It was necessary to say thus much on the commercial tendencies of Edward, because, at this epoch, they operated greatly, besides other motives shortly to be made clear, in favour of the plot laid by the enemies of the Earl of Warwick, to dishonour that powerful minister and drive him from the councils of the king.
One morning Hastings received a summons to attend Edward, and on entering the royal chamber, he found already assembled Lord Rivers, the queen's father, Anthony Woodville, and the Earl of Worcester.
The king seemed thoughtful; he beckoned Hastings to approach, and placed in his hand a letter, dated from Rouen. "Read and judge, Hastings," said Edward.
The letter was from a gentleman in Warwick's train. It gave a glowing account of the honours accorded to the earl by Louis XI., greater than those ever before manifested to a subject, and proceeded thus:—
"But it is just I should apprise you that there be strange rumours as to the marvellous love that King Louis shows my lord the earl. He lodgeth in the next house to him, and hath even had an opening made in the partition-wall between his own chamber and the earl's. Men do say that the king visits him nightly, and there be those who think that so much stealthy intercourse between an English ambassador and the kinsman of Margaret of Anjou bodeth small profit to our grace the king."
"I observe," said Hastings, glancing to the superscription, "that this letter is addressed to my Lord Rivers. Can he avouch the fidelity of his correspondent?"
"Surely, yes," answered Rivers; "it is a gentleman of my own blood."
"Were he not so accredited," returned Hastings, "I should question the truth of a man who can thus consent to play the spy upon his lord and superior."
"The public weal justifies all things," said the Earl of Worcester (who, though by marriage nearly connected to Warwick, eyed his power with the jealous scorn which the man of book-lore often feels for one whose talent lies in action),—"so held our masters in all state-craft, the Greek and Roman."
"Certes," said Sir Anthony Woodville, "it grieveth the pride of an English knight that we should be beholden for courtesies to the born foe of England, which I take the Frenchman naturally to be."
"Ah," said Edward, smiling sternly, "I would rather be myself, with banner and trump, before the walls of Paris, than sending my cousin the earl to beg the French king's brother to accept my sister as a bride. And what is to become of my good merchant-ships if Burgundy take umbrage and close its ports?"
"Beau sire," said Hastings, "thou knowest how little cause I have to love the Earl of Warwick. We all here, save your gracious self, bear the memory of some affront rendered to us by his pride and heat of mood! but in this council I must cease to be William de Hastings, and be all and wholly the king's servant. I say first, then, with reference to these noble peers, that Warwick's faith to the House of York is too well proven to become suspected because of the courtesies of King Louis,—an artful craft, as it clearly seems to me, of the wily Frenchman, to weaken your throne, by provoking your distrust of its great supporter. Fall we not into such a snare! Moreover, we may be sure that Warwick cannot be false, if he achieve the object of his embassy,—namely, detach Louis from the side of Margaret and Lancaster by close alliance with Edward and York. Secondly, sire, with regard to that alliance, which it seems you would repent,—I hold now, as I have held ever, that it is a master-stroke in policy, and the earl in this proves his sharp brain worthy his strong arm; for as his highness the Duke of Gloucester hath now clearly discovered that Margaret of Anjou has been of late in London, and that treasonable designs were meditated, though now frustrated, so we may ask why the friends of Lancaster really stood aloof; why all conspiracy was, and is, in vain?—Because, sire, of this very alliance with France; because the gold and subsidies of Louis are not forthcoming; because the Lancastrians see that if once Lord Warwick win France from the Red Rose, nothing short of such a miracle as their gaining Warwick instead can give a hope to their treason. Your Highness fears the anger of Burgundy, and the suspension of your trade with the Flemings; but—forgive me—this is not reasonable. Burgundy dare not offend England, matched, as its arms are, with France; the Flemings gain more by you than you gain by the Flemings, and those interested burghers will not suffer any prince's quarrel to damage their commerce. Charolois may bluster and threat, but the storm will pass, and Burgundy will be contented, if England remain neutral in the feud with France. All these reasons, sire, urge me to support my private foe, the Lord Warwick, and to pray you to give no ear to the discrediting his Honour and his embassy."
The profound sagacity of these remarks, the repute of the speaker, and the well-known grudge between him and Warwick, for reasons hereafter to be explained, produced a strong effect upon the intellect of Edward, always vigorous, save when clouded with passion. But Rivers, whose malice to the earl was indomitable, coldly recommenced,—
"With submission to the Lord Hastings, sire, whom we know that love sometimes blinds, and whose allegiance to the earl's fair sister, the Lady of Bonville, perchance somewhat moves him to forget the day when Lord Warwick—"
"Cease, my lord," said Hastings, white with suppressed anger; "these references beseem not the councils of grave men."
"Tut, Hastings," said Edward, laughing merrily, "women mix themselves up in all things: board or council, bed or battle,—wherever there is mischief astir, there, be sure, peeps a woman's sly face from her wimple. Go on, Rivers."
"Your pardon, my Lord Hastings," said Rivers, "I knew not my thrust went so home; there is another letter I have not yet laid before the king." He drew forth a scroll from his bosom, and read as follows:—
"Yesterday the earl feasted the king, and as, in discharge of mine office, I carved for my lord, I heard King Louis say, 'Pasque Dieu, my Lord Warwick, our couriers bring us word that Count Charolois declares he shall yet wed the Lady Margaret, and that he laughs at your ambassage. What if our brother, King Edward, fall back from the treaty?' 'He durst not!' said the earl."
"Durst not!" exclaimed Edward, starting to his feet, and striking the table with his clenched hand, "durst not! Hastings, hear you that?"
Hastings bowed his head in assent. "Is that all, Lord Rivers?"
"All! and methinks enough."
"Enough, by my halidame!" said Edward, laughing bitterly; "he shall see what a king dares, when a subject threatens. Admit the worshipful the deputies from our city of London,—lord chamberlain, it is thine office,—they await in the anteroom."
Hastings gravely obeyed, and in crimson gowns, with purple hoods and gold chains, marshalled into the king's presence a goodly deputation from the various corporate companies of London.
These personages advanced within a few paces of the dais, and there halted and knelt, while their spokesman read, on his knees, a long petition, praying the king to take into his gracious consideration the state of the trade with the Flemings; and though not absolutely venturing to name or to deprecate the meditated alliance with France, beseeching his grace to satisfy them as to certain rumours, already very prejudicial to their commerce, of the possibility of a breach with the Duke of Burgundy. The merchant-king listened with great attention and affability to this petition; and replied shortly, that he thanked the deputation for their zeal for the public weal,—that a king would have enough to do if he contravened every gossip's tale; but that it was his firm purpose to protect, in all ways, the London traders, and to maintain the most amicable understanding with the Duke of Burgundy.
The supplicators then withdrew from the royal presence.
"Note you how gracious the king was to me?" whispered Master Heyford to one of his brethren; "he looked at me while he answered."
"Coxcomb!" muttered the confidant, "as if I did not catch his eye when he said, 'Ye are the pillars of the public weal!' But because Master Heyford has a handsome wife he thinks he tosseth all London on his own horns!"
As the citizens were quitting the palace, Lord Rivers joined them. "You will thank me for suggesting this deputation, worthy sirs," said he, smiling significantly; "you have timed it well!"—and passing by them, without further comment, he took the way to the queen's chamber.
Elizabeth was playing with her infant daughter, tossing the child in the air, and laughing at its riotous laughter. The stern old Duchess of Bedford, leaning over the back of the state-chair, looked on with all a grandmother's pride, and half chanted a nursery rhyme. It was a sight fair to see! Elizabeth never seemed more lovely: her artificial, dissimulating smile changed into hearty, maternal glee, her smooth cheek flushed with exercise, a stray ringlet escaping from the stiff coif!—And, alas, the moment the two ladies caught sight of Rivers, all the charm was dissolved; the child was hastily put on the floor; the queen, half ashamed of being natural, even before her father, smoothed back the rebel lock, and the duchess, breaking off in the midst of her grandam song, exclaimed,—
"Well, well! how thrives our policy?"
"The king," answered Rivers, "is in the very mood we could desire. At the words, 'He durst not!' the Plantagenet sprung up in his breast; and now, lest he ask to see the rest of the letter, thus I destroy it;" and flinging the scroll in the blazing hearth, he watched it consume.
"Why this, sir?" said the queen.
"Because, my Elizabeth, the bold words glided off into a decent gloss,—'He durst not,' said Warwick, 'because what a noble heart dares least is to belie the plighted word, and what the kind heart shuns most is to wrong the confiding friend."
"It was fortunate," said the duchess, "that Edward took heat at the first words, nor stopped, it seems, for the rest!"
"I was prepared, Jacquetta; had he asked to see the rest, I should have dropped the scroll into the brazier, as containing what I would not presume to read. Courage! Edward has seen the merchants; he has flouted Hastings,—who would gainsay us. For the rest, Elizabeth, be it yours to speak of affronts paid by the earl to your highness; be it yours, Jacquetta, to rouse Edward's pride by dwelling on Warwick's overweening power; be it mine to enlist his interest on behalf of his merchandise; be it Margaret's to move his heart by soft tears for the bold Charolois; and ere a month be told, Warwick shall find his embassy a thriftless laughing-stock, and no shade pass between the House of Woodville and the sun of England."
"I am scarce queen while Warwick is minister," said Elizabeth, vindictively. "How he taunted me in the garden, when we met last!"
