While he thus spoke, the fair sisters came lightly and gayly up the terrace: the arm of the statelier Isabel was twined round Anne's slender waist; and as they came forward in that gentle link, with their lithesome and bounding step, a happier blending of contrasted beauty was never seen. The months that had passed since the sisters were presented first to the reader had little changed the superb and radiant loveliness of Isabel, but had added surprisingly to the attractions of Anne. Her form was more rounded, her bloom more ripened; and though something of timidity and bashfulness still lingered about the grace of her movements and the glance of her dove-like eye, the more earnest thoughts of the awakening woman gave sweet intelligence to her countenance, and that divinest of all attractions—the touching and conscious modesty—to the shy but tender smile, and the blush that so came and went, so went and came, that it stirred the heart with a sort of delighted pity for one so evidently susceptible to every emotion of pleasure and of pain. Life seemed too rough a thing for so soft a nature, and gazing on her, one sighed to guess her future.
"And what brings ye hither, young truants?" said the earl, as Anne, leaving her sister, clung lovingly to his side (for it was ever her habit to cling to some one), while Isabel kissed her mother's hand, and then stood before her parents, colouring deeply, and with downcast eyes. "What brings ye hither, whom I left so lately deep engaged in the loom, upon the helmet of Goliath, with my burgonet before you as a sample? Wife, you are to blame,—our rooms of state will be arrasless for the next three generations, if these rosy fingers are suffered thus to play the idlers."
"My father," whispered Anne, "guests are on their way hither,—a noble cavalcade; you note them not from this part of the battlements, but from our turret it was fair to see how their plumes and banners shone in the setting sun."
"Guests!" echoed the earl; "well, is that so rare an honour that your hearts should beat like village girls at a holiday? Ah, Isabel! look at her blushes. Is it George of Clarence at last? Is it?"
"We see the Duke of Gloucester's cognizance," whispered Anne, "and our own Nevile Bull. Perchance our cousin George, also, may—"
Here she was interrupted by the sound of the warder's horn, followed a moment after by the roar of one of the bombards on the keep.
"At least," said Warwick, his face lighting up, "that signal announces the coming of king's blood. We must honour it,—for it is our own. We will go forth and meet our guests—your hand, countess."
And gravely and silently, and in deep but no longer gloomy thought, Warwick descended from the terrace, followed by the fair sisters; and who that could have looked upon that princely pair and those lovely and radiant children, could have foreseen that in that hour, Fate, in tempting the earl once more to action, was busy on their doom!
CHAPTER II. COUNCILS AND MUSINGS.
The lamp shone through the lattice of Warwick's chamber at the unwonted hour of midnight, and the earl was still in deep commune with his guests. The archbishop, whom Edward, alarmed by the state of the country and the disaffection of his barons, had reluctantly commissioned to mediate with Warwick, was, as we have before said, one of those men peculiar to the early Church. There was nothing more in the title of Archbishop of York than in that of the Bishop of Osnaburg (borne by the royal son of George III.) [The late Duke of York.] to prevent him who enjoyed it from leading armies, guiding States, or indulging pleasure. But beneath the coxcombry of George Nevile, which was what he shared most in common with the courtiers of the laity, there lurked a true ecclesiastic's mind. He would have made in later times an admirable Jesuit, and no doubt in his own time a very brilliant Pope. His objects in his present mission were clear and perspicuous; any breach between Warwick and the king must necessarily weaken his own position, and the power of his House was essential to all his views. The object of Gloucester in his intercession was less defined, but not less personal: in smoothing the way to his brother's marriage with Isabel, he removed all apparent obstacle to his own with Anne. And it is probable that Richard, who, whatever his crimes, was far from inaccessible to affection, might have really loved his early playmate, even while his ambition calculated the wealth of the baronies that would swell the dower of the heiress and gild the barren coronet of his duchy. [Majerns, the Flemish chronicler, quoted by Bucke ("Life of Richard III"), mentions the early attachment of Richard to Anne. They were much together, as children, at Middleham.]
"God's truth!" said Warwick, as he lifted his eyes from the scroll in the king's writing, "ye know well, princely cousin, and thou, my brother, ye know well how dearly I have loved King Edward; and the mother's milk overflows my heart when I read these gentle and tender words which he deigns to bestow upon his servant. My blood is hasty and over-hot, but a kind thought from those I love puts out much fire. Sith he thus beseeches me to return to his councils, I will not be sullen enough to hold back; but, oh, Prince Richard! is it indeed a matter past all consideration that your sister, the Lady Margaret, must wed with the Duke of Burgundy?"
"Warwick," replied the prince, "thou mayest know that I never looked with favour on that alliance; that when Clarence bore the Bastard's helmet, I withheld my countenance from the Bastard's presence. I incurred Edward's anger by refusing to attend his court while the Count de la Roche was his guest. And therefore you may trust me when I say now that Edward, after promises, however rash, most solemn and binding, is dishonoured forever if he break off the contract. New circumstances, too, have arisen, to make what were dishonour danger also. By the death of his father, Charolois has succeeded to the Duke of Burgundy's diadem. Thou knowest his warlike temper; and though in a contest popular in England we need fear no foe, yet thou knowest also that no subsidies could be raised for strife with our most profitable commercial ally. Wherefore we earnestly implore thee magnanimously to forgive the past, accept Edward's assurance of repentance, and be thy thought—as it has been ever—the weal of our common country."
"I may add, also," said the archbishop, observing how much Warwick was touched and softened,—"that in returning to the helm of state, our gracious king permits me to say, that, save only in the alliance with Burgundy, which toucheth his plighted word, you have full liberty to name conditions, and to ask whatever grace or power a monarch can bestow."
"I name none but my prince's confidence," said Warwick, generously; "in that, all else is given, and in return for that, I will make the greatest sacrifice that my nature knoweth, or can conceive,—I will mortify my familiar demon, I will subdue my PRIDE. If Edward can convince me that it is for the good of England that his sister should wed with mine ancient and bitter foe, I will myself do honour to his choice. But of this hereafter. Enough now that I forget past wrongs in present favour; and that for peace or war, I return to the side of that man whom I loved as my son before I served him as my king."
Neither Richard nor the archbishop was prepared for a conciliation so facile, for neither quite understood that peculiar magnanimity which often belongs to a vehement and hasty temper, and which is as eager to forgive as prompt to take offence,—which, ever in extremes, is not contented with anything short of fiery aggression or trustful generosity, and where it once passes over an offence, seeks to oblige the offender. So, when, after some further conversation on the state of the country, the earl lighted Gloucester to his chamber, the young prince said to himself, musingly,—
"Does ambition besot and blind men? Or can Warwick think that Edward can ever view him but as one to be destroyed when the hour is ripe?"
Catesby, who was the duke's chamberlain, was in attendance as the prince unrobed.
"A noble castle this," said the duke, "and one in the midst of a warlike population,—our own countrymen of York."
"It would be no mean addition to the dowry of the Lady Isabel," said Catesby, with his bland, false smile.
