"So, my lord chamberlain," said the dame, sarcastically, "the Count de la Roche is, I hear, consigned to your especial charge."
"A charge the chamberlain cannot refuse, and which William Hastings does not covet."
"A king had never asked Montagu and Warwick to consider amongst their duties any charge they had deemed dishonouring."
"Dishonouring, Lady Bonville!" exclaimed Hastings, with a bent brow and a flushed cheek,—"neither Montagu nor Warwick had, with safety, applied to me the word that has just passed your lips."
"I crave your pardon," answered Katherine, bitterly. "Mine articles of faith in men's honour are obsolete or heretical. I had deemed it dishonouring in a noble nature to countenance insult to a noble enemy in his absence. I had deemed it dishonouring in a brave soldier, a well-born gentleman (now from his valiantness, merit, and wisdom become a puissant and dreaded lord), to sink into that lackeydom and varletaille which falsehood and cringing have stablished in these walls, and baptized under the name of 'courtiers.' Better had Katherine de Bonville esteemed Lord Hastings had he rather fallen under a king's displeasure than debased his better self to a Woodville's dastard schemings."
"Lady, you are cruel and unjust, like all your haughty race; and idle were reply to one who, of all persons, should have judged me better. For the rest, if this mummery humbles Lord Warwick, gramercy! there is nothing in my memory that should make my share in it a gall to my conscience; nor do I owe the Neviles so large a gratitude, that rather than fret the pile of their pride, I should throw down the scaffolding on which my fearless step hath clomb to as fair a height, and one perhaps that may overlook as long a posterity, as the best baron that ever quartered the Raven Eagle and the Dun Bull. But," resumed Hastings, with a withering sarcasm, "doubtless the Lady de Bonville more admires the happy lord who holds himself, by right of pedigree, superior to all things that make the statesman wise, the scholar learned, and the soldier famous. Way there—back, gentles,"—and Hastings turned to the crowd behind,—"way there, for my lord of Harrington and Bonville!"
The bystanders smiled at each other as they obeyed; and a heavy, shambling, graceless man, dressed in the most exaggerated fopperies of the day, but with a face which even sickliness, that refines most faces, could not divest of the most vacant dulness, and a mien and gait to which no attire could give dignity, passed through the group, bowing awkwardly to the right and left, and saying, in a thick, husky voice, "You are too good, sirs,—too good: I must not presume so overmuch on my seignorie. The king would keep me,—he would indeed, sirs; um—um—why, Katherine—dame—thy stiff gorget makes me ashamed of thee. Thou wouldst not think, Lord Hastings, that Katherine had a white skin,—a parlous white skin. La, you now, fie on these mufflers!" The courtiers sneered; Hastings, with a look of malignant and pitiless triumph, eyed the Lady of Bonville. For a moment the colour went and came across her transparent cheek; but the confusion passed, and returning the insulting gaze of her ancient lover with an eye of unspeakable majesty, she placed her arm upon her lord's, and saying calmly, "An English matron cares but to be fair in her husband's eyes," drew him away; and the words and the manner of the lady were so dignified and simple, that the courtiers hushed their laughter, and for the moment the lord of such a woman was not only envied but respected.
While this scene had passed, the procession preceding Edward had filed into the garden in long and stately order. From another entrance Elizabeth, the Princess Margaret, and the Duchess of Bedford, with their trains, had already issued, and were now ranged upon a flight of marble steps, backed by a columned alcove, hung with velvet striped into the royal baudekin, while the stairs themselves were covered with leathern carpets, powdered with the white rose and the fleur de lis; either side lined by the bearers of the many banners of Edward, displaying the white lion of March, the black bull of Clare, the cross of Jerusalem, the dragon of Arragon, and the rising sun, which he had assumed as his peculiar war-badge since the battle of Mortimer's Cross. Again, and louder, came the flourish of music; and a murmur through the crowd, succeeded by deep silence, announced the entrance of the king. He appeared, leading by the hand the Count de la Roche, and followed by the Lords Scales, Rivers, Dorset, and the Duke of Clarence. All eyes were bent upon the count, and though seen to disadvantage by the side of the comeliest and stateliest and most gorgeously-attired prince in Christendom, his high forehead, bright sagacious eye, and powerful frame did not disappoint the expectations founded upon the fame of one equally subtle in council and redoubted in war.
The royal host and the princely guest made their way where Elizabeth, blazing in jewels and cloth-of-gold, shone royally, begirt by the ladies of her brilliant court. At her right hand stood her mother, at her left, the Princess Margaret.
"I present to you, my Elizabeth," said Edward, "a princely gentleman, to whom we nevertheless wish all ill-fortune,—for we cannot desire that he may subdue our knights, and we would fain hope that he may be conquered by our ladies."
"The last hope is already fulfilled," said the count, gallantly, as on his knee he kissed the fair hand extended to him. Then rising, and gazing full and even boldly upon the young Princess Margaret, he added, "I have seen too often the picture of the Lady Margaret not to be aware that I stand in that illustrious presence."
"Her picture! Sir Count," said the queen; "we knew not that it had been ever limned."
"Pardon me, it was done by stealth."
"And where have you seen it?"
"Worn at the heart of my brother the Count of Charolois!" answered De la Roche, in a whispered tone.
Margaret blushed with evident pride and delight; and the wily envoy, leaving the impression his words had made to take their due effect, addressed himself, with all the gay vivacity he possessed, to the fair queen and her haughty mother.
After a brief time spent in this complimentary converse, the count then adjourned to inspect the menagerie, of which the king was very proud. Edward, offering his hand to his queen, led the way, and the Duchess of Bedford, directing the count to Margaret by a shrewd and silent glance of her eye, so far smothered her dislike to Clarence as to ask his highness to attend herself.
"Ah, lady," whispered the count, as the procession moved along, "what thrones would not Charolois resign for the hand that his unworthy envoy is allowed to touch!"
"Sir," said Margaret, demurely looking down, "the Count of Charolois is a lord who, if report be true, makes war his only mistress."
"Because the only loving mistress his great heart could serve is denied to his love! Ah, poor lord and brother, what new reasons for eternal war to Burgundy, when France, not only his foe, becomes his rival!"
Margaret sighed, and the count continued till by degrees he warmed the royal maiden from her reserve; and his eye grew brighter, and a triumphant smile played about his lips, when, after the visit to the menagerie, the procession re-entered the palace, and the Lord Hastings conducted the count to the bath prepared for him, previous to the crowning banquet of the night. And far more luxurious and more splendid than might be deemed by those who read but the general histories of that sanguinary time, or the inventories of furniture in the houses even of the great barons, was the accommodation which Edward afforded to his guest. His apartments and chambers were hung with white silk and linen, the floors covered with richly-woven carpets; the counterpane of his bed was cloth-of-gold, trimmed with ermine; the cupboard shone with vessels of silver and gold; and over two baths were pitched tents of white cloth of Rennes fringed with silver. [See Madden's Narrative of the Lord Grauthuse; Archaelogia, 1830.]
Agreeably to the manners of the time, Lord Hastings assisted to disrobe the count; and, the more to bear him company, afterwards undressed himself and bathed in the one bath, while the count refreshed his limbs in the other.
"Pri'thee," said De la Roche, drawing aside the curtain of his tent, and putting forth his head—"pri'thee, my Lord Hastings, deign to instruct my ignorance of a court which I would fain know well, and let me weet whether the splendour of your king, far exceeding what I was taught to look for, is derived from his revenue as sovereign of England, or chief of the House of York?"
"Sir," returned Hastings, gravely, putting out his own head, "it is Edward's happy fortune to be the wealthiest proprietor in England, except the Earl of Warwick, and thus he is enabled to indulge a state which yet oppresses not his people."
"Except the Earl of Warwick!" repeated the count, musingly, as the fumes of the odours with which the bath was filled rose in a cloud over his long hair,—"ill would fare that subject, in most lands, who was as wealthy as his king! You have heard that Warwick has met King Louis at Rouen, and that they are inseparable?"
"It becomes an ambassador to win grace of him he is sent to please."
"But none win the grace of Louis whom Louis does not dupe."
"You know not Lord Warwick, Sir Count. His mind is so strong and so frank, that it is as hard to deceive him as it is for him to be deceived."
"Time will show," said the count, pettishly, and he withdrew his head into the tent.
And now there appeared the attendants, with hippocras, syrups, and comfits, by way of giving appetite for the supper, so that no further opportunity for private conversation was left to the two lords. While the count was dressing, the Lord Scales entered with a superb gown, clasped with jewels, and lined with minever, with which Edward had commissioned him to present the Bastard. In this robe the Lord Scales insisted upon enduing his antagonist with his own hands, and the three knights then repaired to the banquet. At the king's table no male personage out of the royal family sat, except Lord Rivers—as Elizabeth's father—and the Count de la Roche, placed between Margaret and the Duchess of Bedford.
At another table, the great peers of the realm feasted under the presidence of Anthony Woodville, while, entirely filling one side of the hall, the ladies of the court held their "mess" (so-called) apart, and "great and mighty was the eating thereof!"
The banquet ended, the dance began. The admirable "featliness" of the Count de la Roche, in the pavon, with the Lady Margaret, was rivalled only by the more majestic grace of Edward and the dainty steps of Anthony Woodville. But the lightest and happiest heart which beat in that revel was one in which no scheme and no ambition but those of love nursed the hope and dreamed the triumph.