"But hark you, daughter and lady liege, hark you! Edward is not prepared for the decisive stroke. I have arranged with Anthony, whose chivalrous follies fit him not for full comprehension of our objects, how upon fair excuse the heir of Burgundy's brother—the Count de la Roche—shall visit London; and the count once here, all is ours! Hush! take up the little one,—Edward comes!"
CHAPTER III. WHEREIN MASTER NICHOLAS ALWYN VISITS THE COURT, AND THERE LEARNS MATTER OF WHICH THE ACUTE READER WILL JUDGE FOR HIMSELF.
It was a morning towards the end of May (some little time after Edward's gracious reception of the London deputies), when Nicholas Alwyn, accompanied by two servitors armed to the teeth,—for they carried with them goods of much value, and even in the broad daylight and amidst the most frequented parts of the city, men still confided little in the security of the law,—arrived at the Tower, and was conducted to the presence of the queen.
Elizabeth and her mother were engaged in animated but whispered conversation when the goldsmith entered; and there was an unusual gayety in the queen's countenance as she turned to Alwyn and bade him show her his newest gauds.
While with a curiosity and eagerness that seemed almost childlike Elizabeth turned over rings, chains, and brooches, scarcely listening to Alwyn's comments on the lustre of the gems or the quaintness of the fashion, the duchess disappeared for a moment, and returned with the Princess Margaret.
This young princess had much of the majestic beauty of her royal brother; but, instead of the frank, careless expression so fascinating in Edward, there was, in her full and curved lip and bright large eye, something at once of haughtiness and passion, which spoke a decision and vivacity of character beyond her years.
"Choose for thyself, sweetheart and daughter mine," said the duchess, affectionately placing her hand on Margaret's luxuriant hair, "and let the noble visitor we await confess that our rose of England outblooms the world."
The princess coloured with complaisant vanity at these words, and, drawing near the queen, looked silently at a collar of pearls, which Elizabeth held.
"If I may adventure so to say," observed Alwyn, "pearls will mightily beseem her highness's youthful bloom; and lo! here be some adornments for the bodice or partelet, to sort with the collar; not," added the goldsmith, bowing low, and looking down,—"not perchance displeasing to her highness, in that they are wrought in the guise of the fleur de lis—"
An impatient gesture in the queen, and a sudden cloud over the fair brow of Margaret, instantly betokened to the shrewd trader that he had committed some most unwelcome error in this last allusion to the alliance with King Louis of France, which, according to rumour, the Earl of Warwick had well-nigh brought to a successful negotiation; and to convince him yet more of his mistake, the duchess said haughtily, "Good fellow, be contented to display thy goods, and spare us thy comments. As for thy hideous fleur de lis, an' thy master had no better device, he would not long rest the king's jeweller."
"I have no heart for the pearls," said Margaret, abruptly; "they are at best pale and sicklied. What hast thou of bolder ornament and more dazzling lustrousness?"
"These emeralds, it is said, were once among the jewels of the great House of Burgundy," observed Nicholas, slowly, and fixing his keen, sagacious look on the royal purchasers.
"Of Burgundy!" exclaimed the queen.
"It is true," said the Duchess of Bedford, looking at the ornament with care, and slightly colouring,—for in fact the jewels had been a present from Philip the Good to the Duke of Bedford, and the exigencies of the civil wars had led, some time since, first to their mortgage, or rather pawn, and then to their sale.
The princess passed her arm affectionately round Jacquetta's neck, and said, "If you leave me my choice, I will have none but these emeralds."
The two elder ladies exchanged looks and smiles. "Hast thou travelled, young man?" asked the duchess.
"Not in foreign parts, gracious lady, but I have lived much with those who have been great wanderers."
"Ah, and what say they of the ancient friends of mine House, the princes of Burgundy?"
"Lady, all men agree that a nobler prince and a juster than Duke Philip never reigned over brave men; and those who have seen the wisdom of his rule, grieve sorely to think so excellent and mighty a lord should have trouble brought to his old age by the turbulence of his son, the Count of Charolois."
Again Margaret's fair brow lowered, and the duchess hastened to answer, "The disputes between princes, young man, can never be rightly understood by such as thou and thy friends. The Count of Charolois is a noble gentleman; and fire in youth will break out. Richard the Lion Hearted of England was not less puissant a king for the troubles he occasioned to his sire when prince."
Alwyn bit his lip, to restrain a reply that might not have been well received; and the queen, putting aside the emeralds and a few other trinkets, said, smilingly, to the duchess, "Shall the king pay for these, or have thy learned men yet discovered the great secret?"
"Nay, wicked child," said the duchess, "thou lovest to banter me; and truth to say, more gold has been melted in the crucible than as yet promises ever to come out of it; but my new alchemist, Master Warner, seems to have gone nearer to the result than any I have yet known. Meanwhile, the king's treasurer must, perforce, supply the gear to the king's sister."
The queen wrote an order on the officer thus referred to, who was no other than her own father, Lord Rivers; and Alwyn, putting up his goods, was about to withdraw, when the duchess said carelessly, "Good youth, the dealings of our merchants are more with Flanders than with France, is it not so?"
"Surely," said Alwyn; "the Flemings are good traders and honest folk."
"It is well known, I trust, in the city of London, that this new alliance with France is the work of their favourite, the Lord Warwick," said the duchess, scornfully; "but whatever the earl does is right with ye of the hood and cap, even though he were to leave yon river without one merchant-mast."
"Whatever be our thoughts, puissant lady," said Alwyn, cautiously, "we give them not vent to the meddling with state affairs."
"Ay," persisted Jacquetta, "thine answer is loyal and discreet. But an' the Lord Warwick had sought alliance with the Count of Charolois, would there have been brighter bonfires than ye will see in Smithfield, when ye hear that business with the Flemings is surrendered for fine words from King Louis the Cunning?"
"We trust too much to our king's love for the citizens of London to fear that surrender, please your Highness," answered Alwyn; "our king himself is the first of our merchants, and he hath given a gracious answer to the deputation from our city."
"You speak wisely, sir," said the queen; "and your king will yet defend you from the plots of your enemies. You may retire."
Alwyn, glad to be released from questionings but little to his taste, hastened to depart. At the gate of the royal lodge, he gave his caskets to the servitors who attended him, and passing slowly along the courtyard, thus soliloquized:
"Our neighbours the Scotch say, 'It is good fishing in muddy waters;' but he who fishes into the secrets of courts must bait with his head. What mischief doth that crafty queen, the proud duchess, devise? Um! They are thinking still to match the young princess with the hot Count of Charolois. Better for trade, it is true, to be hand in hand with the Flemings; but there are two sides to a loaf. If they play such a trick on the stout earl, he is not a man to sit down and do nothing. More food for the ravens, I fear,—more brown bills and bright lances in the green fields of poor England!—and King Louis is an awful carle to sow flax in his neighbour's house, when the torches are burning. Um! Where is fair Marmaduke. He looks brave in his gay super-tunic. Well, sir and foster-brother, how fare you at court?"
"My dear Nicholas, a merry welcome and hearty to your sharp, thoughtful face. Ah, man! we shall have a gay time for you venders of gewgaws. There are to be revels and jousts, revels in the Tower and jousts in Smithfield. We gentles are already hard at practice in the tilt-yard."
"Sham battles are better than real ones, Master Nevile! But what is in the wind?"
"A sail, Nicholas! a sail bound to England! Know that the Count of Charolois has permitted Sir Anthony Count de la Roche, his bastard brother, to come over to London, to cross lances with our own Sir Anthony Lord Scales. It is an old challenge, and right royally will the encounter be held."
"Um!" muttered Alwyn, "this bastard, then, is the carrier pigeon.—And," said he, aloud, "is it only to exchange hard blows that Sir Anthony of Burgundy comes over to confer with Sir Anthony of England? Is there no court rumour of other matters between them?"
"Nay. What else? Plague on you craftsmen! You cannot even comprehend the pleasure and pastime two knights take in the storm of the lists!"
"I humbly avow it, Master Nevile. But it seemeth, indeed, strange to me that the Count of Charolois should take this very moment to send envoys of courtesy when so sharp a slight has been put on his pride, and so dangerous a blow struck at his interests, as the alliance between the French prince and the Lady Margaret. Bold Charles has some cunning, I trow, which your kinsman of Warwick is not here to detect."
"Tush, man! Trade, I see, teaches ye all so to cheat and overreach, that ye suppose a knight's burgonet is as full of tricks and traps as a citizen's flat-cap. Would, though, that my kinsman of Warwick were here," added Marmaduke, in a low whisper, "for the women and the courtiers are doing their best to belie him."
"Keep thyself clear of them all, Marmaduke," said Alwyn; "for, by the Lord, I see that the evil days are coming once more, fast and dark, and men like thee will again have to choose between friend and friend, kinsman and king. For my part, I say nothing; for I love not fighting, unless compelled to it. But if ever I do fight, it will not be by thy side, under Warwick's broad flag."
"Eh, man?" interrupted Nevile.
"Nay, nay," continued Nicholas, shaking his head, "I admire the great earl, and were I lord or gentle, the great earl should be my chief. But each to his order; and the trader's tree grows not out of a baron's walking-staff. King Edward may be a stern ruler, but he is a friend to the goldsmiths, and has just confirmed our charter. 'Let every man praise the bridge he goes over,' as the saw saith. Truce to this talk, Master Nevile. I hear that your young hostess—ehem!—Mistress Sibyll, is greatly marvelled at among the court gallants, is it so?"
