yet, Richard," he said; and then, fixing his brother's eye, he continued, with a half smile and a heightened colour, "though we knew thee true and leal to us, we yet know also, Richard, that thou hast personal interest in thy counsels. Thou wouldst by one means or another soften or constrain the earl into giving thee the hand of Anne. Well, then, grant that Warwick and Clarence expel King Edward from his throne, they may bring a bride to console thee for the ruin of a brother."
"Thou hast no right to taunt or to suspect me, my liege," returned Richard, with a quiver in his lip. "Thou hast included me in thy meditated wrong to Warwick; and had that wrong been done—"
"Peradventure it had made thee espouse Warwick's quarrel?"
"Bluntly, yes!" exclaimed Richard, almost fiercely, and playing with his dagger. "But" (he added, with a sudden change of voice) "I understand and know thee better than the earl did or could. I know what in thee is but thoughtless impulse, haste of passion, the habit kings form of forgetting all things save the love or hate, the desire or anger, of a moment. Thou hast told me thyself, and with tears, of thy offence; thou hast pardoned my boy's burst of anger; I have pardoned thy evil thought; thou hast told me thyself that another face has succeeded to the brief empire of Anne's blue eye, and hast further pledged me thy kingly word, that if I can yet compass the hand of a cousin dear to me from childhood, thou wilt confirm the union."
"It is true," said Edward. "But if thou wed thy bride, keep her aloof from the court,—nay, frown not, my boy, I mean simply that I would not blush before my brother's wife!"
Richard bowed low in order to conceal the expression of his face, and went on without further notice of the explanation. "And all this considered, Edward, I swear by Saint Paul, the holiest saint to thoughtful men, and by Saint George, the noblest patron to high-born warriors, that thy crown and thine honour are as dear to me as if they were mine own. Whatever sins Richard of Gloucester may live to harbour and repent, no man shall ever say of him that he was a recreant to the honour of his country [so Lord Bacon observes of Richard, with that discrimination, even in the strongest censure, of which profound judges of mankind are alone capable, that he was "a king jealous of the honor of the English nation"], or slow to defend the rights of his ancestors from the treason of a vassal or the sword of a foreign foe. Therefore, I say again, if thou reject my honest counsels; if thou suffer Warwick to unite with Lancaster and France; if the ships of Louis bear to your shores an enemy, the might of whom your reckless daring undervalues, foremost in the field in battle, nearest to your side in exile, shall Richard Plantagenet be found!" These words, being uttered with sincerity, and conveying a promise never forfeited, were more impressive than the subtlest eloquence the wily and accomplished Gloucester ever employed as the cloak to guile, and they so affected Edward, that he threw his arms around his brother; and after one of those bursts of emotion which were frequent in one whose feelings were never deep and lasting, but easily aroused and warmly spoken, he declared himself really to listen to and adopt all means which Richard's art could suggest for the better maintenance of their common weal and interests.
And then, with that wondrous, if somewhat too restless and over-refining energy which belonged to him, Richard rapidly detailed the scheme of his profound and dissimulating policy. His keen and intuitive insight into human nature had shown him the stern necessity which, against their very will, must unite Warwick with Margaret of Anjou. His conversation with Montagu had left no doubt of that peril on his penetrating mind. He foresaw that this union might be made durable and sacred by the marriage of Anne and Prince Edward; and to defeat this alliance was his first object, partly through Clarence, partly through Margaret herself. A gentlewoman in the Duchess of Clarence's train had been arrested on the point of embarking to join her mistress. Richard had already seen and conferred with this lady, whose ambition, duplicity, and talent for intrigue were known to him. Having secured her by promises of the most lavish dignities and rewards, he proposed that she should be permitted to join the duchess with secret messages to Isabel and the duke, warning them both that Warwick and Margaret would forget their past feud in present sympathy, and that the rebellion against King Edward, instead of placing them on the throne, would humble them to be subordinates and aliens to the real profiters, the Lancastrians. [Comines, 3, c. 5; Hall; Hollinshed] He foresaw what effect these warnings would have upon the vain duke and the ambitious Isabel, whose character was known to him from childhood. He startled the king by insisting upon sending, at the same time, a trusty diplomatist to Margaret of Anjou, proffering to give the princess Elizabeth (betrothed to Lord Montagu's son) to the young Prince Edward. ["Original Letters from Harleian Manuscripts." Edited by Sir H. Ellis (second series).] Thus, if the king, who had, as yet, no son, were to die, Margaret's son, in right of his wife, as well as in that of his own descent, would peaceably ascend the throne. "Need I say that I mean not this in sad and serious earnest?" observed Richard, interrupting the astonished king. "I mean it but to amuse the Anjouite, and to deafen her ears to any overtures from Warwick. If she listen, we gain time; that time will inevitably renew irreconcilable quarrel between herself and the earl. His hot temper and desire of revenge will not brook delay. He will land, unsupported by Margaret and her partisans, and without any fixed principle of action which can strengthen force by opinion."
"You are right, Richard," said Edward, whose faithless cunning comprehended the more sagacious policy it could not originate. "All be it as you will."
"And in the mean while," added Richard, "watch well, but anger not, Montagu and the archbishop. It were dangerous to seem to distrust them till proof be clear; it were dull to believe them true. I go at once to fulfil my task."
CHAPTER VII. WARWICK AND HIS FAMILY IN EXILE.
We now summon the reader on a longer if less classic journey than from Thebes to Athens, and waft him on a rapid wing from Shene to Amboise. We must suppose that the two emissaries of Gloucester have already arrived at their several destinations,—the lady has reached Isabel, the envoy Margaret.
In one of the apartments appropriated to the earl in the royal palace, within the embrasure of a vast Gothic casement, sat Anne of Warwick; the small wicket in the window was open, and gave a view of a wide and fair garden, interspersed with thick bosquets and regular alleys, over which the rich skies of the summer evening, a little before sunset, cast alternate light and shadow. Towards this prospect the sweet face of the Lady Anne was turned musingly. The riveted eye, the bended neck, the arms reclining on the knee, the slender fingers interlaced,—gave to her whole person the character of revery and repose.
In the same chamber were two other ladies; the one was pacing the floor with slow but uneven steps, with lips moving from time to time, as if in self-commune, with the brow contracted slightly: her form and face took also the character of revery, but not of repose.
The third female (the gentle and lovely mother of the other two) was seated, towards the centre of the room, before a small table, on which rested one of those religious manuscripts, full of the moralities and the marvels of cloister sanctity, which made so large a portion of the literature of the monkish ages. But her eye rested not on the Gothic letter and the rich blazon of the holy book. With all a mother's fear and all a mother's fondness, it glanced from Isabel to Anne, from Anne to Isabel, till at length in one of those soft voices, so rarely heard, which makes even a stranger love the speaker, the fair countess said,—
"Come hither, my child Isabel; give me thy hand, and whisper me what hath chafed thee."
"My mother," replied the duchess, "it would become me ill to have a secret not known to thee, and yet, methinks, it would become me less to say aught to provoke thine anger!"
"Anger, Isabel! Who ever knew anger for those they love?"
"Pardon me, my sweet mother," said Isabel, relaxing her haughty brow, and she approached and kissed her mother's cheek.
The countess drew her gently to a seat by her side.
"And now tell me all,—unless, indeed, thy Clarence hath, in some lover's hasty mood, vexed thy affection; for of the household secrets even a mother should not question the true wife."
Isabel paused, and glanced significantly at Anne.
"Nay, see!" said the countess, smiling, though sadly, "she, too, hath thoughts that she will not tell to me; but they seem not such as should alarm my fears, as thine do. For the moment ere I spoke to thee, thy brow frowned, and her lip smiled. She hears us not,—speak on."