"Methinks rather that the lordships of Salisbury (and this is the chief) pass to the Lady Anne," said Richard, musingly. "No, Edward were imprudent to suffer this stronghold to fall to the next heir to his throne. Marked you the Lady Anne?—her beauty is most excellent."
"Truly, your Highness," answered Catesby, unsuspiciously, "the Lady Isabel seems to me the taller and the statelier."
"When man's merit and woman's beauty are measured by the ell, Catesby, Anne will certainly be less fair than Isabel, and Richard a dolt compared to Clarence. Open the casement; my dressing-robe; good-night to you!"
CHAPTER III. THE SISTERS.
The next morning, at an hour when modern beauty falls into its first sickly sleep, Isabel and Anne conversed on the same terrace, and near the same spot, which had witnessed their father's meditations the day before. They were seated on a rude bench in an angle of the wall, flanked by a low, heavy bastion. And from the parapet their gaze might have wandered over a goodly sight, for on a broad space, covered with sand and sawdust, within the vast limits of the castle range, the numerous knights and youths who sought apprenticeship in arms and gallantry under the earl were engaged in those martial sports which, falling elsewhere in disuse, the Last of the Barons kinglily maintained. There, boys of fourteen, on their small horses, ran against each other with blunted lances. There, those of more advanced adolescence, each following the other in a circle, rode at the ring; sometimes (at the word of command from an old knight who had fought at Agincourt, and was the preceptor in these valiant studies) leaping from their horses at full speed, and again vaulting into the saddle. A few grim old warriors sat by to censure or applaud. Most skilled among the younger was the son of Lord Montagu; among the maturer, the name of Marmaduke Nevile was the most often shouted. If the eye turned to the left, through the barbican might be seen flocks of beeves entering to supply the mighty larder; and at a smaller postern, a dark crowd of mendicant friars, and the more destitute poor, waited for the daily crumbs from the rich man's table. What need of a poor-law then? The baron and the abbot made the parish! But not on these evidences of wealth and state turned the eyes, so familiar to them, that they woke no vanity, and roused no pride.
With downcast looks and a pouting lip, Isabel listened to the silver voice of Anne.
"Dear sister, be just to Clarence. He cannot openly defy his king and brother. Believe that he would have accompanied our uncle and cousin had he not deemed that their meditation would be more welcome, at least to King Edward, without his presence."
"But not a letter! not a line!"
"Yet when I think of it, Isabel, are we sure that he even knew of the visit of the archbishop and his brother?"
"How could he fail to know?"
"The Duke of Gloucester last evening told me that the king had sent him southward."
"Was it about Clarence that the duke whispered to thee so softly by the oriel window?"
"Surely, yes," said Anne, simply. "Was not Richard as a brother to us when we played as children on yon greensward?"
"Never as a brother to me,—never was Richard of Gloucester one whom I could think of without fear and even loathing," answered Isabel, quickly.
It was at this turn in the conversation that the noiseless step of Richard himself neared the spot, and hearing his own name thus discourteously treated, he paused, screened from their eyes by the bastion in the angle.
"Nay, nay, sister," said Anne; "what is there in Richard that misbeseems his princely birth?"
"I know not, but there is no youth in his eye and in his heart. Even as a child he had the hard will and the cold craft of gray hairs. Pray Saint Mary you give me not Gloucester for a brother!"
Anne sighed and smiled. "Ah, no," she said, after a short pause, "when thou art Princess of Clarence may I—"
"May thou what?"
"Pray for thee and thine in the house of God! Ah, thou knowest not, sweet Isabel, how often at morn and even mine eyes and heart turn to the spires of yonder convent!" She rose as she said this, her lip quivered, and she moved on in the opposite direction to that in which Richard stood, still unseen, and no longer within his hearing. Isabel rose also, and hastening after her, threw her arms round Anne's neck, and kissed away the tears that stood in those meek eyes.
"My sister, my Anne! Ah, trust in me, thou hast some secret, I know it well,—I have long seen it. Is it possible that thou canst have placed thy heart, thy pure love—Thou blushest! Ah, Anne! Anne! thou canst not have loved beneath thee?"
"Nay," said Anne, with a spark of her ancestral fire lighting her meek eyes through its tears, "not beneath me, but above. What do I say! Isabel, ask me no more. Enough that it is a folly, a dream, and that I could smile with pity at myself to think from what light causes love and grief can spring."
"Above thee!" repeated Isabel, in amaze; "and who in England is above the daughter of Earl Warwick? Not Richard of Gloucester? If so, pardon my foolish tongue."
"No, not Richard,—though I feel kindly towards him, and his sweet voice soothes me when I listen,—not Richard. Ask no more."
"Oh, Anne, speak, speak!—we are not both so wretched? Thou lovest not Clarence? It is—it must be!"
"Canst thou think me so false and treacherous,—a heart pledged to thee? Clarence! Oh, no!"
"But who then—who then?" said Isabel, still suspiciously. "Nay, if thou wilt not speak, blame thyself if I must still wrong thee."
Thus appealed to, and wounded to the quick by Isabel's tone and eye, Anne at last with a strong effort suppressed her tears, and, taking her sister's hand, said in a voice of touching solemnity, "Promise, then, that the secret shall be ever holy; and, since I know that it will move thine anger—perhaps thy scorn—strive to forget what I will confess to thee."
Isabel for answer pressed her lips on the hand she held; and the sisters, turning under the shadow of a long row of venerable oaks, placed themselves on a little mound, fragrant with the violets of spring. A different part of the landscape beyond was now brought in view; calmly slept in the valley the roofs of the subject town of Middleham, calmly flowed through the pastures the noiseless waves of Ure. Leaning on Isabel's bosom, Anne thus spake, "Call to mind, sweet sister, that short breathing-time in the horrors of the Civil War, when a brief peace was made between our father and Queen Margaret. We were left in the palace—mere children that we were—to play with the young prince, and the children in Margaret's train."
"And I was unwell and timid, and kept aloof from the sports with a girl of my own years, whom I think—see how faithful my memory!—they called Sibyll; and Prince Edward, Henry's son, stealing from the rest, sought me out; and we sat together, or walked together alone, apart from all, that day and the few days we were his mother's guests. Oh, if you could have seen him and heard him then,—so beautiful, so gentle, so wise beyond his years, and yet so sweetly sad; and when we parted, he bade me ever love him, and placed his ring on my finger, and wept,—as we kissed each other, as children will."
"Children! ye were infants!" exclaimed Isabel, whose wonder seemed increased by this simple tale.
"Infant though I was, I felt as if my heart would break when I left him; and then the wars ensued; and do you not remember how ill I was, and like to die, when our House triumphed, and the prince and heir of Lancaster was driven into friendless exile? From that hour my fate was fixed. Smile if you please at such infant folly, but children often feel more deeply than later years can weet of."
"My sister, this is indeed a wilful invention of sorrow for thine own scourge. Why, ere this, believe me, the boy-prince hath forgotten thy very name."