Marmaduke's frank face grew gloomy. "Alas! dear foster-brother," he said, dropping the somewhat affected tone in which he had before spoken, "I must confess to my shame, that I cannot yet get the damsel out of my thoughts, which is what I consider it a point of manhood and spirit to achieve."
"Because, when a maiden chooseth steadily to say nay to your wooing, to follow her heels, and whine and beg, is a dog's duty, not a man's."
"What!" exclaimed Alwyn, in a voice of great eagerness, "mean you to say that you have wooed Sibyll Warner as your wife?"
"There is no 'poor' in the matter, Nick Alwyn," returned Marmaduke, sturdily; "if a girl likes me, well; if not, there are too many others in the wide world for a young fellow to break his heart about one. Yet," he added, after a short pause, and with a sigh,—"yet, if thou hast not seen her since she came to the court, thou wilt find her wondrously changed."
"More's the pity!" said Alwyn, reciprocating his friend's sigh.
"I mean that she seems all the comelier for the court air. And beshrew me, I think the Lord Hastings, with his dulcet flatteries, hath made it a sort of frenzy for all the gallants to flock round her."
"I should like to see Master Warner again," said Alwyn; "where lodges he?"
"Yonder, by the little postern, on the third flight of the turret that flanks the corridor, [This description refers to that part of the Tower called the King's or Queen's Lodge, and long since destroyed.] next to Friar Bungey, the magician; but it is broad daylight, and therefore not so dangerous,—not but thou mayest as well patter an ave in going up stairs."
"Farewell, Master Nevile," said Alwyn, smiling; "I will seek the mechanician, and if I find there Mistress Sibyll, what shall I say from thee?"
"That young bachelors in the reign of Edward IV. will never want fair feres," answered the Nevile, debonairly smoothing his lawn partelet.
CHAPTER IV. EXHIBITING THE BENEFITS WHICH ROYAL PATRONAGE CONFERS ON GENIUS,—ALSO THE EARLY LOVES OF THE LORD HASTINGS; WITH OTHER MATTERS EDIFYING AND DELECTABLE.
The furnace was still at work, the flame glowed, the bellows heaved; but these were no longer ministering to the service of a mighty and practical invention. The mathematician, the philosopher, had descended to the alchemist. The nature of the TIME had conquered the nature of a GENIUS meant to subdue time. Those studies that had gone so far to forestall the master-triumph of far later ages were exchanged for occupations that played with the toys of infant wisdom. O true Tartarus of Genius, when its energies are misapplied, when the labour but rolls the stone up the mountain, but pours water upon water through the sieve!
There is a sanguineness in men of great intellect which often leads them into follies avoided by the dull. When Adam Warner saw the ruin of his contrivance; when he felt that time and toil and money were necessary to its restoration; and when the gold he lacked was placed before him as a reward for alchemical labours, he at first turned to alchemy as he would have turned to the plough,—as he had turned to conspiracy,—simply as a means to his darling end. But by rapid degrees the fascination which all the elder sages experienced in the grand secret exercised its witchery over his mind. If Roger Bacon, though catching the notion of the steam-engine, devoted himself to the philosopher's stone; if even in so much more enlightened an age Newton had wasted some precious hours in the transmutation of metals, it was natural that the solitary sage of the reign of Edward IV. should grow, for a while at least, wedded to a pursuit which promised results so august. And the worst of alchemy is, that it always allures on its victims: one gets so near and so near the object,—it seems that so small an addition will complete the sum! So there he was—this great practical genius—hard at work on turning copper into gold!
"Well, Master Warner," said the young goldsmith, entering the student's chamber, "methinks you scarcely remember your friend and visitor, Nicholas Alwyn?"
"Remember, oh, certes! doubtless one of the gentlemen present when they proposed to put me to the brake [the old word for rack]. Please to stand a little on this side—what is your will?"
"I am not a gentleman, and I should have been loth to stand idly by when the torture was talked of for a free-born Englishman, let alone a scholar. And where is your fair daughter, Master Warner? I suppose you see but little of her now she is the great dame's waiting-damsel?"
"And why so, Master Alwyn?" asked a charming voice; and Alwyn for the first time perceived the young form of Sibyll, by the embrasure of a window, from which might be seen in the court below a gay group of lords and courtiers, with the plain, dark dress of Hastings, contrasting their gaudy surcoats, glittering with cloth-of-gold. Alwyn's tongue clove to his mouth; all he had to say was forgotten in a certain bashful and indescribable emotion.
The alchemist had returned to his furnace, and the young man and the girl were as much alone as if Adam Warner had been in heaven.
"And why should the daughter forsake the sire more in a court, where love is rare, than in the humbler home, where they may need each other less?"
"I thank thee for the rebuke, mistress," said Alwyn, delighted with her speech; "for I should have been sorry to see thy heart spoiled by the vanities that kill most natures." Scarcely had he uttered these words, than they seemed to him overbold and presuming; for his eye now took in the great change of which Marmaduke had spoken. Sibyll's dress beseemed the new rank which she held: the corset, fringed with gold, and made of the finest thread, showed the exquisite contour of the throat and neck, whose ivory it concealed. The kirtle of rich blue became the fair complexion and dark chestnut hair; and over all she wore that most graceful robe, called the sasquenice, of which the old French poet sang,—
"Car nulie robe n'est si belle A dame ne a demoiselle."
This garment, worn over the rest of the dress, had perhaps a classical origin, and with slight variations may be seen on the Etruscan vases; it was long and loose, of the whitest and finest linen, with hanging sleeves, and open at the sides. But it was not the mere dress that had embellished the young maiden's form and aspect,—it was rather an indefinable alteration in the expression and the bearing. She looked as if born to the airs of courts; still modest indeed, and simple, but with a consciousness of dignity, and almost of power; and in fact the woman had been taught the power that womanhood possesses. She had been admired, followed, flattered; she had learned the authority of beauty. Her accomplishments, uncommon in that age among her sex, had aided her charm of person; her natural pride, which, though hitherto latent, was high and ardent, fed her heart with sweet hopes; a bright career seemed to extend before her; and, at peace as to her father's safety, relieved from the drudging cares of poverty, her fancy was free to follow the phantasms of sanguine youth through the airy land of dreams. And therefore it was that the maid was changed!
At the sight of the delicate beauty, the self-possessed expression, the courtly dress, the noble air of Sibyll, Nicholas Alwyn recoiled and turned pale; he no longer marvelled at her rejection of Marmaduke, and he started at the remembrance of the bold thoughts which he had dared himself to indulge.
The girl smiled at the young man's confusion.
"It is not prosperity that spoils the heart," she said touchingly, "unless it be mean indeed. Thou rememberest, Master Alwyn, that when God tried His saint, it was by adversity and affliction."
"May thy trial in these last be over," answered Alwyn; "but the humble must console their state by thinking that the great have their trials too; and, as our homely adage hath it, 'That is not always good in the maw which is sweet in the mouth.' Thou seest much of my gentle foster-brother, Mistress Sibyll?"
"But in the court dances, Master Alwyn; for most of the hours in which my lady duchess needs me not are spent here. Oh, my father hopes great things! and now at last fame dawns upon him."
"I rejoice to hear it, mistress; and so, having paid ye both my homage, I take my leave, praying that I may visit you from time to time, if it be only to consult this worshipful master touching certain improvements in the horologe, in which his mathematics can doubtless instruct me. Farewell. I have some jewels to show to the Lady of Bonville."
"The Lady of Bonville!" repeated Sibyll, changing colour; "she is a dame of notable loveliness."
"So men say,—and mated to a foolish lord; but scandal, which spares few, breathes not on her,—rare praise for a court dame. Few Houses can have the boast of Lord Warwick's,—'that all the men are without fear, and all the women without stain.'"
"It is said," observed Sibyll, looking down, "that my Lord Hastings once much affectioned the Lady Bonville. Hast thou heard such gossip?"
"Surely, yes; in the city we hear all the tales of the court; for many a courtier, following King Edward's exemplar, dines with the citizen to-day, that he may borrow gold from the citizen to-morrow. Surely, yes; and hence, they say, the small love the wise Hastings bears to the stout earl."
"How runs the tale? Be seated, Master Alwyn."
"Marry, thus: when William Hastings was but a squire, and much favoured by Richard, Duke of York, he lifted his eyes to the Lady Katherine Nevile, sister to the Earl of Warwick, and in beauty and in dower, as in birth, a mate for a king's son."
"And, doubtless, the Lady Katherine returned his love?"
"So it is said, maiden; and the Earl of Salisbury her father and Lord Warwick her brother discovered the secret, and swore that no new man (the stout earl's favourite word of contempt), though he were made a duke, should give to an upstart posterity the quarterings of Montagu and Nevile. Marry, Mistress Sibyll, there is a north country and pithy proverb, 'Happy is the man whose father went to the devil.' Had some old Hastings been a robber and extortioner, and left to brave William the heirship of his wickedness in lordships and lands, Lord Warwick had not called him 'a new man.' Master Hastings was dragged, like a serf's son, before the earl on his dais; and be sure he was rated soundly, for his bold blood was up, and he defied the earl, as a gentleman born, to single battle. Then the earl's followers would have fallen on him; and in those days, under King Henry, he who bearded a baron in his hall must have a troop at his back, or was like to have a rope round his neck; but the earl (for the lion is not as fierce as they paint him) came down from his dais, and said, 'Man, I like thy spirit, and I myself will dub thee knight that I may pick up thy glove and give thee battle.'"