Stung by the coldness even more than by the disdain of the Lady Bonville, and enraged to find that no taunt of his own, however galling, could ruffle a dignity which was an insult both to memory and to self-love, Hastings had exerted more than usual, both at the banquet and in the revel, those general powers of pleasing, which, even in an age when personal qualifications ranked so high, had yet made him no less renowned for successes in gallantry than the beautiful and youthful king. All about this man witnessed to the triumph of mind over the obstacles that beset it,—his rise without envy, his safety amidst foes, the happy ease with which he moved through the snares and pits of everlasting stratagem and universal wile! Him alone the arts of the Woodvilles could not supplant in Edward's confidence and love; to him alone dark Gloucester bent his haughty soul; him alone, Warwick, who had rejected his alliance, and knew the private grudge the rejection bequeathed,—him alone, among the "new men," Warwick always treated with generous respect, as a wise patriot and a fearless soldier; and in the more frivolous scenes of courtly life, the same mind raised one no longer in the bloom of youth, with no striking advantages of person, and studiously disdainful of all the fopperies of the time, to an equality with the youngest, the fairest, the gaudiest courtier, in that rivalship which has pleasure for its object and love for its reward. Many a heart beat quicker as the graceful courtier, with that careless wit which veiled his profound mournfulness of character, or with that delicate flattery which his very contempt for human nature had taught him, moved from dame to donzell; till at length, in the sight and hearing of the Lady Bonville, as she sat, seemingly heedless of his revenge, amidst a group of matrons elder than herself, a murmur of admiration made him turn quickly, and his eye, following the gaze of the bystanders, rested upon the sweet, animated face of Sibyll, flushed into rich bloom at the notice it excited. Then as he approached the maiden, his quick glance darting to the woman he had first loved told him that he had at last discovered the secret how to wound. An involuntary compression of Katherine's proud lips, a hasty rise and fall of the stately neck, a restless, indescribable flutter, as it were, of the whole frame, told the experienced woman-reader of the signs of jealousy and fear. And he passed at once to the young maiden's side. Alas! what wonder that Sibyll that night surrendered her heart to the happiest dreams; and finding herself on the floors of a court, intoxicated by its perfumed air, hearing on all sides the murmured eulogies which approved and justified the seeming preference of the powerful noble, what wonder that she thought the humble maiden, with her dower of radiant youth and exquisite beauty, and the fresh and countless treasures of virgin love, might be no unworthy mate of the "new lord"?
It was morning [The hours of our ancestors, on great occasions, were not always more seasonable than our own. Froissart speaks of court balls, in the reign of Richard II., kept up till day.] before the revel ended; and when dismissed by the Duchess of Bedford, Sibyll was left to herself, not even amidst her happy visions did the daughter forget her office. She stole into her father's chamber. He, too, was astir and up,—at work at the untiring furnace, the damps on his brow, but all Hope's vigour at his heart. So while Pleasure feasts, and Youth revels, and Love deludes itself, and Ambition chases its shadows (chased itself by Death),—so works the world-changing and world-despised SCIENCE, the life within life, for all living,—and to all dead!
CHAPTER VII. THE RENOWNED COMBAT BETWEEN SIR ANTHONY WOODVILLE AND THE BASTARD OF BURGUNDY.
And now the day came for the memorable joust between the queen's brother and the Count de la Roche. By a chapter solemnly convoked at St. Paul's, the preliminaries were settled; upon the very timber used in decking the lists King Edward expended half the yearly revenue derived from all the forests of his duchy of York. In the wide space of Smithfield, destined at a later day to blaze with the fires of intolerant bigotry, crowded London's holiday population: and yet, though all the form and parade of chivalry were there; though in the open balconies never presided a braver king or a comelier queen; though never a more accomplished chevalier than Sir Anthony Lord of Scales, nor a more redoubted knight than the brother of Charles the Bold, met lance to lance,—it was obvious to the elder and more observant spectators, that the true spirit of the lists was already fast wearing out from the influences of the age; that the gentleman was succeeding to the knight, that a more silken and scheming race had become the heirs of the iron men, who, under Edward III., had realized the fabled Paladins of Charlemagne and Arthur. But the actors were less changed than the spectators,—the Well-born than the People. Instead of that hearty sympathy in the contest, that awful respect for the champions, that eager anxiety for the honour of the national lance, which, a century or more ago, would have moved the throng as one breast, the comments of the bystanders evinced rather the cynicism of ridicule, the feeling that the contest was unreal, and that chivalry was out of place in the practical temper of the times. On the great chessboard the pawns were now so marshalled, that the knight's moves were no longer able to scour the board and hold in check both castle and king.
"Gramercy," said Master Stokton, who sat in high state as sheriff, [Fabyan] "this is a sad waste of moneys; and where, after all, is the glory in two tall fellows, walled a yard thick in armor, poking at each other with poles of painted wood?"
"Give me a good bull-bait!" said a sturdy butcher, in the crowd below; "that's more English, I take it, than these fooleries."
Amongst the ring, the bold 'prentices of London, up and away betimes, had pushed their path into a foremost place, much to the discontent of the gentry, and with their flat caps, long hair, thick bludgeons, loud exclamations, and turbulent demeanour, greatly scandalized the formal heralds. That, too, was a sign of the times. Nor less did it show the growth of commerce, that, on seats very little below the regal balconies, and far more conspicuous than the places of earls and barons, sat in state the mayor (that mayor a grocer!) [Sir John Yonge.—Fabyan] and aldermen of the city.
A murmur, rising gradually into a general shout, evinced the admiration into which the spectators were surprised, when Anthony Woodville Lord Scales—his head bare—appeared at the entrance of the lists,—so bold and so fair was his countenance, so radiant his armour, and so richly caparisoned his gray steed, in the gorgeous housings that almost swept the ground; and around him grouped such an attendance of knights and peers as seldom graced the train of any subject, with the Duke of Clarence at his right hand, bearing his bassinet.
But Anthony's pages, supporting his banner, shared at least the popular admiration with their gallant lord: they were, according to the old custom, which probably fell into disuse under the Tudors, disguised in imitation of the heraldic beasts that typified his armourial cognizance; [Hence the origin of Supporters] and horrible and laidly looked they in the guise of griffins, with artful scales of thin steel painted green, red forked tongues, and griping the banner in one huge claw, while, much to the marvel of the bystanders, they contrived to walk very statelily on the other. "Oh, the brave monsters!" exclaimed the butcher. "Cogs bones, this beats all the rest!"
But when the trumpets of the heralds had ceased, when the words "Laissez aller!" were pronounced, when the lances were set and the charge began, this momentary admiration was converted into a cry of derision, by the sudden restiveness of the Burgundian's horse. This animal, of the pure race of Flanders, of a bulk approaching to clumsiness, of a rich bay, where, indeed, amidst the barding and the housings, its colour could be discerned, had borne the valiant Bastard through many a sanguine field, and in the last had received a wound which had greatly impaired its sight. And now, whether scared by the shouting, or terrified by its obscure vision, and the recollection of its wound when last bestrode by its lord, it halted midway, reared on end, and, fairly turning round, despite spur and bit, carried back the Bastard, swearing strange oaths, that grumbled hoarsely through his vizor, to the very place whence he had started.
The uncourteous mob yelled and shouted and laughed, and wholly disregarding the lifted wands and drowning the solemn rebukes of the heralds, they heaped upon the furious Burgundian all the expressions of ridicule in which the wit of Cockaigne is so immemorially rich. But the courteous Anthony of England, seeing the strange and involuntary flight of his redoubted foe, incontinently reined in, lowered his lance, and made his horse, without turning round, back to the end of the lists in a series of graceful gambadas and caracoles. Again the signal was given, and this time the gallant bay did not fail his rider; ashamed, doubtless, of its late misdemeanour, arching its head till it almost touched the breast, laying its ears level on the neck, and with a snort of anger and disdain, the steed of Flanders rushed to the encounter. The Bastard's lance shivered fairly against the small shield of the Englishman; but the Woodville's weapon, more deftly aimed, struck full on the count's bassinet, and at the same time the pike projecting from the gray charger's chaffron pierced the nostrils of the unhappy bay, which rage and shame had blinded more than ever. The noble animal, stung by the unexpected pain, and bitted sharply by the rider, whose seat was sorely shaken by the stroke on his helmet, reared again, stood an instant perfectly erect, and then fell backwards, rolling over and over the illustrious burden it had borne. Then the debonair Sir Anthony of England, casting down his lance, drew his sword, and dexterously caused his destrier to curvet in a close circle round the fallen Bastard, courteously shaking at him the brandished weapon, but without attempt to strike.
"Ho, marshal!" cried King Edward, "assist to his legs the brave count."
The marshal hastened to obey. "Ventrebleu!" quoth the Bastard, when extricated from the weight of his steed, "I cannot hold by the clouds, but though my horse failed me, surely I will not fail my companions;" and as he spoke, he placed himself in so gallant and superb a posture, that he silenced the inhospitable yell which had rejoiced in the foreigner's discomfiture. Then, observing that the gentle Anthony had dismounted, and was leaning gracefully against his destrier, the Burgundian called forth,—
"Sir Knight, thou hast conquered the steed, not the rider. We are now foot to foot. The pole-axe, or the sword,—which? Speak!"
"I pray thee, noble sieur," quoth the Woodville, mildly, "to let the strife close for this day, and when rest bath—"
"Talk of rest to striplings,—I demand my rights!"