"Not so, Isabel," said Anne, colouring, and quickly, "and perchance, did all rest here, I might have outgrown my weakness. But last year, when we were at Rouen with my father—"
"One evening on entering my chamber, I found a packet,—how left I know not, but the French king and his suite, thou rememberest, made our house almost their home,—and in this packet was a picture, and on its back these words, Forget not the exile who remembers thee!"
"And that picture was Prince Edward's?"
Anne blushed, and her bosom heaved beneath the slender and high-laced gorget. After a pause, looking round her, she drew forth a small miniature, which lay on the heart that beat thus sadly, and placed it in her sister's hands.
"You see I deceive you not, Isabel. And is not this a fair excuse for—"
She stopped short, her modest nature shrinking from comment upon the mere beauty that might have won the heart. And fair indeed was the face upon which Isabel gazed admiringly, in spite of the stiff and rude art of the limner; full of the fire and energy which characterized the countenance of the mother, but with a tinge of the same profound and inexpressible melancholy that gave its charm to the pensive features of Henry VI.,—a face, indeed, to fascinate a young eye, even if not associated with such remembrances of romance and pity.
Without saying a word, Isabel gave back the picture; but she pressed the hand that took it, and Anne was contented to interpret the silence into sympathy.
"And now you know why I have so often incurred your anger by compassion for the adherents of Lancaster; and for this, also, Richard of Gloucester hath been endeared to me,—for fierce and stern as he may be called, he hath ever been gentle in his mediation for that unhappy House."
"Because it is his policy to be well with all parties. My poor Anne, I cannot bid you hope; and yet, should I ever wed with Clarence, it may be possible—that—that—but you in turn will chide me for ambition."
"Clarence is heir to the throne of England, for King Edward has no male children; and the hour may arrive when the son of Henry of Windsor may return to his native land, not as sovereign, but as Duke of Lancaster, and thy hand may reconcile him to the loss of a crown."
"Would love reconcile thee to such a loss, proud Isabel?" said Anne, shaking her head, and smiling mournfully.
"No," answered Isabel, emphatically.
"And are men less haught than we?" said Anne. "Ah, I know not if I could love him so well could he resign his rights, or even could he regain them. It is his position that gives him a holiness in my eyes. And this love, that must be hopeless, is half pity and half respect."
At this moment a loud shout arose from the youths in the yard, or sporting-ground, below, and the sisters, startled, and looking up, saw that the sound was occasioned by the sight of the young Duke of Gloucester, who was standing on the parapet near the bench the demoiselles had quitted, and who acknowledged the greeting by a wave of his plumed cap, and a lowly bend of his head; at the same time the figures of Warwick and the archbishop, seemingly in earnest conversation, appeared at the end of the terrace. The sisters rose hastily, and would have stolen away, but the archbishop caught a glimpse of their robes, and called aloud to them. The reverent obedience, at that day, of youth to relations left the sisters no option but to advance towards their uncle, which they did with demure reluctance.
"Fair brother," said the archbishop, "I would that Gloucester were to have my stately niece instead of the gaudy Clarence."
"Because he can protect those he loves, and Clarence will ever need a protector."
"I like George not the less for that," said Warwick, "for I would not have my son-in-law my master."
"Master!" echoed the archbishop, laughing; "the Soldan of Babylon himself, were he your son-in-law, would find Lord Warwick a tolerably stubborn servant!"
"And yet," said Warwick, also laughing, but with a franker tone, "beshrew me, but much as I approve young Gloucester, and deem him the hope of the House of York, I never feel sure, when we are of the same mind, whether I agree with him, or whether he leadeth me. Ah, George! Isabel should have wedded the king, and then Edward and I would have had a sweet mediator in all our quarrels. But not so hath it been decreed."
There was a pause.
"Note how Gloucester steals to the side of Anne. Thou mayst have him for a son-in-law, though no rival to Clarence. Montagu hath hinted that the duke so aspires."
"He has his father's face—well," said the earl, softly. "But yet," he added, in an altered and reflective tone, "the boy is to me a riddle. That he will be bold in battle and wise in council I foresee; but would he had more of a young man's honest follies! There is a medium between Edward's wantonness and Richard's sanctimony; and he who in the heyday of youth's blood scowls alike upon sparkling wine and smiling woman, may hide in his heart darker and more sinful fancies. But fie on me! I will not wrongfully mistrust his father's son. Thou spokest of Montagu; he seems to have been mighty cold to his brother's wrongs,—ever at the court, ever sleek with Villein and Woodville."
"But the better to watch thy interests,—I so counselled him."
"A priest's counsel! Hate frankly or love freely is a knight's and soldier's motto. A murrain on all doubledealing!"
The archbishop shrugged his shoulders, and applied to his nostrils a small pouncet-box of dainty essences.
"Come hither, my haughty Isabel," said the prelate, as the demoiselles now drew near. He placed his niece's arm within his own, and took her aside to talk of Clarence; Richard remained with Anne, and the young cousins were joined by Warwick. The earl noted in silence the soft address of the eloquent prince, and his evident desire to please Anne. And strange as it may seem, although he had hitherto regarded Richard with admiration and affection, and although his pride for both daughters coveted alliances not less than royal, yet, in contemplating Gloucester for the first time as a probable suitor to his daughter (and his favourite daughter), the anxiety of a father sharpened his penetration, and placed the character of Richard before him in a different point from that in which he had hitherto looked only on the fearless heart and accomplished wit of his royal godson.
CHAPTER IV. THE DESTRIER.
It was three days afterwards that the earl, as, according to custom, Anne knelt to him for his morning blessing in the oratory where the Christian baron at matins and vespers offered up his simple worship, drew her forth into the air, and said abruptly,—
"Wouldst thou be happy if Richard of Gloucester were thy betrothed?"
Anne started, and with more vivacity than usually belonged to her, exclaimed, "Oh, no, my father!"
"This is no maiden's silly coyness, Anne? It is a plain yea or nay that I ask from thee!"
"Nay, then," answered Anne, encouraged by her father's tone,—"nay, if it so please you."
"It doth please me," said the earl, shortly; and after a pause, he added, "Yes, I am well pleased. Richard gives promise of an illustrious manhood; but, Anne, thou growest so like thy mother, that whenever my pride seeks to see thee great, my heart steps in, and only prays that it may see thee happy!—so much so, that I would not have given thee to Clarence, whom it likes me well to view as Isabel's betrothed, for, to her, greatness and bliss are one; and she is of firm nature, and can rule in her own house; but thou—where out of romaunt can I find a lord loving enough for thee, soft child?"
Inexpressibly affected, Anne threw herself on her father's breast and wept. He caressed and soothed her fondly; and before her emotion was well over, Gloucester and Isabel joined them.
"My fair cousin," said the duke, "hath promised to show me thy renowned steed, Saladin; and since, on quitting thy halls, I go to my apprenticeship in war on the turbulent Scottish frontier, I would fain ask thee for a destrier of the same race as that which bears the thunderbolt of Warwick's wrath through the storm of battle."