"And they fought? Brave Hastings!"
"No. For whether the Duke of York forbade it, or whether the Lady Katherine would not hear of such strife between fere and frere, I know not; but Duke Richard sent Hastings to Ireland, and, a month after, the Lady Katherine married Lord Bonville's son and heir,—so, at least, tell the gossips and sing the ballad-mongers. Men add that Lord Hastings still loves the dame, though, certes, he knows how to console himself."
"Loves her! Nay, nay,—I trove not," answered Sibyll, in a low voice, and with a curl of her dewy lip.
At this moment the door opened gently and Lord Hastings himself entered. He came in with the familiarity of one accustomed to the place.
"And how fares the grand secret, Master Warner? Sweet mistress! thou seemest lovelier to me in this dark chamber than outshining all in the galliard. Ha! Master Alwyn, I owe thee many thanks for making me know first the rare arts of this fair emblazoner. Move me yon stool, good Alwyn."
As the goldsmith obeyed, he glanced from Hastings to the blushing face and heaving bosom of Sibyll, and a deep and exquisite pang shot through his heart. It was not jealousy alone; it was anxiety, compassion, terror. The powerful Hastings, the ambitious lord, the accomplished libertine—what a fate for poor Sibyll, if for such a man the cheek blushed and the bosom heaved!
"Well, Master Warner," resumed Hastings, "thou art still silent as to thy progress."
The philosopher uttered an impatient groan. "Ah, I comprehend. The goldmaker must not speak of his craft before the goldsmith. Good Alwyn, thou mayest retire. All arts have their mysteries."
Alwyn, with a sombre brow, moved to the door.
"In sooth," he said, "I have overtarried, good my lord. The Lady Bonville will chide me; for she is of no patient temper."
"Bridle thy tongue, artisan, and begone!" said Hastings, with unusual haughtiness and petulance.
"I stung him there," muttered Alwyn, as he withdrew. "Oh, fool that I was to—nay, I thought it never, I did but dream it. What wonder we traders hate these silken lords! They reap, we sow; they trifle, we toil; they steal with soft words into the hearts which—Oh, Marmaduke, thou art right-right!—Stout men sit not down to weep beneath the willow. But she—the poor maiden—she looked so haughty and so happy. This is early May; will she wear that look when the autumn leaves are strewn?"
CHAPTER V. THE WOODVILLE INTRIGUE PROSPERS.—MONTAGU CONFERS WITH HASTINGS, VISITS THE ARCHBISHOP OF YORK, AND IS MET ON THE ROAD BY A STRANGE PERSONAGE.
And now the one topic at the court of King Edward IV. was the expected arrival of Anthony of Burgundy, Count de la Roche, bastard brother of Charolois, afterwards, as Duke of Burgundy, so famous as Charles the Bold. Few, indeed, out of the immediate circle of the Duchess of Bedford's confidants regarded the visit of this illustrious foreigner as connected with any object beyond the avowed one of chivalrous encounter with Anthony Woodville, the fulfilment of a challenge given by the latter two years before, at the time of the queen's coronation. The origin of this challenge, Anthony Woodville Lord Scales has himself explained in a letter to the bastard, still extant, and of which an extract may be seen in the popular and delightful biographies of Miss Strickland. [Queens of England, vol. iii. p. 380] It seems that, on the Wednesday before Easter Day, 1465, as Sir Anthony was speaking to his royal sister, "on his knees," all the ladies of the court gathered round him, and bound to his left knee a band of gold adorned with stones fashioned into the letters S. S. (souvenance or remembrance), and to this band was suspended an enamelled "Forget-me-not." "And one of the ladies said that 'he ought to take a step fitting for the times.'" This step was denoted by a letter on vellum, bound with a gold thread, placed in his cap; and having obtained the king's permission to bring the adventure of the flower of souvenance to a conclusion, the gallant Anthony forwarded the articles and the enamelled flower to the Bastard of Burgundy, beseeching him to touch the latter with his knightly hand, in token of his accepting the challenge. The Count de la Roche did so, but was not sent by his brother amongst the knights whom Charolois despatched to England, and the combat had been suspended to the present time.
But now the intriguing Rivers and his duchess gladly availed themselves of so fair a pretext for introducing to Edward the able brother of Warwick's enemy and the French prince's rival, Charles of Burgundy; and Anthony Woodville, too gentle and knightly a person to have abetted their cunning projects in any mode less chivalrous, willingly consented to revive a challenge in honour of the ladies of England.
The only one amongst the courtiers who seemed dissatisfied with the meditated visit of the doughty Burgundian champion was the Lord Montagu. This penetrating and experienced personage was not to be duped by an affectation of that chivalry which, however natural at the court of Edward III., was no longer in unison with the more intriguing and ambitious times over which presided the luxurious husband of Elizabeth Woodville. He had noticed of late, with suspicion, that Edward had held several councils with the anti-Nevile faction, from which he himself was excluded. The king, who heretofore had delighted in his companionship, had shown him marks of coldness and estrangement; and there was an exulting malice in the looks of the Duchess of Bedford, which augured some approaching triumph over the great family which the Woodvilles so openly laboured to supplant. One day, as Marmaduke was loitering in the courtyard of the Tower, laughing and jesting with his friends, Lord Montagu, issuing from the king's closet, passed him with a hurried step and a thoughtful brow. This haughty brother of the Earl of Warwick had so far attended to the recommendation of the latter, that he had with some courtesy excused himself to Marmaduke for his language in the archery-ground, and had subsequently, when seeing him in attendance on the king, honoured him with a stately nod, or a brief "Good morrow, young kinsman." But as his eye now rested on Marmaduke, while the group vailed their bonnets to the powerful courtier, he called him forth, with a familiar smile he had never before assumed, and drawing him apart, and leaning on his shoulder, much to the envy of the standers by, he said caressingly,—
"Dear kinsman Guy—"
"Marmaduke, please you, my lord."
"Dear kinsman Marmaduke, my brother esteems you for your father's sake. And, sooth to say, the Neviles are not so numerous in court as they were. Business and state matters have made me see too seldom those whom I would most affect. Wilt thou ride with me to the More Park? I would present thee to my brother the archbishop."
"If the king would graciously hold me excused."
"The king, sir! when I—I forgot," said Montagu, checking himself—"oh, as to that, the king stirs not out to-day! He hath with him a score of tailors and armourers in high council on the coming festivities. I will warrant thy release; and here comes Hastings, who shall confirm it."
"Fair my lord!"—as at that moment Hastings emerged from the little postern that gave egress from the apartments occupied by the alchemist of the Duchess of Bedford—"wilt thou be pleased, in thy capacity of chamberlain, to sanction my cousin in a day's absence? I would confer with him on family matters."
"Certes, a small favour to so deserving a youth. I will see to his deputy."
"A word with you, Hastings," said Montagu, thoughtfully, and he drew aside his fellow courtier: "what thinkest thou of this Burgundy bastard's visit?"
"That it has given a peacock's strut to the popinjay Anthony Woodville."
"Would that were all!" returned Montagu. "But the very moment that Warwick is negotiating with Louis of France, this interchange of courtesies with Louis's deadly foe, the Count of Charolois, is out of season."
"Nay, take it not so gravely,—a mere pastime."
"Hastings, thou knowest better. But thou art no friend of my great brother."
"Small cause have I to be so," answered Hastings, with a quivering lip. "To him and your father I owe as deep a curse as ever fell on the heart of man. I have lived to be above even Lord Warwick's insult. Yet young, I stand amongst the warriors and peers of England with a crest as haught and a scutcheon as stainless as the best. I have drunk deep of the world's pleasures. I command, as I list, the world's gaudy pomps, and I tell thee, that all my success in life countervails not the agony of the hour when all the bloom and loveliness of the earth faded into winter, and the only woman I ever loved was sacrificed to her brother's pride."
The large drops stood on the pale brow of the fortunate noble as he thus spoke, and his hollow voice affected even the worldly Montagu.
"Tush, Hastings!" said Montagu, kindly; "these are but a young man's idle memories. Are we not all fated, in our early years, to love in vain?—even I married not the maiden I thought the fairest, and held the dearest. For the rest, bethink thee,—thou wert then but a simple squire."
"But of as ancient and pure a blood as ever rolled its fiery essence through a Norman's veins."
"It may be so; but old Houses, when impoverished, are cheaply held. And thou must confess thou wert then no mate for Katherine. Now, indeed, it were different; now a Nevile might be proud to call Hastings brother."
"I know it," said Hastings, proudly,—"I know it, lord; and why? Because I have gold, and land, and the king's love, and can say, as the Centurion, to my fellow-man, 'Do this, and he doeth it;' and yet I tell thee, Lord Montagu, that I am less worthy now the love of beauty, the right hand of fellowship from a noble spirit, than I was then, when—the simple squire—my heart full of truth and loyalty, with lips that had never lied, with a soul never polluted by unworthy pleasures or mean intrigues, I felt that Katherine Nevile should never blush to own her fere and plighted lord in William de Hastings. Let this pass, let it pass! You call me no friend to Warwick. True! but I am a friend to the king he has served, and the land of my birth to which he has given peace; and therefore, not till Warwick desert Edward, not till he wake the land again to broil and strife, will I mingle in the plots of those who seek his downfall. If in my office and stated rank I am compelled to countenance the pageant of this mock tournament, and seem to honour the coming of the Count de la Roche, I will at least stand aloof and free from all attempt to apply a gaudy pageant to a dangerous policy; and on this pledge, Montagu, I give you my knightly hand."