"Is it then true, my mother, that Margaret of Anjou is hastening hither? And can it be possible that King Louis can persuade my lord and father to meet, save in the field of battle, the arch-enemy of our House?"
"Ask the earl thyself, Isabel; Lord Warwick hath no concealment from his children. Whatever he doth is ever wisest, best, and knightliest,—so, at least, may his children always deem!"
Isabel's colour changed and her eye flashed. But ere she could answer, the arras was raised, and Lord Warwick entered. But no longer did the hero's mien and manner evince that cordial and tender cheerfulness which, in all the storms of his changeful life, he had hitherto displayed when coming from power and danger, from council or from camp, to man's earthly paradise,—a virtuous home.
Gloomy and absorbed, his very dress—which, at that day, the Anglo-Norman deemed it a sin against self-dignity to neglect—betraying, by its disorder, that thorough change of the whole mind, that terrible internal revolution, which is made but in strong natures by the tyranny of a great care or a great passion, the earl scarcely seemed to heed his countess, who rose hastily, but stopped in the timid fear and reverence of love at the sight of his stern aspect; he threw himself abruptly on a seat, passed his hand over his face, and sighed heavily.
That sigh dispelled the fear of the wife, and made her alive only to her privilege of the soother. She drew near, and placing herself on the green rushes at his feet, took his hand and kissed it, but did not speak.
The earl's eyes fell on the lovely face looking up to him through tears, his brow softened, he drew his hand gently from hers, placed it on her head, and said in a low voice,—"God and Our Lady bless thee, sweet wife!"
Then, looking round, he saw Isabel watching him intently; and, rising at once, he threw his arm round her waist, pressed her to his bosom, and said, "My daughter, for thee and thine day and night have I striven and planned in vain. I cannot reward thy husband as I would; I cannot give thee, as I had hoped, a throne!"
"What title so dear to Isabel," said the countess, "as that of Lord Warwick's daughter?"
Isabel remained cold and silent, and returned not the earl's embrace.
Warwick was, happily, too absorbed in his own feelings to notice those of his child. Moving away, he continued, as he paced the room (his habit in emotion, which Isabel, who had many minute external traits in common with her father, had unconsciously caught from him),—
"Till this morning I hoped still that my name and services, that Clarence's popular bearing and his birth of Plantagenet, would suffice to summon the English people round our standard; that the false Edward would be driven, on our landing, to fly the realm; and that, without change to the dynasty of York, Clarence, as next male heir, would ascend the throne. True, I saw all the obstacles, all the difficulties,—I was warned of them before I left England; but still I hoped. Lord Oxford has arrived, he has just left me. We have gone over the chart of the way before us, weighed the worth of every name, for and against; and, alas! I cannot but allow that all attempt to place the younger brother on the throne of the elder would but lead to bootless slaughter and irretrievable defeat."
"Wherefore think you so, my lord?" asked Isabel, in evident excitement. "Your own retainers are sixty thousand,—an army larger than Edward, and all his lords of yesterday, can bring into the field."
"My child," answered the earl, with that profound knowledge of his countrymen which he had rather acquired from his English heart than from any subtlety of intellect, "armies may gain a victory, but they do not achieve a throne,—unless, at least, they enforce a slavery; and it is not for me and for Clarence to be the violent conquerors of our countrymen, but the regenerators of a free realm, corrupted by a false man's rule."
"And what then," exclaimed Isabel,—"what do you propose, my father? Can it be possible that you can unite yourself with the abhorred Lancastrians, with the savage Anjouite, who beheaded my grandsire, Salisbury? Well do I remember your own words,—'May God and Saint George forget me, when I forget those gray and gory hairs!'"
Here Isabel was interrupted by a faint cry from Anne, who, unobserved by the rest, and hitherto concealed from her father's eye by the deep embrasure of the window, had risen some moments before, and listened, with breathless attention, to the conversation between Warwick and the duchess.
"It is not true, it is not true!" exclaimed Anne, passionately. "Margaret disowns the inhuman deed."
"Thou art right, Anne," said Warwick; "though I guess not how thou didst learn the error of a report so popularly believed that till of late I never questioned its truth. King Louis assures me solemnly that that foul act was done by the butcher Clifford, against Margaret's knowledge, and, when known, to her grief and anger."
"And you, who call Edward false, can believe Louis true?"
"Cease, Isabel, cease!" said the countess. "Is it thus my child can address my lord and husband? Forgive her, beloved Richard."
"Such heat in Clarence's wife misbeseems her not," answered Warwick. "And I can comprehend and pardon in my haughty Isabel a resentment which her reason must at last subdue; for think not, Isabel, that it is without dread struggle and fierce agony that I can contemplate peace and league with mine ancient foe; but here two duties speak to me in voices not to be denied: my honour and my hearth, as noble and as man, demand redress, and the weal and glory of my country demand a ruler who does not degrade a warrior, nor assail a virgin, nor corrupt a people by lewd pleasures, nor exhaust a land by grinding imposts; and that honour shall be vindicated, and that country shall be righted, no matter at what sacrifice of private grief and pride."
The words and the tone of the earl for a moment awed even Isabel; but after a pause, she said suddenly, "And for this, then, Clarence hath joined your quarrel and shared your exile?—for this,—that he may place the eternal barrier of the Lancastrian line between himself and the English throne?"
"I would fain hope," answered the earl, calmly, "that Clarence will view our hard position more charitably than thou. If he gain not all that I could desire, should success crown our arms, he will, at least, gain much; for often and ever did thy husband, Isabel, urge me to stern measures against Edward, when I soothed him and restrained. Mort Dieu! how often did he complain of slight and insult from Elizabeth and her minions, of open affront from Edward, of parsimony to his wants as prince,—of a life, in short, humbled and made bitter by all the indignity and the gall which scornful power can inflict on dependent pride. If he gain not the throne, he will gain, at least, the succession in thy right to the baronies of Beauchamp, the mighty duchy, and the vast heritage of York, the vice-royalty of Ireland. Never prince of the blood had wealth and honours equal to those that shall await thy lord. For the rest, I drew him not into my quarrel; long before would he have drawn me into his; nor doth it become thee, Isabel, as child and as sister, to repent, if the husband of my daughter felt as brave men feel, without calculation of gain and profit, the insult offered to his lady's House. But if here I overgauge his chivalry and love to me and mine, or discontent his ambition and his hopes, Mort Dieu! we hold him not a captive. Edward will hail his overtures of peace; let him make terms with his brother, and return."
"I will report to him what you say, my lord," said Isabel, with cold brevity and, bending her haughty head in formal reverence, she advanced to the door. Anne sprang forward and caught her hand.
"Oh, Isabel!" she whispered, "in our father's sad and gloomy hour can you leave him thus?" and the sweet lady burst into tears.
"Anne," retorted Isabel, bitterly, "thy heart is Lancastrian; and what, peradventure, grieves my father hath but joy for thee."
Anne drew back, pale and trembling, and her sister swept from the room.
The earl, though he had not overheard the whispered sentences which passed between his daughters, had watched them closely, and his lip quivered with emotion as Isabel closed the door.
"Come hither, my Anne," he said tenderly; "thou who hast thy mother's face, never hast a harsh thought for thy father."
As Anne threw herself on Warwick's breast, he continued, "And how camest thou to learn that Margaret disowns a deed that, if done by her command, would render my union with her cause a sacrilegious impiety to the dead?"
Anne coloured, and nestled her head still closer to her father's bosom. Her mother regarded her confusion and her silence with an anxious eye.