"A steed of the race of Saladin," answered the earl, leading the way to the destrier's stall, apart from all other horses, and rather a chamber of the castle than a stable, "were indeed a boon worthy a soldier's gift and a prince's asking. But, alas! Saladin, like myself, is sonless,—the last of a long line."
"His father, methinks, fell for us on the field of Towton. Was it not so? I have heard Edward say that when the archers gave way, and the victory more than wavered, thou, dismounting, didst slay thy steed with thine own hand, and kissing the cross of thy sword, swore on that spot to stem the rush of the foe, and win Edward's crown or Warwick's grave." ["Every Palm Sunday, the day on which the battle of Towton was fought, a rough figure, called the Red Horse, on the side of a hill in Warwickshire, is scoured out. This is suggested to be done in commemoration of the horse which the Earl of Warwick slew on that day, determined to vanquish or die."—Roberts: York and Lancaster, vol. i. p. 429.]
"It was so; and the shout of my merry men, when they saw me amongst their ranks on foot—all flight forbid—was Malech's death-dirge. It is a wondrous race,—that of Malech and his son Saladin," continued the earl, smiling. "When my ancestor, Aymer de Nevile, led his troops to the Holy Land, under Coeur de Lion, it was his fate to capture a lady beloved by the mighty Saladin. Need I say that Aymer, under a flag of truce, escorted her ransomless, her veil never raised from her face, to the tent of the Saracen king? Saladin, too gracious for an infidel, made him tarry a while, an honoured guest; and Aymer's chivalry became sorely tried, for the lady he had delivered loved and tempted him; but the good knight prayed and fasted, and defied Satan and all his works. The lady (so runs the legend) grew wroth at the pious crusader's disdainful coldness; and when Aymer returned to his comrades, she sent, amidst the gifts of the soldan, two coal-black steeds, male and mare, over which some foul and weird spells had been duly muttered. Their beauty, speed, art, and fierceness were a marvel. And Aymer, unsuspecting, prized the boon, and selected the male destrier for his war-horse. Great were the feats, in many a field, which my forefather wrought, bestriding his black charger. But one fatal day, on which the sudden war-trump made him forget his morning ave, the beast had power over the Christian, and bore him, against bit and spur, into the thickest of the foe. He did all a knight can do against many (pardon his descendant's vaunting,—so runs the tale), and the Christians for a while beheld him solitary in the melee, mowing down moon and turban. Then the crowd closed, and the good knight was lost to sight. 'To the rescue!' cried bold King Richard, and on rushed the crusaders to Aymer's help; when lo! and suddenly the ranks severed, and the black steed emerged! Aymer still on the selle, but motionless, and his helm battered and plumeless, his brand broken, his arm drooping. On came man and horse, on,—charging on, not against Infidel but Christian. On dashed the steed, I say, with fire bursting from eyes and nostrils, and the pike of his chaffron bent lance-like against the crusaders' van. The foul fiend seemed in the destrier's rage and puissance. He bore right against Richard's standard-bearer, and down went the lion and the cross. He charged the king himself; and Richard, unwilling to harm his own dear soldier Aymer, halted wondering, till the pike of the destrier pierced his own charger through the barding, and the king lay rolling in the dust. A panic seized the cross-men; they fled, the Saracens pursued, and still with the Saracens came the black steed and the powerless rider. At last, when the crusaders reached the camp, and the flight ceased, there halted, also, Aymer. Not a man dared near him. He spoke not, none spoke to him, till a holy priest and palmer approached and sprinkled the good knight and the black barb with holy water, and exorcised both; the spell broke, and Aymer dropped to the earth. They unbraced his helm,—he was cold and stark. The fierce steed had but borne a dead man."
"Holy Paul!" cried Gloucester, with seeming sanctimony, though a covert sneer played round the firm beauty of his pale lips, "a notable tale, and one that proveth much of Sacred Truth, now lightly heeded. But, verily, lord earl, I should have little loved a steed with such a pedigree."
"Hear the rest," said Isabel. "King Richard ordered the destrier to be slain forthwith; but the holy palmer who had exorcised it forbade the sacrifice. 'Mighty shall be the service,' said the reverend man, 'which the posterity of this steed shall render to thy royal race, and great glory shall they give to the sons of Nevile. Let the war-horse, now duly exorcised from infidel spells, live long to bear a Christian warrior!'"
"And so," quoth the earl, taking up the tale—"so mare and horse were brought by Aymer's squires to his English hall; and Aymer's son, Sir Reginald, bore the cross, and bestrode the fatal steed, without fear and without scathe. From that hour the House of Nevile rose amain, in fame and in puissance; and the legend further saith, that the same palmer encountered Sir Reginald at Joppa, bade him treasure that race of war-steeds as his dearest heritage, for with that race his own should flourish and depart; and the sole one of the Infidel's spells which could not be broken was that which united the gift—generation after generation, for weal or for woe, for honour or for doom—to the fate of Aymer and his House. 'And,' added the palmer, 'as with woman's love and woman's craft was woven the indissoluble charm, so shall woman, whether in craft or in love, ever shape the fortunes of thee and thine.'"
"As yet," said the prince, "the prophecy is fulfilled in a golden sense, for nearly all thy wide baronies, I trow, have come to thee through the female side. A woman's hand brought to the Nevile this castle and its lands; [Middleham Castle was built by Robert Fitz Ranulph, grandson of Ribald, younger brother of the Earl of Bretagne and Richmond, nephew to the Conqueror. The founder's line failed in male heirs, and the heiress married Robert Nevile, son of Lord Raby. Warwick's father held the earldom of Salisbury in right of his wife, the heiress of Thomas de Montacute.] from a woman came the heritage of Monthermer and Montagu, and Salisbury's famous earldom; and the dower of thy peerless countess was the broad domains of Beauchamp."
"And a woman's craft, young prince, wrought my king's displeasure! But enough of these dissour's tales; behold the son of poor Malech, whom, forgetting all such legends, I slew at Towton. Ho, Saladin, greet thy master!"
They stood now in the black steed's stall.—an ample and high-vaulted space, for halter never insulted the fierce destrier's mighty neck, which the God of Battles had clothed in thunder. A marble cistern contained his limpid drink, and in a gilded manger the finest wheaten bread was mingled with the oats of Flanders. On entering, they found young George, Montagu's son, with two or three boys, playing familiarly with the noble animal, who had all the affectionate docility inherited from an Arab origin. But at the sound of Warwick's voice, its ears rose, its mane dressed itself, and with a short neigh it came to his feet, and kneeling down, in slow and stately grace, licked its master's hand. So perfect and so matchless a steed never had knight bestrode! Its hide without one white hair, and glossy as the sheenest satin; a lady's tresses were scarcely finer than the hair of its noble mane; the exceeding smallness of its head, its broad frontal, the remarkable and almost human intelligence of its eye, seemed actually to elevate its conformation above that of its species. Though the race had increased, generation after generation, in size and strength, Prince Richard still marvelled (when, obedient to a sign from Warwick, the destrier rose, and leaned its head, with a sort of melancholy and quiet tenderness, upon the earl's shoulder) that a horse, less in height and bulk than the ordinary battle-steed, could bear the vast weight of the giant earl in his ponderous mail. But his surprise ceased when the earl pointed out to him the immense strength of the steed's ample loins, the sinewy cleanness, the iron muscle, of the stag-like legs, the bull-like breadth of chest, and the swelling power of the shining neck.