"It suffices," answered Montagu, pressing the hand extended to him. "But the other day I heard the king's dissour tell him a tale of some tyrant, who silently showed a curious questioner how to govern a land, by cutting down, with his staff, the heads of the tallest poppies; and the Duchess of Bedford turned to me, and asked, 'What says a Nevile to the application?' 'Faith, lady,' said I, 'the Nevile poppies have oak stems.' Believe me, Hastings, these Woodvilles may grieve and wrong and affront Lord Warwick, but woe to all the pigmy goaders when the lion turns at bay!"
With this solemn menace, Montagu quitted Hastings, and passed on, leaning upon Marmaduke, and with a gloomy brow.
At the gate of the palace waited the Lord Montagu's palfrey and his retinue of twenty squires and thirty grooms. "Mount, Master Marmaduke, and take thy choice among these steeds, for we shall ride alone. There is no Nevile amongst these gentlemen." Marmaduke obeyed. The earl dismissed his retinue, and in little more than ten minutes,—so different, then, was the extent of the metropolis,—the noble and the squire were amidst the open fields.
They had gone several miles at a brisk trot before the earl opened his lips, and then, slackening his pace, he said abruptly, "How dost thou like the king? Speak out, youth; there are no eavesdroppers here."
"He is a most gracious master and a most winning gentleman."
"He is both," said Montagu, with a touch of emotion that surprised Marmaduke; "and no man can come near without loving him. And yet, Marmaduke (is that thy name?)—yet whether it be weakness or falseness, no man can be sure of his king's favour from day to day. We Neviles must hold fast to each other. Not a stick should be lost if the fagot is to remain unbroken. What say you?" and the earl's keen eye turned sharply on the young man.
"I say, my lord, that the Earl of Warwick was to me patron, lord, and father, when I entered yon city a friendless orphan; and that, though I covet honours, and love pleasure, and would be loth to lift finger or speak word against King Edward, yet were that princely lord—the head of mine House—an outcast and a beggar, by his side I would wander, for his bread I would beg."
"Young man," exclaimed Montagu, "from this hour I admit thee to my heart! Give me thy hand. Beggar and outcast?—No! If the storm come, the meaner birds take to shelter, the eagle remains solitary in heaven!" So saying, he relapsed into silence, and put spurs to his steed. Towards the decline of day they drew near to the favourite palace of the Archbishop of York. There the features of the country presented a more cultivated aspect than it had hitherto worn. For at that period the lands of the churchmen were infinitely in advance of those of the laity in the elementary arts of husbandry, partly because the ecclesiastic proprietors had greater capital at their command, partly because their superior learning had taught them to avail themselves, in some measure, of the instructions of the Latin writers. Still the prevailing characteristic of the scenery was pasture land,—immense tracts of common supported flocks of sheep; the fragrance of new-mown hay breathed sweet from many a sunny field. In the rear stretched woods of Druid growth; and in the narrow lanes, that led to unfrequent farms and homesteads, built almost entirely either of wood or (more primitive still) of mud and clay, profuse weeds, brambles, and wild-flowers almost concealed the narrow pathway, never intended for cart or wagon, and arrested the slow path of the ragged horse bearing the scanty produce of acres to yard or mill. But though to the eye of an economist or philanthropist broad England now, with its variegated agriculture, its wide roads, its white-walled villas, and numerous towns, may present a more smiling countenance, to the early lover of Nature, fresh from the child-like age of poetry and romance, the rich and lovely verdure which gave to our mother-country the name of "Green England;" its wild woods and covert alleys, proffering adventure to fancy; its tranquil heaths, studded with peaceful flocks, and vocal, from time to time, with the rude scrannel of the shepherd,—had a charm which we can understand alone by the luxurious reading of our elder writers. For the country itself ministered to that mingled fancy and contemplation which the stirring and ambitious life of towns and civilization has in much banished from our later literature.
Even the thoughtful Montagu relaxed his brow as he gazed around, and he said to Marmaduke, in a gentle and subdued voice,—
"Methinks, young cousin, that in such scenes, those silly rhymes taught us in our childhood of the green woods and the summer cuckoos, of bold Robin and Maid Marian, ring back in our ears. Alas that this fair land should be so often dyed in the blood of her own children! Here, how the thought shrinks from broils and war,—civil war, war between brother and brother, son and father! In the city and the court, we forget others overmuch, from the too keen memory of ourselves."
Scarcely had Montagu said these words, before there suddenly emerged from a bosky lane to the right a man mounted upon a powerful roan horse. His dress was that of a substantial franklin; a green surtout of broadcloth, over a tight vest of the same colour, left, to the admiration of a soldierly eye, an expanse of chest that might have vied with the mighty strength of Warwick himself. A cap, somewhat like a turban, fell in two ends over the left cheek, till they touched the shoulder, and the upper part of the visage was concealed by a half-vizard, not unfrequently worn out of doors with such head-gear, as a shade from the sun. Behind this person rode, on a horse equally powerful, a man of shorter stature, but scarcely less muscular a frame, clad in a leathern jerkin, curiously fastened with thongs, and wearing a steel bonnet, projecting far over the face.
The foremost of these strangers, coming thus unawares upon the courtiers, reined in his steed, and said in a clear, full voice, "Good evening to you, my masters. It is not often that these roads witness riders in silk and pile."
"Friend," quoth the Montagu, "may the peace we enjoy under the White Rose increase the number of all travellers through our land, whether in pile or russet!"
"Peace, sir!" returned the horseman, roughly,—"peace is no blessing to poor men, unless it bring something more than life,—the means to live in security and ease. Peace hath done nothing for the poor of England. Why, look you towards yon gray tower,—the owner is, forsooth, gentleman and knight; but yesterday he and his men broke open a yeoman's house, carried off his wife and daughters to his tower, and refuseth to surrender them till ransomed by half the year's produce on the yeoman's farm."
"A caitiff and illegal act," said Montagu.
"Illegal! But the law will notice it not,—why should it? Unjust, if it punish the knight and dare not touch the king's brother!"
"I say the king's brother! Scarcely a month since, twenty-four persons under George Duke of Clarence entered by force a lady's house, and seized her jewels and her money, upon some charge, God wot, of contriving mischief to the boy-duke. [See for this and other instances of the prevalent contempt of law in the reign of Edward IV., and, indeed, during the fifteenth century, the extracts from the Parliamentary Rolls, quoted by Sharon Turner, "History of England," vol. iii. p. 399.] Are not the Commons ground by imposts for the queen's kindred? Are not the king's officers and purveyors licensed spoilers and rapiners? Are not the old chivalry banished for new upstarts? And in all this, is peace better than war?"
"Knowest thou not that these words are death, man?"
"Ay, in the city! but in the fields and waste thought is free. Frown not, my lord. Ah, I know you, and the time may come when the baron will act what the franklin speaks. What! think you I see not the signs of the storm? Are Warwick and Montagu more safe with Edward than they were with Henry? Look to thyself! Charolois will outwit King Louis, and ere the year be out, the young Margaret of England will be lady of your brave brother's sternest foe!"
"And who art thou, knave?" cried Montagu, aghast, and laying his gloved hand on the bold prophet's bridle.
"One who has sworn the fall of the House of York, and may live to fight, side by side, in that cause with Warwick; for Warwick, whatever be his faults, has an English heart, and loves the Commons."
Montagu, uttering an exclamation of astonishment, relaxed hold of the franklin's bridle; and the latter waved his hand, and spurring his steed across the wild chain of commons, disappeared with his follower.
"A sturdy traitor!" muttered the earl, following him with his eye. "One of the exiled Lancastrian lords, perchance. Strange how they pierce into our secrets! Heardst thou that fellow, Marmaduke?"
"Only in a few sentences, and those brought my hand to my dagger. But as thou madest no sign, I thought his grace the king could not be much injured by empty words."
"True! and misfortune has ever a shrewish tongue."
"An' it please you, my lord," quoth Marmaduke, "I have seen the man before, and it seemeth to me that he holds much power over the rascal rabble." And here Marmaduke narrated the attack upon Warner's house, and how it was frustrated by the intercession of Robin of Redesdale.
"Art thou sure it is the same man, for his face was masked?"
"My lord, in the North, as thou knowest, we recognize men by their forms, not faces,—as in truth we ought, seeing that it is the sinews and bulk, not the lips and nose, that make a man a useful friend or dangerous foe."
Montagu smiled at this soldierly simplicity. "And heard you the name the raptrils shouted?"
"Robin, my lord. They cried out 'Robin,' as if it had been a 'Montagu I or a 'Warwick.'"
"Robin! ah, then I guess the man,—a most perilous and stanch Lancastrian. He has more weight with the poor than had Cade the rebel, and they say Margaret trusts him as much as she does an Exeter or Somerset. I marvel that he should show himself so near the gates of London. It must be looked to. But come, cousin. Our steeds are breathed,—let us on!"