The wing of the palace in which the earl's apartments were situated was appropriated to himself and household, flanked to the left by an abutting pile containing state-chambers, never used by the austere and thrifty Louis, save on great occasions of pomp or revel; and, as we have before observed, looking on a garden, which was generally solitary and deserted. From this garden, while Anne yet strove for words to answer her father, and the countess yet watched her embarrassment, suddenly came the soft strain of a Provencal lute; while a low voice, rich, and modulated at once by a deep feeling and an exquisite art that would have given effect to even simpler words, breathed—
THE LAY OF THE HEIR OF LANCASTER
"His birthright but a father's name, A grandsire's hero-sword, He dwelt within the stranger's land, The friendless, homeless lord!"
"Yet one dear hope, too dear to tell, Consoled the exiled man; The angels have their home in heaven And gentle thoughts in Anne."
At that name the voice of the singer trembled, and paused a moment; the earl, who at first had scarcely listened to what he deemed but the ill-seasoned gallantry of one of the royal minstrels, started in proud surprise, and Anne herself, tightening her clasp round her father's neck, burst into passionate sobs. The eye of the countess met that of her lord; but she put her finger to her lips in sign to him to listen. The song was resumed—
"Recall the single sunny time, In childhood's April weather, When he and thou, the boy and girl, Roved hand in band together."
"When round thy young companion knelt The princes of the isle; And priest and people prayed their God, On England's heir to smile."
The earl uttered a half-stifled exclamation, but the minstrel heard not the interruption, and continued,—
"Methinks the sun hath never smiled Upon the exiled man, Like that bright morning when the boy Told all his soul to Anne."
"No; while his birthright but a name, A grandsire's hero—sword, He would not woo the lofty maid To love the banished lord."
"But when, with clarion, fife, and drum, He claims and wins his own; When o'er the deluge drifts his ark, To rest upon a throne."
"Then, wilt thou deign to hear the hope That blessed the exiled man, When pining for his father's crown To deck the brows of Anne?"
The song ceased, and there was silence within the chamber, broken but by Anne's low yet passionate weeping. The earl gently strove to disengage her arms from his neck; but she, mistaking his intention, sank on her knees, and covering her face with her hands, exclaimed,—
"Pardon! pardon! pardon him, if not me!"
"What have I to pardon? What hast thou concealed from me? Can I think that thou hast met, in secret, one who—"
"In secret! Never, never, Father! This is the third time only that I have heard his voice since we have been at Amboise, save when—save when—"
"Save when King Louis presented him to me in the revel under the name of the Count de F——, and he asked me if I could forgive his mother for Lord Clifford's crime."
"It is, then, as the rhyme proclaimed; and it is Edward of Lancaster who loves and woos the daughter of Lord Warwick!"
Something in her father's voice made Anne remove her hands from her face, and look up to him with a thrill of timid joy. Upon his brow, indeed, frowned no anger, upon his lip smiled no scorn. At that moment all his haughty grief at the curse of circumstance which drove him to his hereditary foe had vanished. Though Montagu had obtained from Oxford some glimpse of the desire which the more sagacious and temperate Lancastrians already entertained for that alliance, and though Louis had already hinted its expediency to the earl, yet, till now, Warwick himself had naturally conceived that the prince shared the enmity of his mother, and that such a union, however politic, was impossible; but now indeed there burst upon him the full triumph of revenge and pride. Edward of York dared to woo Anne to dishonour, Edward of Lancaster dared not even woo her as his wife till his crown was won! To place upon the throne the very daughter the ungrateful monarch had insulted; to make her he would have humbled not only the instrument of his fall, but the successor of his purple; to unite in one glorious strife the wrongs of the man and the pride of the father,—these were the thoughts that sparkled in the eye of the king-maker, and flushed with a fierce rapture the dark cheek, already hollowed by passion and care. He raised his daughter from the floor, and placed her in her mother's arms, but still spoke not.
"This, then, was thy secret, Anne," whispered the countess; "and I half foreguessed it, when, last night, I knelt beside thy couch to pray, and overheard thee murmur in thy dreams."
"Sweet mother, thou forgivest me; but my father—ah, he speaks not. One word! Father, Father, not even his love could console me if I angered thee!"
The earl, who had remained rooted to the spot, his eyes shining thoughtfully under his dark brows, and his hand slightly raised, as if piercing into the future, and mapping out its airy realm, turned quickly,—
"I go to the heir of Lancaster; if this boy be bold and true, worthy of England and of thee, we will change the sad ditty of that scrannel lute into such a storm of trumpets as beseems the triumph of a conqueror and the marriage of a prince!"
CHAPTER VIII. HOW THE HEIR OF LANCASTER MEETS THE KING-MAKER.
In truth, the young prince, in obedience to a secret message from the artful Louis, had repaired to the court of Amboise under the name of the Count de F——. The French king had long before made himself acquainted with Prince Edward's romantic attachment to the earl's daughter, through the agent employed by Edward to transmit his portrait to Anne at Rouen; and from him, probably, came to Oxford the suggestion which that nobleman had hazarded to Montagu; and now that it became his policy seriously and earnestly to espouse the cause of his kinswoman Margaret, he saw all the advantage to his cold statecraft which could be drawn from a boyish love. Louis had a well-founded fear of the warlike spirit and military talents of Edward IV.; and this fear had induced him hitherto to refrain from openly espousing the cause of the Lancastrians, though it did not prevent his abetting such seditions and intrigues as could confine the attention of the martial Plantagenet to the perils of his own realm. But now that the breach between Warwick and the king had taken place; now that the earl could no longer curb the desire of the Yorkist monarch to advance his hereditary claims to the fairest provinces of France,—nay, peradventure, to France itself,—while the defection of Lord Warwick gave to the Lancastrians the first fair hope of success in urging their own pretensions to the English throne, he bent all the powers of his intellect and his will towards the restoration of a natural ally and the downfall of a dangerous foe. But he knew that Margaret and her Lancastrian favourers could not of themselves suffice to achieve a revolution,—that they could only succeed under cover of the popularity and the power of Warwick, while he perceived all the art it would require to make Margaret forego her vindictive nature and long resentment, and to supple the pride of the great earl into recognizing as a sovereign the woman who had branded him as a traitor.
Long before Lord Oxford's arrival, Louis, with all that address which belonged to him, had gradually prepared the earl to familiarize himself to the only alternative before him, save that, indeed, of powerless sense of wrong and obscure and lasting exile. The French king looked with more uneasiness to the scruples of Margaret; and to remove these, he trusted less to his own skill than to her love for her only son.
His youth passed principally in Anjou—that court of minstrels—young Edward's gallant and ardent temper had become deeply imbued with the southern poetry and romance. Perhaps the very feud between his House and Lord Warwick's, though both claimed their common descent from John of Gaunt, had tended, by the contradictions in the human heart, to endear to him the recollection of the gentle Anne. He obeyed with joy the summons of Louis, repaired to the court, was presented to Anne as the Count de F——, found himself recognized at the first glance (for his portrait still lay upon her heart, as his remembrance in its core), and, twice before the song we have recited, had ventured, agreeably to the sweet customs of Anjou, to address the lady of his love under the shade of the starlit summer copses. But on this last occasion, he had departed from his former discretion; hitherto he had selected an hour of deeper night, and ventured but beneath the lattice of the maiden's chamber when the rest of the palace was hushed in sleep. And the fearless declaration of his rank and love now hazarded was prompted by one who contrived to turn to grave uses the wildest whim of the minstrel, the most romantic enthusiasm of youth.
Louis had just learned from Oxford the result of his interview with Warwick. And about the same time the French king had received a letter from Margaret, announcing her departure from the castle of Verdun for Tours, where she prayed him to meet her forthwith, and stating that she had received from England tidings that might change all her schemes, and more than ever forbid the possibility of a reconciliation with the Earl of Warwick.
The king perceived the necessity of calling into immediate effect the aid on which he had relied, in the presence and passion of the young prince. He sought him at once; he found him in a remote part of the gardens, and overheard him breathing to himself the lay he had just composed.