"And after all," added the earl, "both in man and beast, the spirit and the race, not the stature and the bulk, bring the prize. Mort Dieu, Richard! it often shames me of mine own thews and broad breast,—I had been more vain of laurels had I been shorter by the head!"
"Nevertheless," said young George of Montagu, with a page's pertness, "I had rather have thine inches than Prince Richard's, and thy broad breast than his grace's short neck."
The Duke of Gloucester turned as if a snake had stung him. He gave but one glance to the speaker, but that glance lived forever in the boy's remembrance, and the young Montagu turned pale and trembled, even before he heard the earl's stern rebuke.
"Young magpies chatter, boy,—young eagles in silence measure the space between the eyry and the sun!"
The boy hung his head, and would have slunk off, but Richard detained him with a gentle hand. "My fair young cousin," said he, "thy words gall no sore, and if ever thou and I charge side by side into the foeman's ranks, thou shalt comprehend what thy uncle designed to say,—how, in the hour of strait and need, we measure men's stature not by the body but the soul!"
"A noble answer," whispered Anne, with something like sisterly admiration.
"Too noble," said the more ambitious Isabel, in the same voice, "for Clarence's future wife not to fear Clarence's dauntless brother."
"And so," said the prince, quitting the stall with Warwick, while the girls still lingered behind, "so Saladin hath no son! Wherefore? Can you mate him with no bride?"
"Faith," answered the earl, "the females of his race sleep in yonder dell, their burial-place, and the proud beast disdains all meaner loves. Nay, were it not so, to continue the breed, if adulterated, were but to mar it."
"You care little for the legend, meseems."
"Pardieu! at times, yes, over much; but in sober moments I think that the brave man who does his duty lacks no wizard prophecy to fulfil his doom; and whether in prayer or in death, in fortune or defeat, his soul goes straight to God!"
"Umph," said Richard, musingly; and there was a pause. "Warwick," resumed the prince, "doubtless, even on your return to London, the queen's enmity and her mother's will not cease. Clarence loves Isabel, but Clarence knows not how to persuade the king and rule the king's womankind. Thou knowest how I have stood aloof from all the factions of the court. Unhappily I go to the Borders, and can but slightly serve thee. But—" (he stopped short, and sighed heavily).
"Speak on, Prince."
"In a word, then, if I were thy son, Anne's husband, I see—I see—I see—" (thrice repeated the prince, with a vague dreaminess in his eye, and stretching forth his hand)—"a future that might defy all foes, opening to me and thee!"
Warwick hesitated in some embarrassment.
"My gracious and princely cousin," he said at length, "this proffer is indeed sweet incense to a father's pride. But pardon me, as yet, noble Richard, thou art so young that the king and the world would blame me did I suffer my ambition to listen to such temptation. Enough, at present, if all disputes between our House and the king can be smoothed and laid at rest without provoking new ones. Nay, pardon me, prince, let this matter cease—at least, till thy return from the Borders."
"May I take with me hope?"
"Nay," said Warwick, "thou knowest that I am a plain man; to bid thee hope were to plight my word. And," he added seriously, "there be reasons grave and well to be considered why both the daughters of a subject should not wed with their king's brothers. Let this cease now, I pray thee, sweet lord."
Here the demoiselles joined their father, and the conference was over; but when Richard, an hour after, stood musing alone on the battlements, he muttered to himself, "Thou art a fool, stout earl, not to have welcomed the union between thy power and my wit. Thou goest to a court where without wit power is nought. Who may foresee the future? Marry, that was a wise ancient fable, that he who seized and bound Proteus could extract from the changeful god the prophecy of the days to come. Yea! the man who can seize Fate can hear its voice predict to him. And by my own heart and brain, which never yet relinquished what affection yearned for, or thought aspired to, I read, as in a book, Anne, that thou shalt be mine; and that where wave on yon battlements the ensigns of Beauchamp, Monthermer, and Nevile, the Boar of Gloucester shall liege it over their broad baronies and hardy vassals."
WHEREIN ARE OPENED SOME GLIMPSES OF THE FATE BELOW THAT ATTENDS THOSE WHO ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS, AND THOSE WHO DESIRE TO MAKE OTHERS BETTER. LOVE, DEMAGOGY, AND SCIENCE ALL EQUALLY OFF-SPRING OF THE SAME PROLIFIC DELUSION,—NAMELY, THAT MEAN SOULS (THE EARTH'S MAJORITY) ARE WORTH THE HOPE AND THE AGONY OF NOBLE SOULS, THE EVERLASTING SUFFERING AND ASPIRING FEW.
CHAPTER I. NEW DISSENSIONS.
We must pass over some months. Warwick and his family had returned to London, and the meeting between Edward and the earl had been cordial and affectionate. Warwick was reinstated in the offices which gave him apparently the supreme rule in England. The Princess Margaret had left England as the bride of Charles the Bold; and the earl had attended the procession in honour of her nuptials. The king, agreeably with the martial objects he had had long at heart, had then declared war on Louis XI., and parliament was addressed and troops were raised for that impolitic purpose. [Parliamentary Rolls, 623. The fact in the text has been neglected by most historians.] To this war, however, Warwick was inflexibly opposed. He pointed out the madness of withdrawing from England all her best-affected chivalry, at a time when the adherents of Lancaster, still powerful, would require no happier occasion to raise the Red Rose banner. He showed how hollow was the hope of steady aid from the hot but reckless and unprincipled Duke of Burgundy, and how different now was the condition of France under a king of consummate sagacity and with an overflowing treasury to its distracted state in the former conquests of the English. This opposition to the king's will gave every opportunity for Warwick's enemies to renew their old accusation of secret and treasonable amity with Louis. Although the proud and hasty earl had not only forgiven the affront put upon him by Edward, but had sought to make amends for his own intemperate resentment, by public attendance on the ceremonials that accompanied the betrothal of the princess, it was impossible for Edward ever again to love the minister who had defied his power and menaced his crown. His humour and his suspicions broke forth despite the restraint that policy dictated to him: and in the disputes upon the invasion of France, a second and more deadly breach between Edward and his minister must have yawned, had not events suddenly and unexpectedly proved the wisdom of Warwick's distrust of Burgundy. Louis XI. bought off the Duke of Bretagne, patched up a peace with Charles the Bold, and thus frustrated all the schemes and broke all the alliances of Edward at the very moment his military preparations were ripe. [W. Wyr, 518.]
Still the angry feelings that the dispute had occasioned between Edward and the earl were not removed with the cause; and under pretence of guarding against hostilities from Louis, the king requested Warwick to depart to his government of Calais, the most important and honourable post, it is true, which a subject could then hold: but Warwick considered the request as a pretext for his removal from the court. A yet more irritating and insulting cause of offence was found in Edward's withholding his consent to Clarence's often-urged demand for permission to wed with the Lady Isabel. It is true that this refusal was accompanied with the most courteous protestations of respect for the earl, and placed only upon the general ground of state policy.