"Heaven forefend," said Anthony Woodville, lifting his hand on high, "that I, favoured so highly by the fair dames of England, should demand repose on their behalf. But bear witness," he said (with the generosity of the last true chevalier of his age, and lifting his vizor, so as to be heard by the king, and even through the foremost ranks of the crowd)—"bear witness, that in this encounter, my cause hath befriended me, not mine arm. The Count de la Roche speaketh truly; and his steed alone be blamed for his mischance."
"It is but a blind beast!" muttered the Burgundian.
"And," added Anthony, bowing towards the tiers rich with the beauty of the court—"and the count himself assureth me that the blaze of yonder eyes blinded his goodly steed." Having delivered himself of this gallant conceit, so much in accordance with the taste of the day, the Englishman, approaching the king's balcony, craved permission to finish the encounter with the axe or brand.
"The former, rather please you, my liege; for the warriors of Burgundy have ever been deemed unconquered in that martial weapon."
Edward, whose brave blood was up and warm at the clash of steel, bowed his gracious assent, and two pole-axes were brought into the ring.
The crowd now evinced a more earnest and respectful attention than they had hitherto shown, for the pole-axe, in such stalwart hands, was no child's toy. "Hum," quoth Master Stokton, "there may be some merriment now,—not like those silly poles! Your axe lops off a limb mighty cleanly." The knights themselves seemed aware of the greater gravity of the present encounter. Each looked well to the bracing of his vizor; and poising their weapons with method and care, they stood apart some moments, eying each other steadfastly,—as adroit fencers with the small sword do in our schools at this day.
At length the Burgundian, darting forward, launched a mighty stroke at the Lord Scales, which, though rapidly parried, broke down the guard, and descended with such weight on the shoulder that but for the thrice-proven steel of Milan, the benevolent expectation of Master Stokton had been happily fulfilled. Even as it was, the Lord Scales uttered a slight cry,—which might be either of anger or of pain,—and lifting his axe with both hands, levelled a blow on the Burgundian's helmet that well nigh brought him to his knee. And now for the space of some ten minutes, the crowd with charmed suspense beheld the almost breathless rapidity with which stroke on stroke was given and parried; the axe shifted to and fro, wielded now with both hands, now the left, now the right, and the combat reeling, as it were, to and fro,—so that one moment it raged at one extreme of the lists, the next at the other; and so well inured, from their very infancy, to the weight of mail were these redoubted champions, that the very wrestlers on the village green, nay, the naked gladiators of old, might have envied their lithe agility and supple quickness.
At last, by a most dexterous stroke, Anthony Woodville forced the point of his axe into the vizor of the Burgundian, and there so firmly did it stick, that he was enabled to pull his antagonist to and fro at his will, while the Bastard, rendered as blind as his horse by the stoppage of the eye-hole, dealt his own blows about at random, and was placed completely at the mercy of the Englishman. And gracious as the gentle Sir Anthony was, he was still so smarting under many a bruise felt through his dinted mail, that small mercy, perchance, would the Bastard have found, for the gripe of the Woodville's left hand was on his foe's throat, and the right seemed about to force the point deliberately forward into the brain, when Edward, roused from his delight at that pleasing spectacle by a loud shriek from his sister Margaret, echoed by the Duchess of Bedford, who was by no means anxious that her son's axe should be laid at the root of all her schemes, rose, and crying, "Hold!" with that loud voice which had so often thrilled a mightier field, cast down his warderer.
Instantly the lists opened; the marshals advanced, severed the champions, and unbraced the count's helmet. But the Bastard's martial spirit, exceedingly dissatisfied at the unfriendly interruption, rewarded the attention of the marshals by an oath worthy his relationship to Charles the Bold; and hurrying straight to the king, his face flushed with wrath and his eyes sparkling with fire,—
"Noble sire and king," he cried, "do me not this wrong! I am not overthrown nor scathed nor subdued,—I yield not. By every knightly law till one champion yields he can call upon the other to lay on and do his worst."
Edward paused, much perplexed and surprised at finding his intercession so displeasing. He glanced first at the Lord Rivers, who sat a little below him, and whose cheek grew pale at the prospect of his son's renewed encounter with one so determined, then at the immovable aspect of the gentle and apathetic Elizabeth, then at the agitated countenance of the duchess, then at the imploring eyes of Margaret, who, with an effort, preserved herself from swooning; and finally beckoning to him the Duke of Clarence, as high constable, and the Duke of Norfolk, as earl marshal, he said, "Tarry a moment, Sir Count, till we take counsel in this grave affair." The count bowed sullenly; the spectators maintained an anxious silence; the curtain before the king's gallery was closed while the council conferred. At the end of some three minutes, however, the drapery was drawn aside by the Duke of Norfolk; and Edward, fixing his bright blue eye upon the fiery Burgundian, said gravely, "Count de la Roche, your demand is just. According to the laws of the list, you may fairly claim that the encounter go on."
"Oh, knightly prince, well said! My thanks. We lose time.—Squires, my bassinet!"
"Yea," renewed Edward, "bring hither the count's bassinet. By the laws, the combat may go on at thine asking,—I retract my warderer. But, Count de la Roche, by those laws you appeal to, the said combat must go on precisely at the point at which it was broken off. Wherefore brace on thy bassinet, Count de la Roche; and thou, Anthony Lord Scales, fix the pike of thine axe, which I now perceive was inserted exactly where the right eye giveth easy access to the brain, precisely in the same place. So renew the contest, and the Lord have mercy on thy soul, Count de la Roche!"
At this startling sentence, wholly unexpected, and yet wholly according to those laws of which Edward was so learned a judge, the Bastard's visage fell. With open mouth and astounded eyes, he stood gazing at the king, who, majestically reseating himself, motioned to the heralds.
"Is that the law, sire?" at length faltered forth the Bastard.
"Can you dispute it? Can any knight or gentleman gainsay it?"
"Then," quoth the Bastard, gruffly, and throwing his axe to the ground, "by all the saints in the calendar, I have had enough! I came hither to dare all that beseems a chevalier, but to stand still while Sir Anthony Woodville deliberately pokes out my right eye were a feat to show that very few brains would follow. And so, my Lord Scales, I give thee my right hand, and wish thee joy of thy triumph, and the golden collar." [The prize was a collar of gold, enamelled with the flower of the souvenance.]
"No triumph," replied the Woodville, modestly, "for thou art only, as brave knights should be, subdued by the charms of the ladies, which no breast, however valiant, can with impunity dispute."
So saying, the Lord Scales led the count to a seat of honour near the Lord Rivers; and the actor was contented, perforce, to become a spectator of the ensuing contests. These were carried on till late at noon between the Burgundians and the English, the last maintaining the superiority of their principal champion; and among those in the melee, to which squires were admitted, not the least distinguished and conspicuous was our youthful friend, Master Marmaduke Nevile.
CHAPTER VIII. HOW THE BASTARD OF BURGUNDY PROSPERED MORE IN HIS POLICY THAN WITH THE POLE-AXE.-AND HOW KING EDWARD HOLDS HIS SUMMER CHASE IN THE FAIR GROVES OF SHENE.
It was some days after the celebrated encounter between the Bastard and Lord Scales, and the court had removed to the Palace of Shene. The Count de la Roche's favour with the Duchess of Bedford and the young princess had not rested upon his reputation for skill with the pole-axe, and it had now increased to a height that might well recompense the diplomatist for his discomfiture in the lists.
In the mean while, the arts of Warwick's enemies had been attended with signal success. The final preparations for the alliance now virtually concluded with Louis's brother still detained the earl at Rouen, and fresh accounts of the French king's intimacy with the ambassador were carefully forwarded to Rivers, and transmitted to Edward. Now, we have Edward's own authority for stating that his first grudge against Warwick originated in this displeasing intimacy, but the English king was too clear-sighted to interpret such courtesies into the gloss given them by Rivers. He did not for a moment conceive that Lord Warwick was led into any absolute connection with Louis which could link him to the Lancastrians, for this was against common-sense; but Edward, with all his good humour, was implacable and vindictive, and he could not endure the thought that Warwick should gain the friendship of the man he deemed his foe. Putting aside his causes of hatred to Louis in the encouragement which that king had formerly given to the Lancastrian exiles, Edward's pride as sovereign felt acutely the slighting disdain with which the French king had hitherto treated his royalty and his birth. The customary nickname with which he was maligned in Paris was "the Son of the Archer," a taunt upon the fair fame of his mother, whom scandal accused of no rigid fidelity to the Duke of York. Besides this, Edward felt somewhat of the jealousy natural to a king, himself so spirited and able, of the reputation for profound policy and statecraft which Louis XI. was rapidly widening and increasing throughout the courts of Europe. And, what with the resentment and what with the jealousy, there had sprung up in his warlike heart a secret desire to advance the claims of England to the throne of France, and retrieve the conquests won by the Fifth Henry to be lost under the Sixth. Possessing these feelings and these views, Edward necessarily saw in the alliance with Burgundy all that could gratify both his hate and his ambition. The Count of Charolois had sworn to Louis the most deadly enmity, and would have every motive, whether of vengeance or of interest, to associate himself heart in hand with the arms of England in any invasion of France; and to these warlike objects Edward added, as we have so often had cause to remark, the more peaceful aims and interests of commerce. And, therefore, although he could not so far emancipate himself from that influence, which both awe and gratitude invested in the Earl of Warwick, as to resist his great minister's embassy to Louis; and though, despite all these reasons in favour of connection with Burgundy, he could not but reluctantly allow that Warwick urged those of a still larger and wiser policy, when showing that the infant dynasty of York could only be made secure by effectually depriving Margaret of the sole ally that could venture to assist her cause,—yet no sooner had Warwick fairly departed than he inly chafed at the concession he had made, and his mind was open to all the impressions which the earl's enemies sought to stamp upon it. As the wisdom of every man, however able, can but run through those channels which are formed by the soil of the character, so Edward with all his talents never possessed the prudence which fear of consequences inspires. He was so eminently fearless, so scornful of danger, that he absolutely forgot the arguments on which the affectionate zeal of Warwick had based the alliance with Louis,—arguments as to the unceasing peril, whether to his person or his throne, so long as the unprincipled and plotting genius of the French king had an interest against both; and thus he became only alive to the representations of his passions, his pride, and his mercantile interests. The Duchess of Bedford, the queen, and all the family of Woodville, who had but one object at heart,—the downfall of Warwick and his House,—knew enough of the earl's haughty nature to be aware that he would throw up the reins of government the moment he knew that Edward had discredited and dishonoured his embassy; and, despite the suspicions they sought to instil into their king's mind, they calculated upon the earl's love and near relationship to Edward, upon his utter and seemingly irreconcilable breach with the House of Lancaster, to render his wrath impotent, and to leave him only the fallen minister, not the mighty rebel.