"Pasque Dieu!" said the king, laying his hand on the young man's shoulder, "if thou wilt but repeat that song where and when I bid thee, I promise that before the month ends Lord Warwick shall pledge thee his daughter's hand; and before the year is closed thou shalt sit beside Lord Warwick's daughter in the halls of Westminster."
And the royal troubadour took the counsel of the king.
The song had ceased; the minstrel emerged from the bosquets, and stood upon the sward, as, from the postern of the palace, walked with a slow step, a form from which it became him not, as prince or as lover, in peace or in war, to shrink. The first stars had now risen; the light, though serene, was pale and dim. The two men—the one advancing, the other motionless—gazed on each other in grave silence. As Count de F——, amidst the young nobles in the king's train, the earl had scarcely noticed the heir of England. He viewed him now with a different eye: in secret complacency, for, with a soldier's weakness, the soldier-baron valued men too much for their outward seeming, he surveyed a figure already masculine and stalwart, though still in the graceful symmetry of fair eighteen.
"A youth of a goodly presence," muttered the earl, "with the dignity that commands in peace, and the sinews that can strive against hardship and death in war."
He approached, and said calmly: "Sir minstrel, he who woos either fame or beauty may love the lute, but should wield the sword. At least, so methinks had the Fifth Henry said to him who boasts for his heritage the sword of Agincourt."
"O noble earl!" exclaimed the prince, touched by words far gentler than he had dared to hope, despite his bold and steadfast mien, and giving way to frank and graceful emotion, "O noble earl! since thou knowest me; since my secret is told; since, in that secret, I have proclaimed a hope as dear to me as a crown and dearer far than life, can I hope that thy rebuke but veils thy favour, and that, under Lord Warwick's eye, the grandson of Henry V. shall approve himself worthy of the blood that kindles in his veins?"
"Fair sir and prince," returned the earl, whose hardy and generous nature the emotion and fire of Edward warmed and charmed, "there are, alas! deep memories of blood and wrong—the sad deeds and wrathful words of party feud and civil war—between thy royal mother and myself; and though we may unite now against a common foe, much I fear that the Lady Margaret would brook ill a closer friendship, a nearer tie, than the exigency of the hour between Richard Nevile and her son."
"No, Sir Earl, let me hope you misthink her. Hot and impetuous, but not mean and treacherous, the moment that she accepts the service of thine arm she must forget that thou hast been her foe; and if I, as my father's heir, return to England, it is in the trust that a new era will commence. Free from the passionate enmities of either faction, Yorkist and Lancastrian are but Englishmen to me. Justice to all who serve us, pardon for all who have opposed."
The prince paused, and, even in the dim light, his kingly aspect gave effect to his kingly words. "And if this resolve be such as you approve; if you, great earl, be that which even your foes proclaim, a man whose power depends less on lands and vassals—broad though the one, and numerous though the other—than on well-known love for England, her glory and her peace, it rests with you to bury forever in one grave the feuds of Lancaster and York! What Yorkist who hath fought at Towton or St. Albans under Lord Warwick's standard, will lift sword against the husband of Lord Warwick's daughter? What Lancastrian will not forgive a Yorkist, when Lord Warwick, the kinsman of Duke Richard, becomes father to the Lancastrian heir, and bulwark to the Lancastrian throne? O Warwick, if not for my sake, nor for the sake of full redress against the ingrate whom thou repentest to have placed on my father's throne, at least for the sake of England, for the healing of her bleeding wounds, for the union of her divided people, hear the grandson of Henry V., who sues to thee for thy daughter's hand!"
The royal wooer bent his knee as he spoke. The mighty subject saw and prevented the impulse of the prince who had forgotten himself in the lover; the hand which he caught he lifted to his lips, and the next moment, in manly and soldierlike embrace, the prince's young arm was thrown over the broad shoulder of the king-maker.
CHAPTER IX. THE INTERVIEW OF EARL WARWICK AND QUEEN MARGARET.
Louis hastened to meet Margaret at Tours; thither came also her father Rene, her brother John of Calabria, Yolante her sister, and the Count of Vaudemonte. The meeting between the queen and Rene was so touching as to have drawn tears to the hard eyes of Louis XI.; but, that emotion over, Margaret evinced how little affliction had humbled her high spirit, or softened her angry passions: she interrupted Louis in every argument for reconciliation with Warwick. "Not with honour to myself and to my son," she exclaimed, "can I pardon that cruel earl, the main cause of King Henry's downfall! in vain patch up a hollow peace between us,—a peace of form and parchment! My spirit never can be contented with him, ne pardon!"
For several days she maintained a language which betrayed the chief cause of her own impolitic passions, that had lost her crown. Showing to Louis the letter despatched to her, proffering the hand of the Lady Elizabeth to her son, she asked if that were not a more profitable party [See, for this curious passage of secret history, Sir H. Ellis's "Original Letters from the Harleian Manuscripts," second series, vol. i., letter 42.], and if it were necessary that she should forgive,—whether it were not more queenly to treat with Edward than with a twofold rebel?
In fact, the queen would perhaps have fallen into Gloucester's artful snare, despite all the arguments and even the half-menaces [Louis would have thrown over Margaret's cause if Warwick had demanded it; he instructed MM. de Concressault and du Plessis to assure the earl that he would aid him to the utmost to reconquer England either for the Queen Margaret or for any one else he chose (on pour qui il voudra): for that he loved the earl better than Margaret or her son.—BRANTE, t. ix. 276.] of the more penetrating Louis, but for a counteracting influence which Richard had not reckoned upon. Prince Edward, who had lingered behind Louis, arrived from Amboise, and his persuasions did more than all the representations of the crafty king. The queen loved her son with that intenseness which characterizes the one soft affection of violent natures. Never had she yet opposed his most childish whim, and now he spoke with the eloquence of one who put his heart and his life's life into his words. At last, reluctantly, she consented to an interview with Warwick. The earl, accompanied by Oxford, arrived at Tours, and the two nobles were led into the presence of Margaret by King Louis.
The reader will picture to himself a room darkened by thick curtains drawn across the casement, for the proud woman wished not the earl to detect on her face either the ravages of years or the emotions of offended pride. In a throne chair, placed on the dais, sat the motionless queen, her hands clasping, convulsively, the arms of the fauteuil, her features pale and rigid; and behind the chair leaned the graceful figure of her son. The person of the Lancastrian prince was little less remarkable than that of his hostile namesake, but its character was distinctly different. ["According to some of the French chroniclers, the Prince of Wales, who was one of the handsomest and most accomplished princes in Europe, was very desirous of becoming the husband of Anne Nevile," etc.—Miss STRICKLAND: Life of Margaret of Anjou.] Spare, like Henry V., almost to the manly defect of leanness, his proportions were slight to those which gave such portly majesty to the vast-chested Edward, but they evinced the promise of almost equal strength,—the muscles hardened to iron by early exercise in arms, the sap of youth never wasted by riot and debauch. His short purple manteline, trimmed with ermine, was embroidered with his grandfather's favourite device, "the silver swan;" he wore on his breast the badge of St. George; and the single ostrich plume, which made his cognizance as Prince of Wales, waved over a fair and ample forehead, on which were even then traced the lines of musing thought and high design; his chestnut hair curled close to his noble head; his eye shone dark and brilliant beneath the deep-set brow, which gives to the human countenance such expression of energy and intellect,—all about him, in aspect and mien, seemed to betoken a mind riper than his years, a masculine simplicity of taste and bearing, the earnest and grave temperament mostly allied in youth to pure and elevated desires, to an honourable and chivalric soul.