"My dear George," Edward would say, "the heiress of Lord Warwick is certainly no mal-alliance for a king's brother; but the safety of the throne imperatively demands that my brothers should strengthen my rule by connections with foreign potentates. I, it is true, married a subject, and see all the troubles that have sprung from my boyish passion! No, no! Go to Bretagne. The duke hath a fair daughter, and we will make up for any scantiness in the dower. Weary me no more, George. Fiat voluntas mea!"
But the motives assigned were not those which influenced the king's refusal. Reasonably enough, he dreaded that the next male heir to his crown should wed the daughter of the subject who had given that crown, and might at any time take it away. He knew Clarence to be giddy, unprincipled, and vain. Edward's faith in Warwick was shaken by the continual and artful representations of the queen and her family. He felt that the alliance between Clarence and the earl would be the union of two interests almost irresistible if once arrayed against his own.
But Warwick, who penetrated into the true reason for Edward's obstinacy, was yet more resentful against the reasons than the obstinacy itself. The one galled him through his affections, the other through his pride; and the first were as keen as the last was morbid. He was the more chafed, inasmuch as his anxiety of father became aroused. Isabel was really attached to Clarence, who, with all his errors, possessed every superficial attraction that graced his House,—gallant and handsome, gay and joyous, and with manners that made him no less popular than Edward himself.
And if Isabel's affections were not deep, disinterested, and tender, like those of Anne, they were strengthened by a pride which she inherited from her father, and a vanity which she took from her sex. It was galling in the extreme to feel that the loves between her and Clarence were the court gossip, and the king's refusal the court jest. Her health gave way, and pride and love both gnawed at her heart.
It happened, unfortunately for the king and for Warwick, that Gloucester, whose premature acuteness and sagacity would have the more served both, inasmuch as the views he had formed in regard to Anne would have blended his interest in some degree with that of the Duke of Clarence, and certainly with the object of conciliation between Edward and his minister,—it happened, we say, unfortunately, that Gloucester was still absent with the forces employed on the Scottish frontier, whither he had repaired on quitting Middleham, and where his extraordinary military talents found their first brilliant opening; and he was therefore absent from London during all the disgusts he might have removed and the intrigues he might have frustrated.
But the interests of the House of Warwick, during the earl's sullen and indignant sojourn at his government of Calais, were not committed to unskilful hands; and Montagu and the archbishop were well fitted to cope with Lord Rivers and the Duchess of Bedford.
Between these able brothers, one day, at the More, an important conference took place.
"I have sought you," said Montagu, with more than usual care upon his brow—"I have sought you in consequence of an event that may lead to issues of no small moment, whether for good or evil. Clarence has suddenly left England for Calais."
"I know it, Montagu; the duke confided to me his resolution to proclaim himself old enough to marry,—and discreet enough to choose for himself."
"And you approved?"
"Certes; and, sooth to say, I brought him to that modest opinion of his own capacities. What is more still, I propose to join him at Calais."
"Look not so scared, O valiant captain, who never lost a battle,—where the Church meddles, all prospers. Listen!" And the young prelate gathered himself up from his listless posture, and spoke with earnest unction. "Thou knowest that I do not much busy myself in lay schemes; when I do, the object must be great. Now, Montagu, I have of late narrowly and keenly watched that spidery web which ye call a court, and I see that the spider will devour the wasp, unless the wasp boldly break the web,—for woman-craft I call the spider, and soldier-pride I style the wasp. To speak plainly, these Woodvilles must be bravely breasted and determinately abashed. I do not mean that we can deal with the king's wife and her family as with any other foes; but we must convince them that they cannot cope with us, and that their interests will best consist in acquiescing in that condition of things which places the rule of England in the hands of the Neviles."
"My own thought, if I saw the way!"
"I see the way in this alliance; the Houses of York and Warwick must become so indissolubly united, that an attempt to injure the one must destroy both. The queen and the Woodvilles plot against us; we must raise in the king's family a counterpoise to their machinations. It brings no scandal on the queen to conspire against Warwick, but it would ruin her in the eyes of England to conspire against the king's brother; and Clarence and Warwick must be as one. This is not all! If our sole aid was in giddy George, we should but buttress our House with a weathercock. This connection is but as a part of the grand scheme on which I have set my heart,—Clarence shall wed Isabel, Gloucester wed Anne, and (let thy ambitious heart beat high, Montagu) the king's eldest daughter shall wed thy son,—the male representative of our triple honours. Ah, thine eyes sparkle now! Thus the whole royalty of England shall centre in the Houses of Nevile and York; and the Woodvilles will be caught and hampered in their own meshes, their resentment impotent; for how can Elizabeth stir against us, if her daughter be betrothed to the son of Montagu, the nephew of Warwick? Clarence, beloved by the shallow commons; [Singular as it may seem to those who know not that popularity is given to the vulgar qualities of men, and that where a noble nature becomes popular (a rare occurrence), it is despite the nobleness,—not because of it. Clarence was a popular idol even to the time of his death.—Croyl., 562.] Gloucester, adored both by the army and the Church; and Montagu and Warwick, the two great captains of the age,—is not this a combination of power that may defy Fate?"
"O George!" said Montagu, admiringly, "what pity that the Church should spoil such a statesman!"
"Thou art profane, Montagu; the Church spoils no man,—the Church leads and guides ye all; and, mark, I look farther still. I would have intimate league with France; I would strengthen ourselves with Spain and the German Emperor; I would buy or seduce the votes of the sacred college; I would have thy poor brother, whom thou so pitiest because he has no son to marry a king's daughter, no daughter to wed with a king's son—I would have thy unworthy brother, Montagu, the father of the whole Christian world, and, from the chair of the Vatican, watch over the weal of kingdoms. And now, seest thou why with to-morrow's sun I depart for Calais, and lend my voice in aid of Clarence's for the first knot in this complicated bond?"
"But will Warwick consent while the king opposes? Will his pride—"
"His pride serves us here; for so long as Clarence did not dare to gainsay the king, Warwick in truth might well disdain to press his daughter's hand upon living man. The king opposes, but with what right? Warwick's pride will but lead him, if well addressed, to defy affront and to resist dictation. Besides, our brother has a woman's heart for his children; and Isabel's face is pale, and that will plead more than all my eloquence."
"But can the king forgive your intercession and Warwick's contumacy?"
"Forgive!—the marriage once over, what is left for him to do? He is then one with us, and when Gloucester returns all will be smooth again,—smooth for the second and more important nuptials; and the second shall preface the third; meanwhile, you return to the court. To these ceremonials you need be no party: keep but thy handsome son from breaking his neck in over-riding his hobby, and 'bide thy time!'"