Edward had been thus easily induced to permit the visit of the Count de la Roche, although he had by no means then resolved upon the course he should pursue. At all events, even if the alliance with Louis was to take place, the friendship of Burgundy was worth much to maintain. But De la Roche soon made aware by the Duchess of Bedford of the ground on which he stood, and instructed by his brother to spare no pains and to scruple no promise that might serve to alienate Edward from Louis and win the hand and dower of Margaret, found it a more facile matter than his most sanguine hopes had deemed to work upon the passions and the motives which inclined the king to the pretensions of the heir of Burgundy. And what more than all else favoured the envoy's mission was the very circumstance that should most have defeated it,—namely, the recollection of the Earl of Warwick; for in the absence of that powerful baron and master-minister, the king had seemed to breathe more freely. In his absence, he forgot his power. The machine of government, to his own surprise, seemed to go on as well; the Commons were as submissive, the mobs as noisy in their shouts, as if the earl were by. There was no longer any one to share with Edward the joys of popularity, the sweets of power.
Though Edward was not Diogenes, he loved the popular sunshine, and no Alexander now stood between him and its beams. Deceived by the representations of his courtiers, hearing nothing but abuse of Warwick and sneers at his greatness, he began to think the hour had come when he might reign alone, and he entered, though tacitly, and not acknowledging it even to himself, into the very object of the womankind about him,—namely, the dismissal of his minister.
The natural carelessness and luxurious indolence of Edward's temper did not however permit him to see all the ingratitude of the course he was about to adopt. The egotism a king too often acquires, and no king so easily as one like Edward IV., not born to a throne, made him consider that he alone was entitled to the prerogatives of pride. As sovereign and as brother, might he not give the hand of Margaret as he listed? If Warwick was offended, pest on his disloyalty and presumption! And so saying to himself, he dismissed the very thought of the absent earl, and glided unconsciously down the current of the hour. And yet, notwithstanding all these prepossessions and dispositions, Edward might no doubt have deferred at least the meditated breach with his great minister until the return of the latter, and then have acted with the delicacy and precaution that became a king bound by ties of gratitude and blood to the statesman he desired to discard, but for a habit,—which, while history mentions, it seems to forget, in the consequences it ever engenders,—the habit of intemperance. Unquestionably to that habit many of the imprudences and levities of a king possessed of so much ability are to be ascribed; and over his cups with the wary and watchful De la Roche Edward had contrived to entangle himself far more than in his cooler moments he would have been disposed to do.
Having thus admitted our readers into those recesses of that cor inscrutabile,—the heart of kings,—we summon them to a scene peculiar to the pastimes of the magnificent Edward. Amidst the shades of the vast park, or chase, which then appertained to the Palace of Shene, the noonday sun shone upon such a spot as Armida might have dressed for the subdued Rinaldo. A space had been cleared of trees and underwood, and made level as a bowling-green. Around this space the huge oak and the broad beech were hung with trellis-work, wreathed with jasmine, honeysuckle, and the white rose, trained in arches. Ever and anon through these arches extended long alleys, or vistas, gradually lost in the cool depth of foliage; amidst these alleys and around this space numberless arbours, quaint with all the flowers then known in England, were constructed. In the centre of the sward was a small artificial lake, long since dried up, and adorned then with a profusion of fountains, that seemed to scatter coolness around the glowing air. Pitched in various and appropriate sites were tents of silk and the white cloth of Rennes, each tent so placed as to command one of the alleys; and at the opening of each stood cavalier or dame, with the bow or crossbow, as it pleased the fancy or suited best the skill, looking for the quarry, which horn and hound drove fast and frequent across the alleys. Such was the luxurious "summer-chase" of the Sardanapalus of the North. Nor could any spectacle more thoroughly represent that poetical yet effeminate taste, which, borrowed from the Italians, made a short interval between the chivalric and the modern age. The exceeding beauty of the day, the richness of the foliage in the first suns of bright July, the bay of the dogs, the sound of the mellow horn, the fragrance of the air, heavy with noontide flowers, the gay tents, the rich dresses and fair faces and merry laughter of dame and donzell,—combined to take captive every sense, and to reconcile ambition itself, that eternal traveller through the future, to the enjoyment of the voluptuous hour. But there were illustrious exceptions to the contentment of the general company.
A courier had arrived that morning to apprise Edward of the unexpected debarkation of the Earl of Warwick, with the Archbishop of Narbonne and the Bastard of Bourbon,—the ambassadors commissioned by Louis to settle the preliminaries of the marriage between Margaret and his brother. This unwelcome intelligence reached Edward at the very moment he was sallying from his palace gates to his pleasant pastime. He took aside Lord Hastings, and communicated the news to his able favourite. "Put spurs to thy horse, Hastings, and hie thee fast to Baynard's Castle. Bring back Gloucester. In these difficult matters that boy's head is better than a council."
"Your Highness," said Hastings, tightening his girdle with one hand, while with the other he shortened his stirrups, "shall be obeyed. I foresaw, sire, that this coming would occasion much that my Lords Rivers and Worcester have overlooked. I rejoice that you summon the Prince Richard, who hath wisely forborne all countenance to the Burgundian envoy. But is this all, sire? Is it not well to assemble also your trustiest lords and most learned prelates, if not to overawe Lord Warwick's anger, at least to confer on the fitting excuses to be made to King Louis's ambassadors?"
"And so lose the fairest day this summer hath bestowed upon us? Tush!—the more need for pleasaunce to-day since business must come to-morrow. Away with you, dear Will!"
Hastings looked grave; but he saw all further remonstrance would be in vain, and hoping much from the intercession of Gloucester, put spurs to his steed and vanished. Edward mused a moment; and Elizabeth, who knew every expression and change of his countenance, rode from the circle of her ladies, and approached him timidly. Casting down her eyes, which she always affected in speaking to her lord, the queen said softly,—
"Something hath disturbed my liege and my life's life."
"Marry, yes, sweet Bessee. Last night, to pleasure thee and thy kin (and sooth to say, small gratitude ye owe me, for it also pleased myself), I promised Margaret's hand, through De la Roche, to the heir of Burgundy."
"O princely heart!" exclaimed Elizabeth, her whole face lighted up with triumph, "ever seeking to make happy those it cherishes. But is it that which disturbs thee, that which thou repentest?"
"No, sweetheart,—no. Yet had it not been for the strength of the clary, I should have kept the Bastard longer in suspense. But what is done is done. Let not thy roses wither when thou hearest Warwick is in England,—nay, nay, child, look not so appalled; thine Edward is no infant, whom ogre and goblin scare; and"—glancing his eye proudly round as he spoke, and saw the goodly cavalcade of his peers and knights, with his body-guard, tall and chosen veterans, filling up the palace-yard, with the show of casque and pike—"and if the struggle is to come between Edward of England and his subject, never an hour more ripe than this; my throne assured, the new nobility I have raised around it, London true, marrow and heart true, the provinces at peace, the ships and the steel of Burgundy mine allies! Let the white Bear growl as he list, the Lion of March is lord of the forest. And now, my Bessee," added the king, changing his haughty tone into a gay, careless laugh, "now let the lion enjoy his chase."
He kissed the gloved hand of his queen, gallantly bending over his saddle-bow, and the next moment he was by the side of a younger if not a fairer lady, to whom he was devoting the momentary worship of his inconstant heart. Elizabeth's eyes shot an angry gleam as she beheld her faithless lord thus engaged; but so accustomed to conceal and control the natural jealousy that it never betrayed itself to the court or to her husband, she soon composed her countenance to its ordinary smooth and artificial smile, and rejoining her mother she revealed what had passed. The proud and masculine spirit of the duchess felt only joy at the intelligence. In the anticipated humiliation of Warwick, she forgot all cause for fear. Not so her husband and son, the Lords Rivers and Scales, to whom the news soon travelled.
"Anthony," whispered the father, "in this game we have staked our heads."
"But our right hands can guard them well, sir," answered Anthony; "and so God and the ladies for our rights!"
Yet this bold reply did not satisfy the more thoughtful judgment of the lord treasurer, and even the brave Anthony's arrows that day wandered wide of their quarry.