Below the dais stood some of the tried and gallant gentlemen who had braved exile, and tasted penury in their devotion to the House of Lancaster, and who had now flocked once more round their queen, in the hope of better days. There were the Dukes of Exeter and Somerset, their very garments soiled and threadbare,—many a day had those great lords hungered for the beggar's crust! [Philip de Comines says he himself had seen the Dukes of Exeter and Somerset in the Low Countries in as wretched a plight as common beggars.] There stood Sir John Fortescue, the patriarch authority of our laws, who had composed his famous treatise for the benefit of the young prince, overfond of exercise with lance and brand, and the recreation of knightly song. There were Jasper of Pembroke, and Sir Henry Rous, and the Earl of Devon, and the Knight of Lytton, whose House had followed, from sire to son, the fortunes of the Lancastrian Rose; [Sir Robert de Lytton (whose grandfather had been Comptroller to the Household of Henry IV., and Agister of the Forests allotted to Queen Joan), was one of the most powerful knights of the time; and afterwards, according to Perkin Warbeck, one of the ministers most trusted by Henry VII. He was lord of Lytton, in Derbyshire (where his ancestors had been settled since the Conquest), of Knebworth in Herts (the ancient seat and manor of Plantagenet de Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk and Earl Marshal), of Myndelesden and Langley, of Standyarn, Dene, and Brekesborne, in Northamptonshire, and became in the reign of Henry VII. Privy Councillor, Uuder-Treasurer, and Keeper of the great Wardrobe.] and, contrasting the sober garments of the exiles, shone the jewels and cloth-of-gold that decked the persons of the more prosperous foreigners, Ferri, Count of Vaudemonte, Margaret's brother, the Duke of Calabria, and the powerful form of Sir Pierre de Breze, who had accompanied Margaret in her last disastrous campaigns, with all the devotion of a chevalier for the lofty lady adored in secret. [See, for the chivalrous devotion of this knight (Seneschal of Normandy) to Margaret, Miss Strickland's Life of that queen.]
When the door opened, and gave to the eyes of those proud exiles the form of their puissant enemy, they with difficulty suppressed the murmur of their resentment, and their looks turned with sympathy and grief to the hueless face of their queen.
The earl himself was troubled; his step was less firm, his crest less haughty, his eye less serenely steadfast.
But beside him, in a dress more homely than that of the poorest exile there, and in garb and in aspect, as he lives forever in the portraiture of Victor Hugo and our own yet greater Scott, moved Louis, popularly called "The Fell."
"Madame and cousin," said the king, "we present to you the man for whose haute courage and dread fame we have such love and respect, that we value him as much as any king, and would do as much for him as for man living [Ellis: Original Letters, vol. i., letter 42, second series]; and with my lord of Warwick, see also this noble earl of Oxford, who, though he may have sided awhile with the enemies of your Highness, comes now to pray your pardon, and to lay at your feet his sword."
Lord Oxford (who had ever unwillingly acquiesced in the Yorkist dynasty), more prompt than Warwick, here threw himself on his knees before Margaret, and his tears fell on her hand, as he murmured "Pardon."
"Rise, Sir John de Vere," said the queen, glancing with a flashing eye from Oxford to Lord Warwick. "Your pardon is right easy to purchase, for well I know that you yielded but to the time,—you did not turn the time against us; you and yours have suffered much for King Henry's cause. Rise, Sir Earl."
"And," said a voice, so deep and so solemn, that it hushed the very breath of those who heard it,—"and has Margaret a pardon also for the man who did more than all others to dethrone King Henry, and can do more than all to restore his crown?"
"Ha!" cried' Margaret, rising in her passion, and casting from her the hand her son had placed upon her shoulder, "ha! Ownest thou thy wrongs, proud lord? Comest thou at last to kneel at Queen Margaret's feet? Look round and behold her court,—some half-score brave and unhappy gentlemen, driven from their hearths and homes, their heritage the prey of knaves and varlets, their sovereign in a prison, their sovereign's wife, their sovereign's son, persecuted and hunted from the soil! And comest thou now to the forlorn majesty of sorrow to boast, 'Such deeds were mine?'"
"Mother and lady," began the prince
"Madden me not, my son. Forgiveness is for the prosperous, not for adversity and woe."
"Hear me," said the earl,—who, having once bowed his pride to the interview, had steeled himself against the passion which, in his heart, he somewhat despised as a mere woman's burst of inconsiderate fury,—"for I have this right to be heard,—that not one of these knights, your lealest and noblest friends, can say of me that I ever stooped to gloss mine acts, or palliate bold deeds with wily words. Dear to me as comrade in arms, sacred to me as a father's head, was Richard of York, mine uncle by marriage with Lord Salisbury's sister. I speak not now of his claims by descent (for those even King Henry could not deny), but I maintain them, even in your Grace's presence, to be such as vindicate, from disloyalty and treason, me and the many true and gallant men who upheld them through danger, by field and scaffold. Error, it might be,—but the error of men who believed themselves the defenders of a just cause. Nor did I, Queen Margaret, lend myself wholly to my kinsman's quarrel, nor share one scheme that went to the dethronement of King Henry, until—pardon, if I speak bluntly; it is my wont, and would be more so now, but for thy fair face and woman's form, which awe me more than if confronting the frown of Coeur de Lion, or the First Great Edward—pardon me, I say, if I speak bluntly, and aver that I was not King Henry's foe until false counsellors had planned my destruction, in body and goods, land and life. In the midst of peace, at Coventry, my father and myself scarcely escaped the knife of the murderer. [See Hall (236), who says that Margaret had laid a snare for Salisbury and Warwick at Warwick, and "if they had not suddenly departed, their life's thread had been broken."] In the streets of London the very menials and hangmen employed in the service of your Highness beset me unarmed [Hall, Fabyan]; a little time after and my name was attainted by an illegal Parliament. [Parl. Rolls, 370; W. Wyr. 478.] And not till after these things did Richard Duke of York ride to the hall of Westminster, and lay his hand upon the throne; nor till after these things did I and my father Salisbury say to each other, 'The time has come when neither peace nor honour can be found for us under King Henry's reign.' Blame me if you will, Queen Margaret; reject me if you need not my sword; but that which I did in the gone days was such as no nobleman so outraged and despaired [Warwick's phrase. See Sir H. Ellis's "Original Letters," vol. i., second series.] would have forborne to do,—remembering that England is not the heritage of the king alone, but that safety and honour, and freedom and justice, are the rights of his Norman gentlemen and his Saxon people. And rights are a mockery and a laughter if they do not justify resistance, whensoever, and by whomsoever, they are invaded and assailed."
It had been with a violent effort that Margaret had refrained from interrupting this address, which had, however, produced no inconsiderable effect upon the knightly listeners around the dais. And now, as the earl ceased, her indignation was arrested by dismay on seeing the young prince suddenly leave his post and advance to the side of Warwick.
"Right well hast thou spoken, noble earl and cousin,—right well, though right plainly. And I," added the prince, "saving the presence of my queen and mother,—I, the representative of my sovereign father, in his name will pledge thee a king's oblivion and pardon for the past, if thou on thy side acquit my princely mother of all privity to the snares against thy life and honour of which thou hast spoken, and give thy knightly word to be henceforth leal to Lancaster. Perish all memories of the past that can make walls between the souls of brave men."
Till this moment, his arms folded in his gown, his thin, fox-like face bent to the ground, Louis had listened, silent and undisturbed. He now deemed it the moment to second the appeal of the prince. Passing his hand hypocritically over his tearless eyes, the king turned to Margaret and said,—
"Joyful hour! happy union! May Madame La Vierge and Monseigneur Saint Martin sanctify and hallow the bond by which alone my beloved kinswoman can regain her rights and roiaulme. Amen."
Unheeding this pious ejaculation, her bosom heaving, her eyes wandering from the earl to Edward, Margaret at last gave vent to her passion.