On arriving at the More, its stately architecture, embellished by the prelate with a facade of double arches, painted and blazoned somewhat in the fashion of certain old Italian houses, much dazzled Marmaduke. And the splendour of the archbishop's retinue—less martial indeed than Warwick's—was yet more imposing to the common eye. Every office that pomp could devise for a king's court was to be found in the household of this magnificent prelate,—master of the horse and the hounds, chamberlain, treasurer, pursuivant, herald, seneschal, captain of the body-guard, etc.,—and all emulously sought for and proudly held by gentlemen of the first blood and birth. His mansion was at once a court for middle life, a school for youth, an asylum for age; and thither, as to a Medici, fled the letters and the arts.
Through corridor and hall, lined with pages and squires, passed Montagu and Marmaduke, till they gained a quaint garden, the wonder and envy of the time, planned by an Italian of Mantua, and perhaps the stateliest one of the kind existent in England. Straight walks, terraces, and fountains, clipped trees, green alleys, and smooth bowling-greens abounded; but the flowers were few and common: and if here and there a statue might be found, it possessed none of the art so admirable in our earliest ecclesiastical architecture, but its clumsy proportions were made more uncouth by a profusion of barbaric painting and gilding. The fountains, however, were especially curious, diversified, and elaborate: some shot up as pyramids, others coiled in undulating streams, each jet chasing the other as serpents; some, again, branched off in the form of trees, while mimic birds, perched upon leaden boughs, poured water from their bills. Marmaduke, much astonished and bewildered, muttered a paternoster in great haste; and even the clerical rank of the prelate did not preserve him from the suspicion of magical practices in the youth's mind.
Remote from all his train, in a little arbour overgrown with the honeysuckle and white rose, a small table before him bearing fruits, confectionery, and spiced wines (for the prelate was a celebrated epicure, though still in the glow of youth), they found George Nevile, reading lazily a Latin manuscript.
"Well, my dear lord and brother," said Montagu, laying his arm on the prelate's shoulder, "first let me present to thy favour a gallant youth, Marmaduke Nevile, worthy his name and thy love."
"He is welcome, Montagu, to our poor house," said the archbishop, rising, and complacently glancing at his palace, splendidly gleaming through the trellis-work. "'Puer ingenui vultus.' Thou art acquainted, doubtless, young sir, with the Humaner Letters?"
"Well-a-day, my lord, my nurturing was somewhat neglected in the province," said Marmaduke, disconcerted, and deeply blushing, "and only of late have I deemed the languages fit study for those not reared for our Mother Church."
"Fie, sir, fie! Correct that error, I pray thee. Latin teaches the courtier how to thrive, the soldier how to manoeuvre, the husbandman how to sow; and if we churchmen are more cunning, as the profane call us (and the prelate smiled) than ye of the laity, the Latin must answer for the sins of our learning."
With this, the archbishop passed his arm affectionately through his brother's, and said, "Beshrew me, Montagu, thou lookest worn and weary. Surely thou lackest food, and supper shall be hastened. Even I, who have but slender appetite, grow hungered in these cool gloaming hours."
"Dismiss my comrade, George,—I would speak to thee," whispered Montagu.
"Thou knowest not Latin?" said the archbishop, turning with a compassionate eye to Nevile, whose own eye was amorously fixed on the delicate confectioneries,—"never too late to learn. Hold, here is a grammar of the verbs, that, with mine own hand, I have drawn up for youth. Study thine amo and thy moneo, while I confer on Church matters with giddy Montagu. I shall expect, ere we sup, that thou wilt have mastered the first tenses."
"Oh, nay, nay; but me no buts. Thou art too tough, I fear me, for flagellation, a wondrous improver of tender youth,"—and the prelate forced his grammar into the reluctant hands of Marmaduke, and sauntered down one of the solitary alleys with his brother.
Long and earnest was their conference, and at one time keen were their dispute's.
The archbishop had very little of the energy of Montagu or the impetuosity of Warwick, but he had far more of what we now call mind, as distinct from talent, than either; that is, he had not their capacities for action, but he had a judgment and sagacity that made him considered a wise and sound adviser: this he owed principally to the churchman's love of ease, and to his freedom from the wear and tear of the passions which gnawed the great minister and the aspiring courtier; his natural intellect was also fostered by much learning. George Nevile had been reared, by an Italian ecclesiastic, in all the subtle diplomacy of the Church; and his ambition, despising lay objects (though he consented to hold the office of chancellor), was concentrated in that kingdom over kings which had animated the august dominators of religious Rome. Though, as we have said, still in that age when the affections are usually vivid, [He was consecrated Bishop of Exeter at the age of twenty; at twenty-six he became Archbishop of York, and was under thirty at the time referred to in the text.] George Nevile loved no human creature,—not even his brothers; not even King Edward, who, with all his vices, possessed so eminently the secret that wins men's hearts. His early and entire absorption in the great religious community, which stood apart from the laymen in order to control them, alienated him from his kind; and his superior instruction only served to feed him with a calm and icy contempt for all that prejudice, as he termed it, held dear and precious. He despised the knight's wayward honour, the burgher's crafty honesty. For him no such thing as principle existed; and conscience itself lay dead in the folds of a fancied exemption from all responsibility to the dull herd, that were but as wool and meat to the churchman shepherd. But withal, if somewhat pedantic, he had in his manner a suavity and elegance and polish which suited well his high station, and gave persuasion to his counsels. In all externals he was as little like a priest as the high-born prelates of that day usually were. In dress he rivalled the fopperies of the Plantagenet brothers; in the chase he was more ardent than Warwick had been in his earlier youth; and a dry sarcastic humour, sometimes elevated into wit, gave liveliness to his sagacious converse.
Montagu desired that the archbishop and himself should demand solemn audience of Edward, and gravely remonstrate with the king on the impropriety of receiving the brother of a rival suitor, while Warwick was negotiating the marriage of Margaret with a prince of France.
"Nay," said the archbishop, with a bland smile, that fretted Montagu to the quick, "surely even a baron, a knight, a franklin, a poor priest like myself, would rise against the man who dictated to his hospitality. Is a king less irritable than baron, knight, franklin, and priest,—or rather, being, as it were, per legem, lord of all, hath he not irritability eno' for all four? Ay, tut and tush as thou wilt, John, but thy sense must do justice to my counsel at the last. I know Edward well; he hath something of mine own idlesse and ease of temper, but with more of the dozing lion than priests, who have only, look you, the mildness of the dove. Prick up his higher spirit, not by sharp remonstrance, but by seeming trust. Observe to him, with thy gay, careless laugh—which, methinks, thou hast somewhat lost of late—that with any other prince Warwick might suspect some snare, some humiliating overthrow of his embassage, but that all men know how steadfast in faith and honour is Edward IV."
"Truly," said Montagu, with a forced smile, "you understand mankind; but yet, bethink you—suppose this fail, and Warwick return to England to hear that he hath been cajoled and fooled; that the Margaret he had crossed the seas to affiance to the brother of Louis is betrothed to Charolois—bethink you, I say, what manner of heart beats under our brother's mail."
"Impiger, iracundus!" said the archbishop; "a very Achilles, to whom our English Agamemnon, if he cross him, is a baby. All this is sad truth; our parents spoilt him in his childhood, and glory in his youth, and wealth, power, success, in his manhood. Ay! if Warwick be chafed, it will be as the stir of the sea-serpent, which, according to the Icelanders, moves a world. Still, the best way to prevent the danger is to enlist the honour of the king in his behalf,—to show that our eyes are open, but that we disdain to doubt, and are frank to confide. Meanwhile send messages and warnings privately to Warwick."
These reasonings finally prevailed with Montagu, and the brothers returned with one mind to the house. Here, as after their ablutions they sat down to the evening meal, the archbishop remembered poor Marmaduke, and despatched to him one of his thirty household chaplains. Marmaduke was found fast asleep over the second tense of the verb amo.
CHAPTER VI. THE ARRIVAL OF THE COUNT DE LA ROCHE, AND THE VARIOUS EXCITEMENT PRODUCED ON MANY PERSONAGES BY THAT EVENT.
The prudence of the archbishop's counsel was so far made manifest, that on the next day Montagu found all remonstrance would have been too late. The Count de la Roche had already landed, and was on his way to London. The citizens, led by Rivers partially to suspect the object of the visit, were delighted not only by the prospect of a brilliant pageant, but by the promise such a visit conveyed of a continued peace with their commercial ally; and the preparations made by the wealthy merchants increased the bitterness and discontent of Montagu. At length, at the head of a gallant and princely retinue, the Count de la Roche entered London. Though Hastings made no secret of his distaste to the Count de la Roche's visit, it became his office as lord chamberlain to meet the count at Blackwall, and escort him and his train, in gilded barges, to the palace.
In the great hall of the Tower, in which the story of Antiochus was painted by the great artists employed under Henry III., and on the elevation of the dais, behind which, across Gothic columns, stretched draperies of cloth-of-gold, was placed Edward's chair of state. Around him were grouped the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, the Lords Worcester, Montagu, Rivers, D'Eyncourt, St. John, Raoul de Fulke, and others. But at the threshold of the chamber stood Anthony Woodville, the knightly challenger, his knee bound by the ladye-badge of the S. S., and his fine person clad in white-flowered velvet of Genoa, adorned with pearls. Stepping forward, as the count appeared, the gallant Englishman bent his knee half-way to the ground, and raising the count's hand to his lips, said in French, "Deign, noble sir, to accept the gratitude of one who were not worthy of encounter from so peerless a hand, save by the favour of the ladies of England, and your own courtesy, which ennobles him whom it stoops to." So saying, he led the count towards the king.