Agreeably with the selfish but sagacious policy thus detailed, the prelate departed the next day for Calais, where Clarence was already urging his suit with the ardent impatience of amorous youth. The archbishop found, however, that Warwick was more reluctant than he had anticipated, to suffer his daughter to enter any House without the consent of its chief; nor would the earl, in all probability, have acceded to the prayers of the princely suitor, had not Edward, enraged at the flight of Clarence, and worked upon by the artful queen, committed the imprudence of writing an intemperate and menacing letter to the earl, which called up all the passions of the haughty Warwick.
"What!" he exclaimed, "thinks this ungrateful man not only to dishonour me by his method of marrying his sisters, but will he also play the tyrant with me in the disposal of mine own daughter! He threats! he!—enough. It is due to me to show that there lives no man whose threats I have not the heart to defy!" And the prelate finding him in this mood had no longer any difficulty in winning his consent. This ill-omened marriage was, accordingly, celebrated with great and regal pomp at Calais, and the first object of the archbishop was attained.
While thus stood affairs between the two great factions of the state, those discontents which Warwick's presence at court had a while laid at rest again spread, broad and far, throughout the land. The luxury and indolence of Edward's disposition in ordinary times always surrendered him to the guidance of others. In the commencement of his reign he was eminently popular, and his government, though stern, suited to the times; for then the presiding influence was that of Lord Warwick. As the queen's counsels prevailed over the consummate experience and masculine vigour of the earl, the king's government lost both popularity and respect, except only in the metropolis; and if, at the close of his reign, it regained all its earlier favour with the people, it must be principally ascribed to the genius of Hastings, then England's most powerful subject, and whose intellect calmly moved all the springs of action. But now everywhere the royal authority was weakened; and while Edward was feasting at Shene and Warwick absent at Calais, the provinces were exposed to all the abuses which most gall a population. The poor complained that undue exactions were made on them by the hospitals, abbeys, and barons; the Church complained that the queen's relations had seized and spent Church moneys; the men of birth and merit complained of the advancement of new men who had done no service: and all these several discontents fastened themselves upon the odious Woodvilles, as the cause of all. The second breach, now notorious, between the king and the all-beloved Warwick, was a new aggravation of the popular hatred to the queen's family, and seemed to give occasion for the malcontents to appear with impunity, at least so far as the earl was concerned: it was, then, at this critical time that the circumstances we are about to relate occurred.
CHAPTER II. THE WOULD-BE IMPROVERS OF JOVE'S FOOTBALL, EARTH.—THE SAD FATHER AND THE SAD CHILD.—THE FAIR RIVALS.
Adam Warner was at work on his crucible when the servitor commissioned to attend him opened the chamber door, and a man dressed in the black gown of a student entered.
He approached the alchemist, and after surveying him for a moment in a silence that seemed not without contempt, said, "What, Master Warner, are you so wedded to your new studies that you have not a word to bestow on an old friend?"
Adam turned, and after peevishly gazing at the intruder a few moments, his face brightened up into recognition.
"En iterum!" he said. "Again, bold Robin Hilyard, and in a scholar's garb! Ha! doubtless thou hast learned ere this that peaceful studies do best insure man's weal below, and art come to labour with me in the high craft of mind-work!"
"Adam," quoth Hilyard, "ere I answer, tell me this: Thou with thy science wouldst change the world: art thou a jot nearer to thy end?"
"Well-a-day," said poor Adam, "you know little what I have undergone. For danger to myself by rack and gibbet I say nought. Man's body is fair prey to cruelty, and what a king spares to-day the worm shall gnaw to-morrow. But mine invention—my Eureka—look!" and stepping aside, he lifted a cloth, and exhibited the mangled remains of the unhappy model.
"I am forbid to restore it," continued Adam, dolefully. "I must work day and night to make gold, and the gold comes not; and my only change of toil is when the queen bids me construct little puppet-boxes for her children! How, then, can I change the world? And thou," he added, doubtingly and eagerly—"thou, with thy plots and stratagem, and active demagogy, thinkest thou that thou hast changed the world, or extracted one drop of evil out of the mixture of gall and hyssop which man is born to drink?"
Hilyard was silent, and the two world-betterers—the philosopher and the demagogue—gazed on each other, half in sympathy, half in contempt. At last Robin said,—
"Mine old friend, hope sustains us both; and in the wilderness we yet behold the Pisgah! But to my business. Doubtless thou art permitted to visit Henry in his prison."
"Not so," replied Adam; "and for the rest, since I now eat King Edward's bread, and enjoy what they call his protection, ill would it beseem me to lend myself to plots against his throne."
"Ah, man, man, man," exclaimed Hilyard, bitterly, "thou art like all the rest,—scholar or serf, the same slave; a king's smile bribes thee from a people's service!"
Before Adam could reply, a panel in the wainscot slid back and the bald head of a friar peered into the room. "Son Adam," said the holy man, "I crave your company an instant, oro vestrem aurem;" and with this abominable piece of Latinity the friar vanished.
With a resigned and mournful shrug of the shoulders, Adam walked across the room, when Hilyard, arresting his progress, said, crossing himself, and in a subdued and fearful whisper, "Is not that Friar Bungey, the notable magician?"
"Magician or not," answered Warner, with a lip of inexpressible contempt and a heavy sigh, "God pardon his mother for giving birth to such a numskull!" and with this pious and charitable ejaculation Adam disappeared in the adjoining chamber, appropriated to the friar.
"Hum," soliloquized Hilyard, "they say that Friar Bungey is employed by the witch duchess in everlasting diabolisms against her foes. A peep into his den might suffice me for a stirring tale to the people."
No sooner did this daring desire arise than the hardy Robin resolved to gratify it; and stealing on tiptoe along the wall, he peered cautiously through the aperture made by the sliding panel. An enormous stuffed lizard hung from the ceiling, and various strange reptiles, dried into mummy, were ranged around, and glared at the spy with green glass eyes. A huge book lay open on a tripod stand, and a caldron seethed over a slow and dull fire. A sight yet more terrible presently awaited the rash beholder.
"Adam," said the friar, laying his broad palm on the student's reluctant shoulders, "inter sapentes."
"Sapientes, brother," groaned Adam.
"That's the old form, Adam," quoth the friar, superciliously,—"sapentes is the last improvement. I say, between wise men there is no envy. Our noble and puissant patroness, the Duchess of Bedford, hath committed to me a task that promiseth much profit. I have worked at it night and day stotis filibus."
"O man, what lingo speakest thou?—stotis filibus!"
"Tush, if it is not good Latin, it does as well, son Adam. I say I have worked at it night and day, and it is now advanced eno' for experiment. But thou art going to sleep."
"Despatch! speak out! speak on!" said Adam, desperately,—"what is thy achievement?"
"See!" answered the friar, majestically; and drawing aside a black pall, he exhibited to the eyes of Adam, and to the more startled gaze of Robin Hilyard, a pale, cadaverous, corpse-like image, of pigmy proportions, but with features moulded into a coarse caricature of the lordly countenance of the Earl of Warwick.
"There," said the friar, complacently, and rubbing his hands, "that is no piece of bungling, eh? As like the stout earl as one pea to another."