"And is it come to this, Prince Edward of Wales, that thy mother's wrongs are not thine? Standest thou side by side with my mortal foe, who, instead of repenting treason, dares but to complain of injury? Am I fallen so low that my voice to pardon or disdain is counted but as a sough of idle air! God of my fathers, hear me! Willingly from my heart I tear the last thought and care for the pomps of earth. Hateful to me a crown for which the wearer must cringe to enemy and rebel! Away, Earl Warwick! Monstrous and unnatural seems it to the wife of captive Henry to see thee by the side of Henry's son!"
Every eye turned in fear to the aspect of the earl, every ear listened for the answer which might be expected from his well-known heat and pride,—an answer to destroy forever the last hope of the Lancastrian line. But whether it was the very consciousness of his power to raise or to crush that fiery speaker, or those feelings natural to brave men, half of chivalry, half contempt, which kept down the natural anger by thoughts of the sex and sorrows of the Anjouite, or that the wonted irascibility of his temper had melted into one steady and profound passion of revenge against Edward of York, which absorbed all lesser and more trivial causes of resentment,—the earl's face, though pale as the dead, was unmoved and calm, and, with a grave and melancholy smile, he answered,—
"More do I respect thee, O queen, for the hot words which show a truth rarely heard from royal lips than hadst thou deigned to dissimulate the forgiveness and kindly charity which sharp remembrance permits thee not to feel! No, princely Margaret, not yet can there be frank amity between thee and me! Nor do I boast the affection yon gallant gentlemen have displayed. Frankly, as thou hast spoken, do I say, that the wrongs I have suffered from another alone move me to allegiance to thyself! Let others serve thee for love of Henry; reject not my service, given but for revenge on Edward,—as much, henceforth, am I his foe as formerly his friend and maker! [Sir H. Ellis: Original Letters, vol. i., second series.] And if, hereafter, on the throne, thou shouldst remember and resent the former wars, at least thou hast owed me no gratitude, and thou canst not grieve my heart and seethe my brain, as the man whom I once loved better than a son! Thus, from thy presence I depart, chafing not at thy scornful wrath; mindful, young prince, but of thy just and gentle heart, and sure, in the calm of my own soul (on which this much, at least, of our destiny is reflected as on a glass), that when, high lady, thy colder sense returns to thee, thou wilt see that the league between us must be made!—that thine ire as woman must fade before thy duties as a another, thy affection as a wife, and thy paramount and solemn obligations to the people thou hast ruled as queen! In the dead of night thou shalt hear the voice of Henry in his prison asking Margaret to set him free; the vision of thy son shall rise before thee in his bloom and promise, to demand why his mother deprives him of a crown; and crowds of pale peasants, grinded beneath tyrannous exaction, and despairing fathers mourning for dishonoured children, shall ask the Christian queen if God will sanction the unreasoning wrath which rejects the only instrument that can redress her people."
This said, the earl bowed his head and turned; but, at the first sign of his departure, there was a general movement among the noble bystanders. Impressed by the dignity of his bearing, by the greatness of his power, and by the unquestionable truth that in rejecting him Margaret cast away the heritage of her son, the exiles, with a common impulse, threw themselves at the queen's feet, and exclaimed, almost in the same words,—
"Grace! noble queen!—Grace for the great Lord Warwick!"
"My sister," whispered John of Calabria, "thou art thy son's ruin if the earl depart!"
"Pasque Dieu! Vex not my kinswoman,—if she prefer a convent to a throne, cross not the holy choice!" said the wily Louis, with a mocking irony on his pinched lips.
The prince alone spoke not, but stood proudly on the same spot, gazing on the earl, as he slowly moved to the door.
"Oh, Edward! Edward, my son!" exclaimed the unhappy Margaret, "if for thy sake—for thine—I must make the past a blank, speak thou for me!"
"I have spoken," said the prince, gently, "and thou didst chide me, noble mother; yet I spoke, methinks, as Henry V. had done, if of a mighty enemy he had had the power to make a noble friend."
A short, convulsive sob was heard from the throne chair; and as suddenly as it burst, it ceased. Queen Margaret rose, not a trace of that stormy emotion upon the grand and marble beauty of her face. Her voice, unnaturally calm, arrested the steps of the departing earl.
"Lord Warwick, defend this boy, restore his rights, release his sainted father, and for years of anguish and of exile, Margaret of Anjou forgives the champion of her son!"
In an instant Prince Edward was again by the earl's side; a moment more, and the earl's proud knee bent in homage to the queen, joyful tears were in the eyes of her friends and kindred, a triumphant smile on the lips of Louis, and Margaret's face, terrible in its stony and locked repose, was raised above, as if asking the All-Merciful pardon—for the pardon which the human sinner had bestowed! [Ellis: Original Letters from the Harleian Manuscripts, letter 42.]
CHAPTER X. LOVE AND MARRIAGE—DOUBTS OF CONSCIENCE—DOMESTIC JEALOUSY—AND HOUSEHOLD TREASON.
The events that followed this tempestuous interview were such as the position of the parties necessarily compelled. The craft of Louis, the energy and love of Prince Edward, the representations of all her kindred and friends, conquered, though not without repeated struggles, Margaret's repugnance to a nearer union between Warwick and her son. The earl did not deign to appear personally in this matter. He left it, as became him, to Louis and the prince, and finally received from them the proposals, which ratified the league, and consummated the schemes of his revenge.
Upon the Very Cross [Miss Strickland observes upon this interview: "It does not appear that Warwick mentioned the execution of his father, the Earl of Salisbury, which is almost a confirmation of the statements of those historians who deny that he was beheaded by Margaret."] in St. Mary's Church of Angers, Lord Warwick swore without change to hold the party of King Henry. Before the same sacred symbol, King Louis and his brother, Duke of Guienne, robed in canvas, swore to sustain to their utmost the Earl of Warwick in behalf of King Henry; and Margaret recorded her oath "to treat the earl as true and faithful, and never for deeds past to make him any reproach."
Then were signed the articles of marriage between Prince Edward and the Lady Anne,—the latter to remain with Margaret, but the marriage not to be consummated "till Lord Warwick had entered England and regained the realm, or most part, for King Henry,"—a condition which pleased the earl, who desired to award his beloved daughter no less a dowry than a crown.
An article far more important than all to the safety of the earl and to the permanent success of the enterprise, was one that virtually took from the fierce and unpopular Margaret the reins of government, by constituting Prince Edward (whose qualities endeared him more and more to Warwick, and were such as promised to command the respect and love of the people) sole regent of all the realm, upon attaining his majority. For the Duke of Clarence were reserved all the lands and dignities of the duchy of York, the right to the succession of the throne to him and his posterity,—failing male heirs to the Prince of Wales,—with a private pledge of the viceroyalty of Ireland.
Margaret had attached to her consent one condition highly obnoxious to her high-spirited son, and to which he was only reconciled by the arguments of Warwick: she stipulated that he should not accompany the earl to England, nor appear there till his father was proclaimed king. In this, no doubt, she was guided by maternal fears, and by some undeclared suspicion, either of the good faith of Warwick, or of his means to raise a sufficient army to fulfil his promise. The brave prince wished to be himself foremost in the battles fought in his right and for his cause. But the earl contended, to the surprise and joy of Margaret, that it best behooved the prince's interests to enter England without one enemy in the field, leaving others to clear his path, free himself from all the personal hate of hostile factions, and without a drop of blood upon the sword of one heralded and announced as the peace-maker and impartial reconciles of all feuds. So then (these high conditions settled), in the presence of the Kings Rene and Louis, of the Earl and Countess of Warwick, and in solemn state, at Amboise, Edward of Lancaster plighted his marriage-troth to his beloved and loving Anne.