De la Roche, an experienced and profound courtier, and justly deserving Hall's praise as a man of "great witte, courage, valiantness, and liberalitie," did not affect to conceal the admiration which the remarkable presence of Edward never failed to excite; lifting his hand to his eyes, as if to shade them from a sudden blaze of light, he would have fallen on both knees, but Edward with quick condescension raised him, and, rising himself, said gayly,—
"Nay, Count de la Roche, brave and puissant chevalier, who hath crossed the seas in honour of knighthood and the ladies, we would, indeed, that our roiaulme boasted a lord like thee, from whom we might ask such homage. But since thou art not our subject, it consoles us at least that thou art our guest. By our halidame, Lord Scales, thou must look well to thy lance and thy steed's girths, for never, I trow, hast thou met a champion of goodlier strength and knightlier mettle."
"My lord king," answered the count, "I fear me, indeed, that a knight like the Sieur Anthony, who fights under the eyes of such a king, will prove invincible. Did kings enter the lists with kings, where, through broad Christendom, find a compeer for your Highness?"
"Your brother, Sir Count, if fame lies not," returned Edward, slightly laughing, and lightly touching the Bastard's shoulder, "were a fearful lance to encounter, even though Charlemagne himself were to revive with his twelve paladins at his back. Tell us, Sir Count," added the king, drawing himself up,—"tell us, for we soldiers are curious in such matters, hath not the Count of Charolois the advantage of all here in sinews and stature?"
"Sire," returned De la Roche, "my princely brother is indeed mighty with the brand and battle-axe, but your Grace is taller by half the head,—and, peradventure, of even a more stalwart build; but that mere strength in your Highness is not that gift of God which strikes the beholder most."
Edward smiled good-humouredly at a compliment the truth of which was too obvious to move much vanity, and said with a royal and knightly grace, "Our House of York hath been taught, Sir Count, to estimate men's beauty by men's deeds, and therefore the Count of Charolois hath long been known to us—who, alas, have seen him not!—as the fairest gentleman of Europe. My Lord Scales, we must here publicly crave your pardon. Our brother-in-law, Sir Count, would fain have claimed his right to hold you his guest, and have graced himself by exclusive service to your person. We have taken from him his lawful office, for we kings are jealous, and would not have our subjects more honoured than ourselves." Edward turned round to his courtiers as he spoke, and saw that his last words had called a haughty and angry look to the watchful countenance of Montagu. "Lord Hastings," he continued, "to your keeping, as our representative, we intrust this gentleman. He must need refreshment ere we present him to our queen."
The count bowed to the ground, and reverently withdrew from the royal presence, accompanied by Hastings. Edward then, singling Anthony Woodville and Lord Rivers from the group, broke up the audience, and, followed by those two noblemen, quitted the hall.
Montagu, whose countenance had recovered the dignified and high-born calm habitual to it, turned to the Duke of Clarence, and observed indifferently, "The Count de la Roche hath a goodly mien, and a fair tongue."
"Pest on these Burgundians!" answered Clarence, in an undertone, and drawing Montagu aside. "I would wager my best greyhound to a scullion's cur that our English knights will lower their burgonets."
"Nay, sir, an idle holiday show. What matters whose lance breaks, or whose destrier stumbles?"
"Will you not, yourself, cousin Montagu—you who are so peerless in the joust—take part in the fray?"
"I, your Highness,—I, the brother of the Earl of Warwick, whom this pageant hath been devised by the Woodvilles to mortify and disparage in his solemn embassy to Burgundy's mightiest foe!—I!"
"Sooth to say," said the young prince, much embarrassed, "it grieves me sorely to hear thee speak as if Warwick would be angered at this pastime. For, look you, Montagu, I, thinking only of my hate to Burgundy and my zeal for our English honour, have consented, as high constable, and despite my grudge to the Woodvilles, to bear the bassinet of our own champion, and—"
"Saints in heaven!" exclaimed Montagu, with a burst of his fierce brother's temper, which he immediately checked, and changed into a tone that concealed, beneath outward respect, the keenest irony, "I crave your pardon humbly for my vehemence, Prince of Clarence. I suddenly remember me that humility is the proper virtue of knighthood. Your Grace does indeed set a notable example of that virtue to the peers of England; and my poor brother's infirmity of pride will stand rebuked for aye, when he hears that George Plantagenet bore the bassinet of Anthony Woodville."
"But it is for the honour of the ladies," said Clarence, falteringly; "in honour of the fairest maid of all—the flower of English beauty—the Lady Isabel—that I—"
"Your Highness will pardon me," interrupted Montagu; "but I do trust to your esteem for our poor and insulted House of Nevile so far as to be assured that the name of my niece Isabel will not be submitted to the ribald comments of a base-born Burgundian."
"Then I will break no lance in the lists!"
"As it likes you, prince," replied Montagu, shortly; and, with a low bow, he quitted the chamber, and was striding to the outer gate of the Tower, when a sweet, clear voice behind him called him by his name. He turned abruptly, to meet the dark eye and all-subduing smile of the boy-Duke of Gloucester.
"A word with you, Montagu, noblest and most prized, with your princely brothers, of the champions of our House,—I read your generous indignation with our poor Clarence. Ay, sir! ay!—it was a weakness in him that moved even me. But you have not now to learn that his nature, how excellent soever, is somewhat unsteady. His judgment alone lacks weight and substance,—ever persuaded against his better reason by those who approach his infirmer side; but if it be true that our cousin Warwick intends for him the hand of the peerless Isabel, wiser heads will guide his course."
"My brother," said Montagu, greatly softened, "is much beholden to your Highness for a steady countenance and friendship, for which I also, believe me—and the families of Beauchamp, Montagu, and Nevile—are duly grateful. But to speak plainly (which your Grace's youthful candour, so all-acknowledged, will permit), the kinsmen of the queen do now so aspire to rule this land, to marry or forbid to marry, not only our own children, but your illustrious father's, that I foresee in this visit of the bastard Anthony the most signal disgrace to Warwick that ever king passed upon ambassador or gentleman. And this moves me more!—yea, I vow to Saint George, my patron, it moves me more—by the thought of danger to your royal House than by the grief of slight to mine; for Warwick—but you know him."
"Montagu, you must soothe and calm your brother if chafed. I impose that task on your love for us. Alack, would that Edward listened more to me and less to the queen's kith! These Woodvilles!—and yet they may live to move not wrath but pity. If aught snapped the thread of Edward's life (Holy Paul forbid!), what would chance to Elizabeth, her brothers, her children?"
"Her children would mount the throne that our right hands built," said Montagu, sullenly.
"Ah, think you so?—you rejoice me! I had feared that the barons might, that the commons would, that the Church must, pronounce the unhappy truth, that—but you look amazed, my lord! Alas, my boyish years are too garrulous!"
"I catch not your Highness's meaning."
"Pooh, pooh! By Saint Paul, your seeming dulness proves your loyalty; but with me, the king's brother, frankness were safe. Thou knowest well that the king was betrothed before to the Lady Eleanor Talbot; that such betrothal, not set aside by the Pope, renders his marriage with Elizabeth against law; that his children may (would to Heaven it were not so!) be set aside as bastards, when Edward's life no longer shields them from the sharp eyes of men."
"Ah," said Montagu, thoughtfully; "and in that case, George of Clarence would wear the crown, and his children reign in England."
"Our Lord forefend," said Richard, "that I should say that Warwick thought of this when he deemed George worthy of the hand of Isabel. Nay, it could not be so; for, however clear the claim, strong and powerful would be those who would resist it, and Clarence is not, as you will see, the man who can wrestle boldly,—even for a throne. Moreover, he is too addicted to wine and pleasure to bid fair to outlive the king."
Montagu fixed his penetrating eyes on Richard, but dropped them, abashed, before that steady, deep, unrevealing gaze, which seemed to pierce into other hearts, and show nothing of the heart within.
"Happy Clarence!" resumed the prince, with a heavy sigh, and after a brief pause,—"a Nevile's husband and a Warwick's son—what can the saints do more for men? You must excuse his errors—all our errors—to your brother. You may not know, peradventure, sweet Montagu, how deep an interest I have in maintaining all amity between Lord Warwick and the king. For methinks there is one face fairer than fair Isabel's, and one man more to be envied than even Clarence. Fairest face to me in the wide world is the Lady Anne's! happiest man between the cradle and the grave is he whom the Lady Anne shall call her lord! and if I—oh, look you, Montagu, let there be no breach between Warwick and the king! Fare you well, dear lord and cousin,—I go to Baynard's Castle till these feasts are over."
"Does not your Grace," said Montagu, recovering from the surprise into which one part of Gloucester's address had thrown him—"does not your Grace—so skilled in lance and horsemanship—preside at the lists?"
"Montagu, I love your brother well enough to displease my king. The great earl shall not say, at least, that Richard Plantagenet in his absence forgot the reverence due to loyalty and merit. Tell him that; and if I seem (unlike Clarence) to forbear to confront the queen and her kindred, it is because you should make no enemies,—not the less for that should princes forget no friends."