Amidst this gay scene, then, there were anxious and thoughtful bosoms. Lord Rivers was silent and abstracted; his son's laugh was hollow and constrained; the queen, from her pavilion, cast, ever and anon, down the green alleys more restless and prying looks than the hare or the deer could call forth; her mother's brow was knit and flushed. And keenly were those illustrious persons watched by one deeply interested in the coming events. Affecting to discharge the pleasant duty assigned him by the king, the Lord Montagu glided from tent to tent, inquiring courteously into the accommodation of each group, lingering, smiling, complimenting, watching, heeding, studying, those whom he addressed. For the first time since the Bastard's visit he had joined in the diversions in its honour; and yet so well had Montagu played his part at the court that he did not excite amongst the queen's relatives any of the hostile feelings entertained towards his brother. No man, except Hastings, was so "entirely loved" by Edward; and Montagu, worldly as he was, and indignant against the king as he could not fail to be, so far repaid the affection, that his chief fear at that moment sincerely was not for Warwick but Edward. He alone of those present was aware of the cause of Warwick's hasty return, for he had privately despatched to him the news of the Bastard's visit, its real object, and the inevitable success of the intrigues afloat, unless the earl could return at once, his mission accomplished, and the ambassadors of France in his train; and even before the courier despatched to the king had arrived at Shene, a private hand had conveyed to Montagu the information that Warwick, justly roused and alarmed, had left the state procession behind at Dover, and was hurrying, fast as relays of steeds and his own fiery spirit could bear him, to the presence of the ungrateful king.
Meanwhile the noon had now declined, the sport relaxed, and the sound of the trumpet from the king's pavilion proclaimed that the lazy pastime was to give place to the luxurious banquet.
At this moment, Montagu approached a tent remote from the royal pavilions, and, as his noiseless footstep crushed the grass, he heard the sound of voices in which there was little in unison with the worldly thoughts that filled his breast.
"Nay, sweet mistress, nay," said a young man's voice, earnest with emotion, "do not misthink me, do not deem me bold and overweening. I have sought to smother my love, and to rate it, and bring pride to my aid, but in vain; and, now, whether you will scorn my suit or not, I remember, Sibyll—O Sibyll! I remember the days when we conversed together; and as a brother, if nothing else—nothing dearer—I pray you to pause well, and consider what manner of man this Lord Hastings is said to be!"
"Master Nevile, is this generous? Why afflict me thus; why couple my name with so great a lord's?"
"Because—beware—the young gallants already so couple it, and their prophecies are not to thine honour, Sibyll. Nay, do not frown on me. I know thou art fair and winsome, and deftly gifted, and thy father may, for aught I know, be able to coin thee a queen's dower out of his awsome engines. But Hastings will not wed thee, and his wooing, therefore, but stains thy fair repute; while I—"
"You!" said Montagu, entering suddenly—"you, kinsman, may look to higher fortunes than the Duchess of Bedford's waiting-damsel can bring to thy honest love. How now, mistress, say, wilt thou take this young gentleman for loving fere and plighted spouse? If so, he shall give thee a manor for jointure, and thou shalt wear velvet robe and gold chain, as a knight's wife."
This unexpected interference, which was perfectly in character with the great lords, who frequently wooed in very peremptory tones for their clients and kinsmen, [See, in Miss Strickland's "Life of Elizabeth Woodville," the curious letters which the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick addressed to her, then a simple maiden, in favour of their protege, Sir R. Johnes.] completed the displeasure which the blunt Marmaduke had already called forth in Sibyll's gentle but proud nature. "Speak, maiden,—ay or no?" continued Montagu, surprised and angered at the haughty silence of one whom he just knew by sight and name, though he had never before addressed her.
"No, my lord," answered Sibyll, keeping down her indignation at this tone, though it burned in her cheek, flashed in her eye, and swelled in the heave of her breast. "No! and your kinsman might have spared this affront to one whom—but it matters not." She swept from the tent as she said this, and passed up the alley into that of the queen's mother.
"Best so; thou art too young for marriage, Marmaduke," said Montagu, coldly. "We will find thee a richer bride ere long. There is Mary of Winstown, the archbishop's ward, with two castles and seven knight's fees."
"But so marvellously ill-featured, my lord," said poor Marmaduke, sighing.
Montagu looked at him in surprise. "Wives, sir," he said, "are not made to look at,—unless, indeed, they be the wives of other men. But dismiss these follies for the nonce. Back to thy post by the king's pavilion; and by the way ask Lord Fauconberg and Aymer Nevile, whom thou wilt pass by yonder arbour, ask them, in my name, to be near the pavilion while the king banquets. A word in thine ear,—ere yon sun gilds the top of those green oaks, the Earl of Warwick will be with Edward IV.; and come what may, some brave hearts should be by to welcome him. Go!"
Without tarrying for an answer, Montagu turned into one of the tents, wherein Raoul de Fulke and the Lord St. John, heedless of hind and hart, conferred; and Marmaduke, much bewildered, and bitterly wroth with Sibyll, went his way.
CHAPTER IX. THE GREAT ACTOR RETURNS TO FILL THE STAGE.
And now in various groups these summer foresters were at rest in their afternoon banquet,—some lying on the smooth sward around the lake, some in the tents, some again in the arbours; here and there the forms of dame and cavalier might be seen, stealing apart from the rest, and gliding down the alleys till lost in the shade, for under that reign gallantry was universal. Before the king's pavilion a band of those merry jongleurs, into whom the ancient and honoured minstrels were fast degenerating, stood waiting for the signal to commence their sports, and listening to the laughter that came in frequent peals from the royal tent. Within feasted Edward, the Count de la Roche, the Lord Rivers; while in a larger and more splendid pavilion at some little distance, the queen, her mother, and the great dames of the court held their own slighter and less noisy repast.
"And here, then," said Edward, as he put his lips to a gold goblet, wrought with gems, and passed it to Anthony the Bastard,—"here, count, we take the first wassail to the loves of Charolois and Margaret!"
The count drained the goblet, and the wine gave him new fire.
"And with those loves, king," said he, "we bind forever Burgundy and England. Woe to France!"
"Ay, woe to France!" exclaimed Edward, his face lighting up with that martial joy which it ever took at the thoughts of war,—"for we will wrench her lands from this huckster Louis. By Heaven! I shall not rest in peace till York hath regained what Lancaster hath lost! and out of the parings of the realm which I will add to England thy brother of Burgundy shall have eno' to change his duke's diadem for a king's. How now, Rivers? Thou gloomest, father mine."
"My liege," said Rivers, wakening himself, "I did but think that if the Earl of Warwick—"
"Ah, I had forgotten," interrupted Edward; "and, sooth to say, Count Anthony, I think if the earl were by, he would not much mend our boon-fellowship!"
"Yet a good subject," said De la Roche, sneeringly, "usually dresses his face by that of his king."
"A subject! Ay, but Warwick is much such a subject to England as William of Normandy or Duke Rollo was to France. Howbeit, let him come,—our realm is at peace, we want no more his battle-axe; and in our new designs on France, thy brother, bold count, is an ally that might compensate for a greater loss than a sullen minister. Let him come!"
As the king spoke, there was heard gently upon the smooth turf the sound of the hoofs of steeds. A moment more, and from the outskirts of the scene of revel, where the king's guards were stationed, there arose a long, loud shout. Nearer and nearer came the hoofs of the steeds; they paused. Doubtless Richard of Gloucester by that shout! "The soldiers love that brave boy," said the king.
Marmaduke Nevile, as gentleman in waiting, drew aside the curtain of the pavilion; and as he uttered a name that paled the cheeks of all who heard, the Earl of Warwick entered the royal presence.
The earl's dress was disordered and soiled by travel; the black plume on his cap was broken, and hung darkly over his face; his horseman's boots, coming half way up the thigh, were sullied with the dust of the journey; and yet as he entered, before the majesty of his mien, the grandeur of his stature, suddenly De Roche, Rivers, even the gorgeous Edward himself, seemed dwarfed into common men! About the man—his air, his eye, his form, his attitude—there was THAT which, in the earlier times, made kings by the acclamation of the crowd,—an unmistakable sovereignty, as of one whom Nature herself had shaped and stamped for power and for rule. All three had risen as he entered; and to a deep silence succeeded an exclamation from Edward, and then again all was still.
The earl stood a second or two calmly gazing on the effect he had produced; and turning his dark eye from one to the other, till it rested full upon De la Roche, who, after vainly striving not to quail beneath the gaze, finally smiled with affected disdain, and, resting his hand on his dagger, sank back into his seat.
"My liege," then said Warwick, doffing his cap, and approaching the king with slow and grave respect, "I crave pardon for presenting myself to your Highness thus travel-worn and disordered; but I announce that news which insures my welcome. The solemn embassy of trust committed to me by your Grace has prospered with God's blessing; and the Fils de Bourbon and the Archbishop of Narbonne are on their way to your metropolis. Alliance between the two great monarchies of Europe is concluded on terms that insure the weal of England and augment the lustre of your crown. Your claims on Normandy and Guienne King Louis consents to submit to the arbitrement of the Roman Pontiff, [The Pope, moreover, was to be engaged to decide the question within four years. A more brilliant treaty for England, Edward's ambassador could not have effected.] and to pay to your treasury annual tribute; these advantages, greater than your Highness even empowered me to demand, thus obtained, the royal brother of your new ally joyfully awaits the hand of the Lady Margaret."