It was deep night, and high revel in the Palace of Amboise crowned the ceremonies of that memorable day. The Earl of Warwick stood alone in the same chamber in which he had first discovered the secret of the young Lancastrian. From the brilliant company, assembled in the halls of state, he had stolen unperceived away, for his great heart was full to overflowing. The part he had played for many days was over, and with it the excitement and the fever. His schemes were crowned,—the Lancastrians were won to his revenge; the king's heir was the betrothed of his favourite child; and the hour was visible in the distance, when, by the retribution most to be desired, the father's hand should lead that child to the throne of him who would have degraded her to the dust. If victory awaited his sanguine hopes, as father to his future queen, the dignity and power of the earl became greater in the court of Lancaster than, even in his palmiest day, amidst the minions of ungrateful York; the sire of two lines,—if Anne's posterity should fail, the crown would pass to the sons of Isabel,—in either case from him (if successful in his invasion) would descend the royalty of England. Ambition, pride, revenge, might well exult in viewing the future, as mortal wisdom could discern it. The House of Nevile never seemed brightened by a more glorious star: and yet the earl was heavy and sad at heart. However he had concealed it from the eyes of others, the haughty ire of Margaret must have galled him in his deepest soul. And even as he had that day contemplated the holy happiness in the face of Anne, a sharp pang had shot through his breast. Were those the witnesses of fair-omened spousailles? How different from the hearty greeting of his warrior-friends was the measured courtesy of foes who had felt and fled before his sword! If aught chanced to him in the hazard of the field, what thought for his child ever could speak in pity from the hard and scornful eyes of the imperious Anjouite?
The mist which till then had clouded his mind, or left visible to his gaze but one stern idea of retribution, melted into air. He beheld the fearful crisis to which his life had passed,—he had reached the eminence to mourn the happy gardens left behind. Gone, forever gone, the old endearing friendships, the sweet and manly remembrances of brave companionship and early love! Who among those who had confronted war by his side for the House of York would hasten to clasp his hand and hail his coming as the captain of hated Lancaster? True, could he bow his honour to proclaim the true cause of his desertion, the heart of every father would beat in sympathy with his; but less than ever could the tale that vindicated his name be told. How stoop to invoke malignant pity to the insult offered to a future queen? Dark in his grave must rest the secret no words could syllable, save by such vague and mysterious hint and comment as pass from baseless gossip into dubious history. [Hall well explains the mystery which wrapped the king's insult to a female of the House of Warwick by the simple sentence, "The certainty was not, for both their honours, openly known!"] True, that in his change of party he was not, like Julian of Spain, an apostate to his native land. He did not meditate the subversion of his country by the foreign foe; it was but the substitution of one English monarch for another,—a virtuous prince for a false and a sanguinary king. True, that the change from rose to rose had been so common amongst the greatest and the bravest, that even the most rigid could scarcely censure what the age itself had sanctioned. But what other man of his stormy day had been so conspicuous in the downfall of those he was now as conspicuously to raise? What other man had Richard of York taken so dearly to his heart, to what other man had the august father said, "Protect my sons"? Before him seemed literally to rise the phantom of that honoured prince, and with clay-cold lips to ask, "Art thou, of all the world, the doomsman of my first-born?" A groan escaped the breast of the self-tormentor; he fell on his knees and prayed: "Oh, pardon, thou All-seeing!—plead for me, Divine Mother! if in this I have darkly erred, taking my heart for my conscience, and mindful only of a selfish wrong! Oh, surely, no! Had Richard of York himself lived to know what I have suffered from his unworthy son,—causeless insult, broken faith, public and unabashed dishonour; yea, pardoning, serving, loving on through all, till, at the last, nothing less than the foulest taint that can light upon 'scutcheon and name was the cold, premeditated reward for untired devotion,—surely, surely, Richard himself had said, 'Thy honour at last forbids all pardon!'"
Then, in that rapidity with which the human heart, once seizing upon self-excuse, reviews, one after one, the fair apologies, the earl passed from the injury to himself to the mal-government of his land, and muttered over the thousand instances of cruelty and misrule which rose to his remembrance,—forgetting, alas, or steeling himself to the memory, that till Edward's vices had assailed his own hearth and honour, he had been contented with lamenting them, he had not ventured to chastise. At length, calm and self-acquitted, he rose from his self-confession, and leaning by the open casement, drank in the reviving and gentle balm of the summer air. The state apartments he had left, formed as we have before observed, an angle to the wing in which the chamber he had now retired to was placed. They were brilliantly illumined, their windows opened to admit the fresh, soft breeze of night; and he saw, as if by daylight, distinct and gorgeous, in their gay dresses, the many revellers within. But one group caught and riveted his eye. Close by the centre window he recognized his gentle Anne, with downcast looks; he almost fancied he saw her blush, as her young bridegroom, young and beautiful as herself, whispered love's flatteries in her ear. He saw farther on, but yet near, his own sweet countess, and muttered, "After twenty years of marriage, may Anne be as dear to him as thou art now to me!" And still he saw, or deemed he saw, his lady's eye, after resting with tender happiness on the young pair, rove wistfully around, as if missing and searching for her partner in her mother's joy. But what form sweeps by with so haughty a majesty, then pauses by the betrothed, addresses them not, but seems to regard them with so fixed a watch? He knew by her ducal diadem, by the baudekin colours of her robe, by her unmistakable air of pride, his daughter Isabel. He did not distinguish the expression of her countenance, but an ominous thrill passed through his heart; for the attitude itself had an expression, and not that of a sister's sympathy and love. He turned away his face with an unquiet recollection of the altered mood of his discontented daughter. He looked again: the duchess had passed on, lost amidst the confused splendour of the revel. And high and rich swelled the merry music that invited to the stately pavon. He gazed still; his lady had left her place, the lovers too had vanished, and where they stood, stood now in close conference his ancient enemies, Exeter and Somerset. The sudden change from objects of love to those associated with hate had something which touched one of those superstitions to which, in all ages, the heart, when deeply stirred, is weakly sensitive. And again, forgetful of the revel, the earl turned to the serener landscape of the grove and the moonlit green sward, and mused and mused, till a soft arm thrown round him woke his revery. For this had his lady left the revel. Divining, by the instinct born of love, the gloom of her husband, she had stolen from pomp and pleasure to his side.
"Ah, wherefore wouldst thou rob me," said the countess, "of one hour of thy presence, since so few hours remain; since, when the sun that succeeds the morrow's shines upon these walls, the night of thine absence will have closed upon me?"
"And if that thought of parting, sad to me as thee, suffice not, belle amie, to dim the revel," answered the earl, "weetest thou not how ill the grave and solemn thoughts of one who sees before him the emprise that would change the dynasty of a realm can suit with the careless dance and the wanton music? But not at that moment did I think of those mightier cares; my thoughts were nearer home. Hast thou noted, sweet wife, the silent gloom, the clouded brow of Isabel, since she learned that Anne was to be the bride of the heir of Lancaster?"
The mother suppressed a sigh. "We must pardon, or glance lightly over, the mood of one who loves her lord, and mourns for his baffled hopes! Well-a-day! I grieve that she admits not even me to her confidence. Ever with the favourite lady who lately joined her train,—methinks that new friend gives less holy counsel than a mother!"
"Ha! and yet what counsels can Isabel listen to from a comparative stranger? Even if Edward, or rather his cunning Elizabeth, had suborned this waiting-woman, our daughter never could hearken, even in an hour of anger, to the message from our dishonourer and our foe."
"Nay, but a flatterer often fosters by praising the erring thought. Isabel hath something, dear lord, of thy high heart and courage; and ever from childhood, her vaulting spirit, her very character of stately beauty, hath given her a conviction of destiny and power loftier than those reserved for our gentle Anne. Let us trust to time and forbearance, and hope that the affection of the generous sister will subdue the jealousy of the disappointed princess."