Richard said this with a tone of deep feeling, and, folding his arms within his furred surcoat, walked slowly on to a small postern admitting to the river; but there, pausing by a buttress which concealed him till Montagu had left the yard, instead of descending to his barge, he turned back into the royal garden. Here several of the court of both sexes were assembled, conferring on the event of the day. Richard halted at a distance, and contemplated their gay dresses and animated countenances with something between melancholy and scorn upon his young brow. One of the most remarkable social characteristics of the middle ages is the prematurity at which the great arrived at manhood, shared in its passions, and indulged its ambitions. Among the numerous instances in our own and other countries that might be selected from history, few are more striking than that of this Duke of Gloucester, great in camp and in council at an age when nowadays a youth is scarcely trusted to the discipline of a college. The whole of his portentous career was closed, indeed, before the public life of modern ambition usually commences. Little could those accustomed to see on our stage "the elderly ruffian" [Sharon Turner] our actors represent, imagine that at the opening of Shakspeare's play of "Richard the Third" the hero was but in his nineteenth year; but at the still more juvenile age in which he appears in this our record, Richard of Gloucester was older in intellect, and almost in experience, than many a wise man at the date of thirty-three,—the fatal age when his sun set forever on the field of Bosworth!
The young prince, then, eyed the gaudy, fluttering, babbling assemblage before him with mingled melancholy and scorn. Not that he felt, with the acuteness which belongs to modern sentiment, his bodily defects amidst that circle of the stately and the fair, for they were not of a nature to weaken his arm in war or lessen his persuasive influences in peace. But it was rather that sadness which so often comes over an active and ambitious intellect in early youth, when it pauses to ask, in sorrow and disdain, what its plots and counterplots, its restlessness and strife, are really worth. The scene before him was of pleasure,—but in pleasure neither the youth nor the manhood of Richard III. was ever pleased; though not absolutely of the rigid austerity of Amadis or our Saxon Edward, he was comparatively free from the licentiousness of his times. His passions were too large for frivolous excitements. Already the Italian, or, as it is falsely called, the Machiavelian policy, was pervading the intellect of Europe, and the effects of its ruthless, grand, and deliberate statecraft are visible from the accession of Edward IV. till the close of Elizabeth's reign. With this policy, which reconciled itself to crime as a necessity of wisdom, was often blended a refinement of character which disdained vulgar vices. Not skilled alone in those knightly accomplishments which induced Caxton, with propriety, to dedicate to Richard "The Book of the Order of Chivalry," the Duke of Gloucester's more peaceful amusements were borrowed from severer Graces than those which presided over the tastes of his royal brothers. He loved, even to passion, the Arts, Music,—especially of the more Doric and warlike kind,—Painting and Architecture; he was a reader of books, as of men,—the books that become princes,—and hence that superior knowledge of the principles of law and of commerce which his brief reign evinced. More like an Italian in all things than the careless Norman or the simple Saxon, Machiavel might have made of his character a companion, though a contrast to that of Castruccio Castrucani.
The crowd murmured and rustled at the distance, and still with folded arms Richard gazed aloof, when a lady, entering the garden from the palace, passed by him so hastily that she brushed his surcoat, and, turning round in surprise, made a low reverence, as she exclaimed, "Prince Richard! and alone amidst so many!"
"Lady," said the duke, "it was a sudden hope that brought me into this garden,—and that was the hope to see your fair face shining above the rest."
"Your Highness jests," returned the lady, though her superb countenance and haughty carriage evinced no opinion of herself so humble as her words would imply.
"My Lady of Bonville," said the young duke, laying his hand on her arm, "mirth is not in my thoughts at this hour."
"I believe your Highness; for the Lord Richard Plantagenet is not one of the Woodvilles. The mirth is theirs to-day."
"Let who will have mirth,—it is the breath of a moment. Mirth cannot tarnish glory,—the mirror in which the gods are glassed."
"I understand you, my lord," said the proud lady; and her face, before stern and high, brightened into so lovely a change, so soft and winning a smile, that Gloucester no longer marvelled that that smile had rained so large an influence on the fate and heart of his favourite Hastings. The beauty of this noble woman was indeed remarkable in its degree, and peculiar in its character. She bore a stronger likeness in feature to the archbishop than to either of her other brothers; for the prelate had the straight and smooth outline of the Greeks,—not like Montagu and Warwick, the lordlier and manlier aquiline of the Norman race,—and his complexion was feminine in its pale clearness. But though in this resembling the subtlest of the brethren, the fair sister shared with Warwick an expression, if haughty, singularly frank and candid in its imperious majesty; she had the same splendid and steady brilliancy of eye, the same quick quiver of the lip, speaking of nervous susceptibility and haste of mood. The hateful fashion of that day which pervaded all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, was the prodigal use of paints and cosmetics, and all imaginable artificial adjuncts of a spurious beauty. This extended often even to the men, and the sturdiest warrior deemed it no shame to recur to such arts of the toilet as the vainest wanton in our day would never venture to acknowledge. But the Lady Bonville, proudly confident of her beauty, and possessing a purity of mind that revolted from the littleness of courting admiration, contrasted forcibly in this the ladies of the court. Her cheek was of a marble whiteness, though occasionally a rising flush through the clear, rich, transparent skin showed that in earlier youth the virgin bloom had not been absent from the surface. There was in her features, when they reposed, somewhat of the trace of suffering,—of a struggle, past it may be, but still remembered. But when she spoke, those features lighted up and undulated in such various and kindling life as to dazzle, to bewitch, or to awe the beholder, according as the impulse moulded the expression. Her dress suited her lofty and spotless character. Henry VI. might have contemplated with holy pleasure its matronly decorum; the jewelled gorget ascended to the rounded and dimpled chin; the arms were bare only at the wrists, where the blue veins were seen through a skin of snow; the dark glossy locks, which her tirewoman boasted, when released, swept the ground, were gathered into a modest and simple braid, surmounted by the beseeming coronet that proclaimed her rank. The Lady Bonville might have stood by the side of Cornelia, the model of a young and high-born matron, in whose virtue the honour of man might securely dwell.
"I understand you, my lord," she said, with her bright, thankful smile; "and as Lord Warwick's sister, I am grateful."
"Your love for the great earl proves you are noble enough to forgive," said Richard, meaningly. "Nay, chide me not with that lofty look; you know that there are no secrets between Hastings and Gloucester."
"My lord duke, the head of a noble House hath the right to dispose of the hands of the daughters; I know nothing in Lord Warwick to forgive."
But she turned her head as she spoke, and a tear for a moment trembled in that haughty eye.
"Lady," said Richard, moved to admiration, "to you let me confide my secret. I would be your nephew. Boy though I be in years, my heart beats as loudly as a man's; and that heart beats for Anne."
"The love of Richard Plantagenet honours even Warwick's daughter!"
"Think you so? Then stand my friend; and, being thus my friend, intercede with Warwick, if he angers at the silly holiday of this Woodville pageant."
"Alas, sir! you know that Warwick listens to no interceders between himself and his passions. But what then? Grant him wronged, aggrieved, trifled with,—what then? Can he injure the House of York?"
Richard looked in some surprise at the fair speaker.
"Can he injure the House of York?—Marry, yes," he replied bluntly.
"But for what end? Whom else should he put upon the throne?"
"What if he forgive the Lancastrians? What if—"
"Utter not the thought, prince, breathe it not," exclaimed the Lady Bonville, almost fiercely. "I love and honour my brave brother, despite—despite—" She paused a moment, blushed, and proceeded rapidly, without concluding the sentence. "I love him as a woman of his House must love the hero who forms its proudest boast. But if, for any personal grudge, any low ambition, any rash humour, the son of my father Salisbury could forget that Margaret of Anjou placed the gory head of that old man upon the gates of York, could by word or deed abet the cause of usurping and bloody Lancaster,—I would—I would—Out upon my sex! I could do nought but weep the glory of Nevile and Monthermer gone forever."
Before Richard could reply, the sound of musical instruments, and a procession of heralds and pages proceeding from the palace, announced the approach of Edward. He caught the hand of the dame of Bonville, lifted it to his lips, and saying, "May fortune one day permit me to face as the earl's son the earl's foes," made his graceful reverence, glided from the garden, gained his barge, and was rowed to the huge pile of Baynard's Castle, lately reconstructed, but in a gloomy and barbaric taste, and in which, at that time, he principally resided with his mother, the once peerless Rose of Raby.
The Lady of Bonville paused a moment, and in that pause her countenance recovered its composure. She then passed on, with a stately step, towards a group of the ladies of the court, and her eye noted with proud pleasure that the highest names of the English knighthood and nobility, comprising the numerous connections of her family, formed a sullen circle apart from the rest, betokening, by their grave countenances and moody whispers, how sensitively they felt the slight to Lord Warwick's embassy in the visit of the Count de la Roche, and how little they were disposed to cringe to the rising sun of the Woodvilles. There, collected into a puissance whose discontent hard sufficed to shake a firmer throne (the young Raoul de Fulke, the idolater of Warwick, the impersonation in himself of the old Norman seignorie, in their centre), with folded arms and lowering brows, stood the earl's kinsmen, the Lords Fitzhugh and Fauconberg: with them, Thomas Lord Stanley, a prudent noble, who rarely sided with a malcontent, and the Lord St. John, and the heir of the ancient Bergavennies, and many another chief, under whose banner marched an army. Richard of Gloucester had shown his wit in refusing to mingle in intrigues which provoked the ire of that martial phalanx. As the Lady of Bonville swept by these gentlemen, their murmur of respectful homage, their profound salutation, and unbonneted heads, contrasted forcibly with the slight and grave, if not scornful, obeisance they had just rendered to one of the queen's sisters, who had passed a moment before in the same direction. The lady still moved on, and came suddenly across the path of Hastings, as, in his robes of state, he issued from the palace. Their eyes met, and both changed colour.