"Cousin," said Edward, who had thoroughly recovered himself, motioning the earl to a seat, "you are ever welcome, no matter what your news; but I marvel much that so deft a statesman should broach these matters of council in the unseasonable hour and before the gay comrades of a revel."
"I speak, sire," said Warwick, calmly, though the veins in his forehead swelled, and his dark countenance was much flushed—"I speak openly of that which hath been done nobly; and this truth has ceased to be matter of council, since the meanest citizen who has ears and eyes ere this must know for what purpose the ambassadors of King Louis arrive in England with your Highness's representative."
Edward, more embarrassed at this tone than he could have foreseen, remained silent; but De la Roche, impatient to humble his brother's foe, and judging it also discreet to arouse the king, said carelessly,—
"It were a pity, Sir Earl, that the citizens, whom you thus deem privy to the thoughts of kings, had not prevised the Archbishop of Narbonne that if he desire to see a fairer show than even the palaces of Westminster and the Tower, he will hasten back to behold the banners of Burgundy and England waving from the spires of Notre Dame."
Ere the Bastard had concluded, Rivers, leaning back, whispered the king, "For Christ's sake, sire, select some fitter scene for what must follow! Silence your guest!"
But Edward, on the contrary, pleased to think that De la Roche was breaking the ice, and hopeful that some burst from Warwick would give him more excuse than he felt at present for a rupture, said sternly, "Hush, my lord, and meddle not!"
"Unless I mistake," said Warwick, coldly, "he who now accosts me is the Count de la Roche,—a foreigner."
"And the brother of the heir of Burgundy," interrupted De la Roche,—"brother to the betrothed and princely spouse of Margaret of England."
"Doth this man lie, sire?" said Warwick, who had seated himself a moment, and who now rose again.
The Bastard sprung also to his feet; but Edward, waving him back, and reassuming the external dignity which rarely forsook him, replied, "Cousin, thy question lacketh courtesy to our noble guest: since thy departure, reasons of state, which we will impart to thee at a meeter season, have changed our purpose, and we will now that our sister Margaret shall wed with the Count of Charolois."
"And this to me, king!" exclaimed the earl; all his passions at once released—"this to me! Nay, frown not, Edward,—I am of the race of those who, greater than kings, have built thrones and toppled them! I tell thee, thou hast misused mine honour, and belied thine own; thou hast debased thyself in juggling me, delegated as the representative of thy royalty!—Lord Rivers, stand back,—there are barriers eno' between truth and a king!"
"By Saint George and my father's head!" cried Edward, with a rage no less fierce than Warwick's,—"thou abusest, false lord, my mercy and our kindred blood. Another word, and thou leavest this pavilion for the Tower!"
"King," replied Warwick, scornfully, and folding his arms on his broad breast, "there is not a hair on this head which thy whole house, thy guards, and thine armies could dare to touch. ME to the Tower! Send me,—and when the third sun reddens the roof of prison-house and palace, look round broad England, and miss a throne!"
"What, ho there!" exclaimed Edward, stamping his foot; and at that instant the curtain of the pavilion was hastily torn aside, and Richard of Gloucester entered, followed by Lord Hastings, the Duke of Clarence, and Anthony Woodville.
"Ah," continued the king, "ye come in time. George of Clarence, Lord High Constable of England, arrest yon haughty man, who dares to menace his liege and suzerain!"
Gliding between Clarence, who stood dumb and thunder-stricken, and the Earl of Warwick, Prince Richard said, in a voice which, though even softer than usual, had in it more command over those who heard than when it rolled in thunder along the ranks of Barnet or of Bosworth, "Edward, my brother, remember Towton, and forbear! Warwick, my cousin, forget not thy king nor his dead father!"
At these last words the earl's face fell, for to that father he had sworn to succour and defend the sons; his sense, recovering from his pride, showed him how much his intemperate anger had thrown away his advantages in the foul wrong he had sustained from Edward. Meanwhile the king himself, with flashing eyes and a crest as high as Warwick's, was about perhaps to overthrow his throne by the attempt to enforce his threat, when Anthony Woodville, who followed Clarence, whispered to him, "Beware, sire! a countless crowd that seem to have followed the earl's steps have already pierced the chase, and can scarcely be kept from the spot, so great is their desire to behold him. Beware!"—and Richard's quick ear catching these whispered words, the duke suddenly backed them by again drawing aside the curtain of the tent. Along the sward, the guard of the king, summoned from their unseen but neighbouring post within the wood, were drawn up as if to keep back an immense multitude,—men, women, children, who swayed and rustled and murmured in the rear. But no sooner was the curtain drawn aside, and the guards themselves caught sight of the royal princes and the great earl towering amidst them, than supposing in their ignorance the scene thus given to them was intended for their gratification, from that old soldiery or Towton rose a loud and long "Hurrah! Warwick and the king!"—"The king and the stout earl!" The multitude behind caught the cry; they rushed forward, mingling with the soldiery, who no longer sought to keep them back.
"A Warwick! a Warwick!" they shouted. "God bless the people's friend!"
Edward, startled and aghast, drew sullenly into the rear of the tent.
De la Roche grew pale; but with the promptness of a practised statesman, he hastily advanced, and drew the curtain. "Shall varlets," he said to Richard, in French, "gloat over the quarrels of their lords?"
"You are right, Sir Count," murmured Richard, meekly; his purpose was effected, and leaning on his riding staff, he awaited what was to ensue.
A softer shade had fallen over the earl's face, at the proof of the love in which his name was held; it almost seemed to his noble though haughty and impatient nature, as if the affection of the people had reconciled him to the ingratitude of the king. A tear started to his proud eye; but he twinkled it away, and approaching Edward (who remained erect, and with all a sovereign's wrath, though silent on his lip, lowering on his brow), he said, in a tone of suppressed emotion,—
"Sire, it is not for me to crave pardon of living man, but the grievous affront put upon my state and mine honour hath led my words to an excess which my heart repents. I grieve that your Grace's highness hath chosen this alliance; hereafter you may find at need what faith is to be placed in Burgundy."
"Darest thou gainsay it?" exclaimed De la Roche.
"Interrupt me not, sir!" continued Warwick, with a disdainful gesture. "My liege, I lay down mine offices, and I leave it to your Grace to account as it lists you to the ambassadors of France,—I shall vindicate myself to their king. And now, ere I depart for my hall of Middleham, I alone here, unarmed and unattended, save at least by a single squire, I, Richard Nevile, say, that if any man, peer or knight, can be found to execute your Grace's threat, and arrest me, I will obey your royal pleasure, and attend him to the Tower." Haughtily he bowed his head as he spoke, and raising it again, gazed around—"I await your Grace's pleasure."
"Begone where thou wilt, earl. From this day Edward IV. reigns alone," said the king. Warwick turned.
"My Lord Scales," said he, "lift the curtain; nay, sir, it misdemeans you not. You are still the son of the Woodville, I still the descendant of John of Gaunt."
"Not for the dead ancestor, but for the living warrior," said the Lord Scales, lifting the curtain, and bowing with knightly grace as the earl passed. And scarcely was Warwick in the open space than the crowd fairly broke through all restraint, and the clamour of their joy filled with its hateful thunders the royal tent.
"Edward," said Richard, whisperingly, and laying his finger on his brother's arm, "forgive me if I offended; but had you at such a time resolved on violence—"
"I see it all,—you were right. But is this to be endured forever?"
"Sire," returned Richard, with his dark smile, "rest calm; for the age is your best ally, and the age is outgrowing the steel and hauberk. A little while, and—"
"And—ah, sire, I will answer that question when our brother George (mark him!) either refrains from listening, or is married to Isabel Nevile, and hath quarrel with her father about the dowry. What, he, there!—let the jongleurs perform."
"The jongleurs!" exclaimed the king; "why, Richard, thou hast more levity than myself!"
"Pardon me! Let the jongleurs perform, and bid the crowd stay. It is by laughing at the mountebanks that your Grace can best lead the people to forget their Warwick!"
CHAPTER X. HOW THE GREAT LORDS COME TO THE KING-MAKER, AND WITH WHAT PROFFERS.
Mastering the emotions that swelled within him, Lord Warwick returned with his wonted cheerful courtesy the welcome of the crowd and the enthusiastic salutation of the king's guard; but as, at length, he mounted his steed, and attended but by the squire who had followed him from Dover, penetrated into the solitudes of the chase, the recollection of the indignity he had suffered smote his proud heart so sorely that he groaned aloud. His squire, fearing the fatigue he had undergone might have affected even that iron health, rode up at the sound of the groan, and Warwick's face was hueless as he said, with a forced smile, "It is nothing, Walter. But these heats are oppressive, and we have forgotten our morning draught, friend. Hark! I hear the brawl of a rivulet, and a drink of fresh water were more grateful now than the daintiest hippocras." So saying, he flung himself from his steed; following the sound of the rivulet, he gained its banks, and after quenching his thirst in the hollow of his hand, laid himself down upon the long grass, waving coolly over the margin, and fell into profound thought. From this revery he was aroused by a quick footstep, and as he lifted his gloomy gaze, he beheld Marmaduke Nevile by his side.
"Well, young man," said he, sternly, "with what messages art thou charged?"
"With none, my lord earl. I await now no commands but thine."
"Thou knowest not, poor youth, that I can serve thee no more. Go back to the court."