"Pray Heaven, indeed, that it so prove! Isabel's ascendancy over Clarence is great, and might be dangerous. Would that she consented to remain in France with thee and Anne! Her lord, at least, it seems I have convinced and satisfied. Pleased at the vast fortunes before him, the toys of viceregal power, his lighter nature reconciles itself to the loss of a crown, which, I fear, it could never have upheld. For the more I have read his qualities in our household intimacy, the more it seems that I could scarcely have justified the imposing on England a king not worthy of so great a people. He is young yet, but how different the youth of Lancastrian Edward! In him what earnest and manly spirit! What heaven-born views of the duties of a king! Oh, if there be a sin in the passion that hath urged me on, let me, and me alone, atone! and may I be at least the instrument to give to England a prince whose virtues shall compensate for all!"
While yet the last word trembled upon the earl's lips, a light flashed along the floors, hitherto illumined but by the stars and the full moon. And presently Isabel, in conference with the lady whom her mother had referred to, passed into the room, on her way to her private chamber. The countenance of this female diplomatist, whose talent for intrigue Philip de Comines [Comines, iii. 5; Hall, Lingard, Hume, etc.] has commemorated, but whose name, happily for her memory, history has concealed, was soft and winning in its expression to the ordinary glance, though the sharpness of the features, the thin compression of the lips, and the harsh dry redness of the hair corresponded with the attributes which modern physiognomical science truly or erringly assigns to a wily and treacherous character. She bore a light in her hand, and its rays shone full on the disturbed and agitated face of the duchess. Isabel perceived at once the forms of her parents, and stopped short in some whispered conversation, and uttered a cry almost of dismay.
"Thou leavest the revel betimes, fair daughter," said the earl, examining her countenance with an eye somewhat stern.
"My lady," said the confidant, with a lowly reverence, "was anxious for her babe."
"Thy lady, good waiting-wench," said Warwick, "needs not thy tongue to address her father. Pass on."
The gentlewoman bit her lips, but obeyed, and quitted the room. The earl approached, and took Isabel's hand,—it was cold as stone.
"My child," said he, tenderly, "thou dost well to retire to rest; of late thy cheek hath lost its bloom. But just now, for many causes, I was wishing thee not to brave our perilous return to England; and now, I know not whether it would make me the more uneasy, to fear for thy health if absent or thy safety if with me!"
"My lord," replied Isabel, coldly, "my duty calls me to my husband's side, and the more, since now it seems he dares the battle but reaps not its rewards! Let Edward and Anne rest in safety, Clarence and Isabel go to achieve the diadem and orb for others!"
"Be not bitter with thy father, girl; be not envious of thy sister!" said the earl, in grave rebuke; then, softening his tone, he added, "The women of a noble House should have no ambition of their own,—their glory and their honour they should leave, unmurmuring, in the hands of men! Mourn not if thy sister mounts the throne of him who would have branded the very name to which thou and she were born!"
"I have made no reproach, my lord. Forgive me, I pray you, if I now retire; I am so weary, and would fain have strength and health not to be a burden to you when you depart."
The duchess bowed with proud submission, and moved on. "Beware!" said the earl, in a low voice.
"Beware!—and of what?" said Isabel, startled.
"Of thine own heart, Isabel. Ay, go to thine infant's couch ere thou seek thine own, and, before the sleep of innocence, calm thyself back to womanhood."
The duchess raised her head quickly, but habitual awe of her father checked the angry answer; and kissing, with formal reverence, the hand the countess extended to her, she left the room. She gained the chamber in which was the cradle of her son, gorgeously canopied with silks, inwrought with the blazoned arms of royal Clarence;—and beside the cradle sat the confidant.
The duchess drew aside the drapery, and contemplated the rosy face of the infant slumberer.
Then, turning to her confidant, she said,—
"Three months since, and I hoped my first-born would be a king! Away with those vain mockeries of royal birth! How suit they the destined vassal of the abhorred Lancastrian?"
"Sweet lady," said the confidant, "did I not warn thee from the first that this alliance, to the injury of my lord duke and this dear boy, was already imminent? I had hoped thou mightst have prevailed with the earl!"
"He heeds me not, he cares not for me!" exclaimed Isabel; "his whole love is for Anne,—Anne, who, without energy and pride, I scarcely have looked on as my equal! And now to my younger sister I must bow my knee, pleased if she deign to bid me hold the skirt of her queenly robe! Never,—no, never!"
"Calm thyself; the courier must part this night. My Lord of Clarence is already in his chamber; he waits but thine assent to write to Edward, that he rejects not his loving messages."
The duchess walked to and fro, in great disorder. "But to be thus secret and false to my father?"
"Doth be merit that thou shouldst sacrifice thy child to him? Reflect! the king has no son! The English barons acknowledge not in girls a sovereign; [Miss Strickland ("Life of Elizabeth of York") remarks, "How much Norman prejudice in favour of Salic law had corrupted the common or constitutional law of England regarding the succession!" The remark involves a controversy.] and, with Edward on the throne, thy son is heir-presumptive. Little chance that a male heir shall now be born to Queen Elizabeth, while from Anne and her bridegroom a long line may spring. Besides, no matter what parchment treaties may ordain, how can Clarence and his offspring ever be regarded by a Lancastrian king but as enemies to feed the prison or the block, when some false invention gives the seemly pretext for extirpating the lawful race?"
"Cease, cease, cease!" cried Isabel, in terrible struggles with herself.
"Lady, the hour presses! And, reflect, a few lines are but words, to be confirmed or retracted as occasion suits! If Lord Warwick succeed, and King Edward lose his crown, ye can shape as ye best may your conduct to the time. But if the earl lose the day, if again he be driven into exile, a few words now release you and yours from everlasting banishment; restore your boy to his natural heritage; deliver you from the insolence of the Anjouite, who, methinks, even dared this very day to taunt your highness—"
"She did—she did! Oh that my father had been by to hear! She bade me stand aside that Anne might pass,—'not for the younger daughter of Lord Warwick, but for the lady admitted into the royalty of Lancaster!' Elizabeth Woodville, at least, never dared this insolence!"
"And this Margaret the Duke of Clarence is to place on the throne which your child yonder might otherwise aspire to mount!"
Isabel clasped her hands in mute passion.
"Hark!" said the confidant, throwing open the door—
And along the corridor came, in measured pomp, a stately procession, the chamberlain in front, announcing "Her Highness the Princess of Wales;" and Louis XI., leading the virgin bride (wife but in name and honour, till her dowry of a kingdom was made secure) to her gentle rest. The ceremonial pomp, the regal homage that attended the younger sister thus raised above herself, completed in Isabel's jealous heart the triumph of the Tempter. Her face settled into hard resolve, and she passed at once from the chamber into one near at hand, where the Duke of Clarence sat alone, the rich wines of the livery, not untasted, before him, and the ink yet wet upon a scroll he had just indited.
He turned his irresolute countenance to Isabel as she bent over him and read the letter. It was to Edward; and after briefly warning him of the meditated invasion, significantly added, "and if I may seem to share this emprise, which, here and alone, I cannot resist, thou shalt find me still, when the moment comes, thy affectionate brother and loyal subject."
"Well, Isabel," said the duke, "thou knowest I have delayed this till the last hour to please thee; for verily, lady mine, thy will is my sweetest law. But now, if thy heart misgives thee—"
"It does, it does!" exclaimed the duchess, bursting into tears.
"If thy heart misgives thee," continued Clarence, who with all his weakness had much of the duplicity of his brothers, "why, let it pass. Slavery to scornful Margaret, vassalage to thy sister's spouse, triumph to the House which both thou and I were taught from childhood to deem accursed,—why, welcome all! so that Isabel does not weep, and our boy reproach us not in the days to come!"