"Oh, Warwick," said Marmaduke, with simple eloquence, "send me not from thy side! This day I have been rejected by the maid I loved. I loved her well, and my heart chafed sorely, and bled within! but now, methinks, it consoles me to have been so cast off,—to have no faith, no love, but that which is best of all, to a brave man,—love and faith for a hero-chief! Where thy fortunes, there be my humble fate,—to rise or fall with thee!"
Warwick looked intently upon his young kinsman's face, and said, as to himself, "Why, this is strange! I gave no throne to this man, and he deserts me not! My friend," he added aloud, "have they told thee already that I am disgraced?"
"I heard the Lord Scales say to the young Lovell that thou wert dismissed from all thine offices; and I came hither; for I will serve no more the king who forgets the arm and heart to which he owes a kingdom."
"Man, I accept thy loyalty!" exclaimed Warwick, starting to his feet; "and know that thou hast done more to melt and yet to nerve my spirit than—But complaints in one are idle, and praise were no reward to thee."
"But see, my lord, if the first to join thee, I am not the sole one. See, brave Raoul de Fulke, the Lords of St. John, Bergavenny, and Fitzhugh, ay, and fifty others of the best blood of England, are on thy track."
And as he spoke, plumes and tunics were seen gleaming up the forest path, and in another moment a troop of knights and gentlemen, comprising the flower of such of the ancient nobility as yet lingered round the court, came up to Warwick, bareheaded.
"Is it possible," cried Raoul de Fulke, "that we have heard aright, noble earl? And has Edward IV. suffered the base Woodvilles to triumph over the bulwark of his realm?"
"Knights and gentles!" said Warwick, with a bitter smile, "is it so uncommon a thing that men in peace should leave the battle-axe and brand to rust? I am but a useless weapon, to be suspended at rest amongst the trophies of Towton in my hall of Middleham."
"Return with us," said the Lord of St. John, "and we will make Edward do thee justice, or, one and all, we will abandon a court where knaves and varlets have become mightier than English valour and nobler than Norman birth."
"My friends," said the earl, laying his hand on St. John's shoulder, "not even in my just wrath will I wrong my king. He is punished eno' in the choice he hath made. Poor Edward and poor England! What woes and wars await ye both, from the gold and the craft and the unsparing hate of Louis XI! No; if I leave Edward, he hath more need of you. Of mine own free will I have resigned mine offices."
"Warwick," interrupted Raoul de Fulke, "this deceives us not; and in disgrace to you the ancient barons of England behold the first blow at their own state. We have wrongs we endured in silence while thou wert the shield and sword of yon merchant-king. We have seen the ancient peers of England set aside for men of yesterday; we have seen our daughters, sisters,—nay, our very mothers, if widowed and dowered,—forced into disreputable and base wedlock with creatures dressed in titles, and gilded with wealth stolen from ourselves. Merchants and artificers tread upon our knightly heels, and the avarice of trade eats up our chivalry as a rust. We nobles, in our greater day, have had the crown at our disposal, and William the Norman dared not think what Edward Earl of March hath been permitted with impunity to do. We, Sir Earl—we knights and barons—would a king simple in his manhood and princely in his truth. Richard Earl of Warwick, thou art of royal blood, the descendant of old John of Gaunt. In thee we behold the true, the living likeness of the Third Edward, and the Hero-Prince of Cressy. Speak but the word, and we make thee king!"
The descendant of the Norman, the representative of the mighty faction that no English monarch had ever braved in vain, looked round as he said these last words, and a choral murmur was heard through the whole of that august nobility, "We make thee king!"
"Richard, descendant of the Plantagenet, [By the female side, through Joan Beaufort, or Plantagenet, Warwick was third in descent from John of Gaunt, as Henry VII., through the male line, was fourth in descent.] speak the word," repeated Raoul de Fulke.
"I speak it not," interrupted Warwick; "nor shalt thou continue, brave Raoul de Fulke. What, my lords and gentlemen," he added, drawing himself up, and with his countenance animated with feelings it is scarcely possible in our times to sympathize with or make clear—"what! think you that Ambition limits itself to the narrow circlet of a crown Greater, and more in the spirit of our mighty fathers, is the condition of men like us, THE BARONS who make and unmake kings. What! who of us would not rather descend from the chiefs of Runnymede than from the royal craven whom they controlled and chid? By Heaven, my lords, Richard Nevile has too proud a soul to be a king! A king—a puppet of state and form; a king—a holiday show for the crowd, to hiss or hurrah, as the humour seizes; a king—a beggar to the nation, wrangling with his parliament for gold! A king!—Richard II. was a king, and Lancaster dethroned him. Ye would debase me to a Henry of Lancaster. Mort Dieu! I thank ye. The Commons and the Lords raised him, forsooth,—for what? To hold him as the creature they had made, to rate him, to chafe him, to pry into his very household, and quarrel with his wife's chamberlains and lavourers. [Laundresses. The parliamentary rolls, in the reign of Henry IV., abound in curious specimens of the interference of the Commons with the household of Henry's wife, Queen Joan.] What! dear Raoul de Fulke, is thy friend fallen now so low, that he—Earl of Salisbury and of Warwick, chief of the threefold race of Montagu, Monthermer, and Nevile, lord of a hundred baronies, leader of sixty thousand followers—is not greater than Edward of March, to whom we will deign still, with your permission, to vouchsafe the name and pageant of a king?"
This extraordinary address, strange to say, so thoroughly expressed the peculiar pride of the old barons, that when it ceased a sound of admiration and applause circled through that haughty audience, and Raoul de Fulke, kneeling suddenly, kissed the earl's hand. "Oh, noble earl," he said, "ever live as one of us, to maintain our order, and teach kings and nations what WE are."
"Fear it not, Raoul! fear it not,—we will have our rights yet. Return, I beseech ye. Let me feel I have such friends about the king. Even at Middleham my eye shall watch over our common cause; and till seven feet of earth suffice him, your brother baron, Richard Nevile, is not a man whom kings and courts can forget, much less dishonour. Sirs, our honour is in our bosoms,—and there is the only throne armies cannot shake, nor cozeners undermine."
With these words he gently waved his hand, motioned to his squire, who stood out of hearing with the steeds, to approach, and mounting, gravely rode on. Ere he had got many paces, he called to Marmaduke, who was on foot, and bade him follow him to London that night. "I have strange tidings to tell the French envoys, and for England's sake I must soothe their anger, if I can,—then to Middleham."
The nobles returned slowly to the pavilions. And as they gained the open space, where the gaudy tents still shone against the setting sun, they beheld the mob of that day, whom Shakspeare hath painted with such contempt, gathering, laughing and loud, around the mountebank and the conjurer, who had already replaced in their thoughts (as Gloucester had foreseen) the hero-idol of their worship.
CHAPTER I. RURAL ENGLAND IN THE MIDDLE AGES—NOBLE VISITORS SEEK THE CASTLE OF MIDDLEHAM.
Autumn had succeeded to summer, winter to autumn, and the spring of 1468 was green in England, when a gallant cavalcade was seen slowly winding the ascent of a long and gradual hill, towards the decline of day. Different, indeed, from the aspect which that part of the country now presents was the landscape that lay around them, bathed in the smiles of the westering sun. In a valley to the left, a full view of which the steep road commanded (where now roars the din of trade through a thousand factories), lay a long, secluded village. The houses, if so they might be called, were constructed entirely of wood, and that of the more perishable kind,—willow, sallow, elm, and plum-tree. Not one could boast a chimney; but the smoke from the single fire in each, after duly darkening the atmosphere within, sent its surplusage lazily and fitfully through a circular aperture in the roof. In fact, there was long in the provinces a prejudice against chimneys! The smoke was considered good both for house and owner; the first it was supposed to season, and the last to guard "from rheums, catarrhs, and poses." [So worthy Hollinshed, Book II. c. 22.—"Then had we none but reredosses, and our heads did never ache. For as the smoke, in those days, was supposed to be a sufficient hardening for the timber of the house, so it was reputed a far better medicine to keep the goodman and his familie from the quacke, or pose, wherewith as then very few were oft acquainted."] Neither did one of these habitations boast the comfort of a glazed window, the substitute being lattice, or chequer-work,—even in the house of the franklin, which rose statelily above the rest, encompassed with barns and outsheds. And yet greatly should we err did we conceive that these deficiencies were an index to the general condition of the working class. Far better off was the labourer when employed, than now. Wages were enormously high, meat extremely low; [See Hallam: Middle Ages, Chap. xx. Part II. So also Hollinsbed, Book XI., c. 12, comments on the amazement of the Spaniards, in Queen Mary's time, when they saw "what large diet was used in these so homelie cottages," and reports one of the Spaniards to have said, "These English have their houses of sticks and dirt, but they fare commonlie so well as the king!"] and our motherland bountifully maintained her children.
On that greensward, before the village (now foul and reeking with the squalid population whom commerce rears up,—the victims, as the movers, of the modern world) were assembled youth and age; for it was a holiday evening, and the stern Puritan had not yet risen to sour the face of Mirth. Well clad in leathern jerkin, or even broadcloth, the young peasants vied with each other in quoits and wrestling; while the merry laughter of the girls, in their gay-coloured kirtles and ribboned hair, rose oft and cheerily to the ears of the cavalcade. From a gentle eminence beyond the village, and half veiled by trees, on which the first verdure of spring was budding (where now, around the gin-shop, gather the fierce and sickly children of toil and of discontent), rose the venerable walls of a monastery, and the chime of its heavy bell swung far and sweet over the pastoral landscape. To the right of the road (where now stands the sober meeting-house) was one of those small shrines so frequent in Italy, with an image of the Virgin gaudily painted, and before it each cavalier in the procession halted an instant to cross himself and mutter an ave. Beyond, still to the right, extended vast chains of woodland, interspersed with strips of pasture, upon which numerous flocks were grazing, with horses, as yet unbroken to bit and selle, that neighed and snorted as they caught scent of their more civilized brethren pacing up the road.
In front of the cavalcade rode two, evidently of superior rank to the rest,—the one small and slight, with his long hair flowing over his shoulders; and the other, though still young, many years older, and indicating his clerical profession by the absence of all love-locks, compensated by a curled and glossy beard, trimmed with the greatest care. But the dress of the ecclesiastic was as little according to our modern notions of what beseems the Church as can well be conceived: his tunic and surcoat, of a rich amber, contrasted well with the clear darkness of his complexion; his piked shoes, or beakers, as they were called, turned up half-way to the knee; the buckles of his dress were of gold, inlaid with gems; and the housings of his horse, which was of great power, were edged with gold fringe. By the side of his steed walked a tall greyhound, upon which he ever and anon glanced with affection. Behind these rode two gentlemen, whose golden spurs announced knighthood; and then followed a long train of squires and pages, richly clad and accoutred, bearing generally the Nevile badge of the Bull; though interspersed amongst the retinue might be seen the grim Boar's head, which Richard of Gloucester, in right of his duchy, had assumed as his cognizance.
"Nay, sweet prince," said the ecclesiastic, "I pray thee to consider that a greyhound is far more of a gentleman than any other of the canine species. Mark his stately yet delicate length of limb, his sleek coat, his keen eye, his haughty neck."
"These are but the externals, my noble friend. Will the greyhound attack the lion, as our mastiff doth? The true character of the gentleman is to know no fear, and to rush through all danger at the throat of his foe; wherefore I uphold the dignity of the mastiff above all his tribe, though others have a daintier hide and a statelier crest. Enough of such matters, archbishop,—we are nearing Middleham."
"The saints be praised! for I am hungered," observed the archbishop, piously: "but, sooth to say, my cook at the More far excelleth what we can hope to find at the board of my brother. He hath some faults, our Warwick! Hasty and careless, he hath not thought eno' of the blessings he might enjoy, and many a poor abbot hath daintier fare on his humble table."
"Oh, George Nevile! who that heard thee, when thou talkest of hounds and interments, [entremets (side dishes)] would recognize the Lord Chancellor of England,—the most learned dignitary, the most subtle statesman?"
"And oh, Richard Plantagenet!" retorted the archbishop, dropping the mincing and affected tone, which he, in common with the coxcombs of that day, usually assumed, "who that heard thee when thou talkest of humility and devotion, would recognize the sternest heart and the most daring ambition God ever gave to prince?"
Richard started at these words, and his eye shot fire as it met the keen calm glance of the prelate.
"Nay, your Grace wrongs me," he said, gnawing his lip,—"or I should not say wrongs, but flatters; for sternness and ambition are no vices in a Nevile's eyes."
"Fairly answered, royal son," said the archbishop, laughing; "but let us be frank. Thou hast persuaded me to accompany thee to Lord Warwick as a mediator; the provinces in the North are disturbed; the intrigues of Margaret of Anjou are restless; the king reaps what he has sown in the Court of France, and, as Warwick foretold, the emissaries and gold of Louis are ever at work against his throne; the great barons are moody and discontented; and our liege King Edward is at last aware that, if the Earl of Warwick do not return to his councils, the first blast of a hostile trumpet may drive him from his throne. Well, I attend thee: my fortunes are woven with those of York, and my interest and my loyalty go hand in hand. Be equally frank with me. Hast thou, Lord Richard, no interest to serve in this mission save that of the public weal?"
"Thou forgettest that the Lady Isabel is dearly loved by Clarence, and that I would fain see removed all barrier to his nuptial bliss. But yonder rise the towers of Middleham. Beloved walls, which sheltered my childhood! and, by holy Paul, a noble pile, which would resist an army, or hold one."
While thus conversed the prince and the archbishop, the Earl of Warwick, musing and alone, slowly paced the lofty terrace that crested the battlements of his outer fortifications.
In vain had that restless and powerful spirit sought content in retirement. Trained from his childhood to active life, to move mankind to and fro at his beck, this single and sudden interval of repose in the prime of his existence, at the height of his fame, served but to swell the turbulent and dangerous passions to which all vent was forbidden.
The statesman of modern days has at least food for intellect in letters when deprived of action; but with all his talents, and thoroughly cultivated as his mind was in the camp, the council, and the state, the great earl cared for nothing in book-lore except some rude ballad that told of Charlemagne or Rollo. The sports that had pleased the leisure of his earlier youth were tedious and flat to one snatched from so mighty a career. His hound lay idle at his feet, his falcon took holiday on the perch, his jester was banished to the page's table. Behold the repose of this great unlettered spirit! But while his mind was thus debarred from its native sphere, all tended to pamper Lord Warwick's infirmity of pride. The ungrateful Edward might forget him; but the king seemed to stand alone in that oblivion. The mightiest peers, the most renowned knights, gathered to his hall. Middleham,—not Windsor nor Shene nor Westminster nor the Tower—seemed the COURT OF ENGLAND. As the Last of the Barons paced his terrace, far as his eye could reach, his broad domains extended, studded with villages and towns and castles swarming with his retainers. The whole country seemed in mourning for his absence. The name of Warwick was in all men's mouths, and not a group gathered in market-place or hostel but what the minstrel who had some ballad in praise of the stout earl had a rapt and thrilling audience.
"And is the river of my life," muttered Warwick, "shrunk into this stagnant pool? Happy the man who hath never known what it is to taste of fame,—to have it is a purgatory, to want it is a hell!"
Rapt in this gloomy self-commune, he heard not the light step that sought his side, till a tender arm was thrown around him, and a face in which sweet temper and pure thought had preserved to matronly beauty all the bloom of youth, looked up smilingly to his own.
"My lord, my Richard," said the countess, "why didst thou steal so churlishly from me? Hath there, alas! come a time when thou deemest me unworthy to share thy thoughts, or soothe thy troubles?"
"Fond one! no," said Warwick, drawing the form still light, though rounded, nearer to his bosom. "For nineteen years hast thou been to me a leal and loving wife. Thou wert a child on our wedding-day, m'amie, and I but a beardless youth; yet wise enough was I then to see, at the first glance of thy blue eye, that there was more treasure in thy heart than in all the lordships thy hand bestowed."
"My Richard!" murmured the countess, and her tears of grateful delight fell on the hand she kissed.
"Yes, let us recall those early and sweet days," continued Warwick, with a tenderness of voice and manner that strangers might have marvelled at, forgetting how tenderness is almost ever a part of such peculiar manliness of character; "yes, sit we here under this spacious elm, and think that our youth has come back to us once more. For verily, m'amie, nothing in life has ever been so fair to me as those days when we stood hand in hand on its threshold, and talked, boy-bridegroom and child-bride as we were, of the morrow that lay beyond."
"Ah, Richard, even in those days thy ambition sometimes vexed my woman's vanity, and showed me that I could never be all in all to so large a heart!"
"Ambition! No, thou mistakest,—Montagu is ambitious, I but proud. Montagu ever seeks to be higher than he is, I but assert the right to be what I am and have been; and my pride, sweet wife, is a part of my love for thee. It is thy title, Heiress of Warwick, and not my father's, that I bear; thy badge, and not the Nevile's, which I have made the symbol of my power. Shame, indeed, on my knighthood, if the fairest dame in England could not justify my pride! Ah, belle amie, why have we not a son?"
"Peradventure, fair lord," said the countess, with an arch yet half-melancholy smile, "because that pride, or ambition, name it as thou wilt, which thou excusest so gallantly, would become too insatiate and limitless if thou sawest a male heir to thy greatness; and God, perhaps, warns thee that, spread and increase as thou wilt,—yea, until half our native country becometh as the manor of one man,—all must pass from the Beauchamp and the Nevile into new Houses; thy glory indeed an eternal heirloom, but only to thy land,—thy lordships and thy wealth melting into the dowry of a daughter."
"At least no king hath daughters so dowried," answered Warwick; "and though I disdain for myself the hard vassalage of a throne, yet if the channel of our blood must pass into other streams, into nothing meaner than the veins of royalty should it merge." He paused a moment, and added with a sigh, "Would that Clarence were more worthy Isabel!"
"Nay," said the countess, gently, "he loveth her as she merits. He is comely, brave, gracious, and learned."
"A pest upon that learning,—it sicklies and womanizes men's minds!" exclaimed Warwick, bluntly. "Perhaps it is his learning that I am to thank for George of Clarence's fears and doubts and calculations and scruples. His brother forbids his marriage with any English donzell, for Edward dares not specialize what alone he dreads. His letters burn with love, and his actions freeze with doubts. It was not thus I loved thee, sweetheart. By all the saints in the calendar, had Henry V. or the Lion Richard started from the tomb to forbid me thy hand, it would but have made me a hotter lover! Howbeit Clarence shall decide ere the moon wanes, and but for Isabel's tears and thy entreaties, my father's grandchild should not have waited thus long the coming of so hesitating a wooer. But lo, our darlings! Anne hath thine eyes, m'amie; and she groweth more into my heart every day, since daily she more favours thee."