"And for what hast thou kneaded up all this waste of wax?" asked Adam. "Forsooth, I knew not you had so much of ingenious art; algates, the toy is somewhat ghastly."
"Ho, ho!" quoth the friar, laughing so as to show a set of jagged, discoloured fangs from ear to ear, "surely thou, who art so notable a wizard and scholar, knowest for what purpose we image forth our enemies. Whatever the duchess inflicts upon this figure, the Earl of Warwick, whom it representeth, will feel through his bones and marrow,—waste wax, waste man!"
"Thou art a devil to do this thing, and a blockhead to think it, O miserable friar!" exclaimed Adam, roused from all his gentleness.
"Ha!" cried the friar, no less vehemently, and his burly face purple with passion, "dost thou think to bandy words with me? Wretch! I will set goblins to pinch thee black and blue! I will drag thee at night over all the jags of Mount Pepanon, at the tail of a mad nightmare! I will put aches in all thy bones, and the blood in thy veins shall run into sores and blotches. Am I not Friar Bungey? And what art thou?"
At these terrible denunciations, the sturdy Robin, though far less superstitious than most of his contemporaries, was seized with a trembling from head to foot; and expecting to see goblins and imps start forth from the walls, he retired hastily from his hiding-place, and, without waiting for further commune with Warner, softly opened the chamber door and stole down the stairs. Adam, however, bore the storm unquailingly, and when the holy man paused to take breath, he said calmly,—
"Verily, if thou canst do these things, there must be secrets in Nature which I have not yet discovered. Howbeit, though thou art free to try all thou canst against me, thy threats make it necessary that this communication between us should be nailed up, and I shall so order."
The friar, who was ever in want of Adam's aid, either to construe a bit of Latin, or to help him in some chemical illusion, by no means relished this quiet retort; and holding out his huge hand to Adam, said, with affected cordiality,—
"Pooh! we are brothers, and must not quarrel. I was over hot, and thou too provoking; but I honour and love thee, man,—let it pass. As for this figure, doubtless we might pink it all over, and the earl be never the worse. But if our employers order these things and pay for them, we cunning men make profit by fools!"
"It is men like thee that bring shame on science," answered Adam, sternly; "and I will not listen to thee longer."
"Nay, but you must," said the friar, clutching Adam's robe, and concealing his resentment by an affected grin. "Thou thinkest me a mere ignoramus—ha! ha!—I think the same of thee. Why, man, thou hast never studied the parts of the human body, 1'11 swear."
"I'm no leech," said Adam. "Let me go."
"No, not yet. I will convict thee of ignorance. Thou dost not even know where the liver is placed."
"I do," answered Adam, shortly; "but what then?"
"Thou dost?—I deny it. Here is a pin; stick it into this wax, man, where thou sayest the liver lies in the human frame."
Adam unsuspiciously obeyed.
"Well! the liver is there, eh? Ah, but where are the lungs?"
"And the midriff?"
"Right!—thou mayest go now," said the friar, dryly. Adam disappeared through the aperture, and closed the panel.
"Now I know where the lungs, midriff, and liver are," said the friar to himself, "I shall get on famously. 'T is a useful fellow, that, or I should have had him hanged long ago!"
Adam did not remark on his re-entrance that his visitor, Hilyard, had disappeared, and the philosopher was soon reimmersed in the fiery interest of his thankless labours.
It might be an hour afterwards, when, wearied and exhausted by perpetual hope and perpetual disappointment, he flung himself on his seat; and that deep sadness, which they who devote themselves in this noisy world to wisdom and to truth alone can know, suffused his thoughts, and murmured from his feverish lips.
"Oh, hard condition of my life!" groaned the sage,—"ever to strive, and never to accomplish. The sun sets and the sun rises upon my eternal toils, and my age stands as distant from the goal as stood my youth! Fast, fast the mind is wearing out the frame, and my schemes have but woven the ropes of sand, and my name shall be writ in water. Golden dreams of my young hope, where are ye? Methought once, that could I obtain the grace of royalty, the ear of power, the command of wealth, my path to glory was made smooth and sure; I should become the grand inventor of my time and land; I should leave my lore a heritage and blessing wherever labour works to civilize the round globe. And now my lodging is a palace, royalty my patron; they give me gold at my desire; my wants no longer mar my leisure. Well, and for what? On condition that I forego the sole task for which patronage, wealth, and leisure were desired! There stands the broken iron, and there simmers the ore I am to turn to gold,—the iron worth more than all the gold, and the gold never to be won! Poor, I was an inventor, a creator, the true magician; protected, patronized, enriched, I am but the alchemist, the bubble, the dupe or duper, the fool's fool. God, brace up my limbs! Let me escape! give me back my old dream, and die at least, if accomplishing nothing, hoping all!"
He rose as he spoke; he strode across the chamber with majestic step, with resolve upon his brow. He stopped short, for a sharp pain shot across his heart. Premature age and the disease that labour brings were at their work of decay within: the mind's excitement gave way to the body's weakness, and he sank again upon his seat, breathing hard, gasping, pale, the icy damps upon his brow. Bubblingly seethed the molten metals, redly glowed the poisonous charcoal, the air of death was hot within the chamber where the victim of royal will pandered to the desire of gold. Terrible and eternal moral for Wisdom and for Avarice, for sages and for kings,—ever shall he who would be the maker of gold breathe the air of death!
"Father," said the low and touching voice of one who had entered unperceived, and who now threw her arms round Adam's neck, "Father, thou art ill, and sorely suffering—"
"At heart—yes, Sibyll. Give me thine arm; let us forth and taste the fresher air."
It was so seldom that Warner could be induced to quit his chamber, that these words almost startled Sibyll, and she looked anxiously in his face, as she wiped the dews from his forehead.
"Yes—air—air!" repeated Adam, rising.
Sibyll placed his bonnet over his silvered locks, drew his gown more closely round him, and slowly and in silence they left the chamber, and took their way across the court to the ramparts of the fortress-palace.
The day was calm and genial, with a low but fresh breeze stirring gently through the warmth of noon. The father and child seated themselves on the parapet, and saw, below, the gay and numerous vessels that glided over the sparkling river, while the dark walls of Baynard's Castle, the adjoining bulwark and battlements of Montfichet, and the tall watch-tower of Warwick's mighty mansion frowned in the distance against the soft blue sky. "There," said Adam, quietly, and pointing to the feudal roofs, "there seems to rise power, and yonder (glancing to the river), yonder seems to flow Genius! A century or so hence the walls shall vanish, but the river shall roll on. Man makes the castle, and founds the power,—God forms the river and creates the Genius. And yet, Sibyll, there may be streams as broad and stately as yonder Thames, that flow afar in the waste, never seen, never heard by man. What profits the river unmarked; what the genius never to be known?"
It was not a common thing with Adam Warner to be thus eloquent. Usually silent and absorbed, it was not his gift to moralize or declaim. His soul must be deeply moved before the profound and buried sentiment within it could escape into words.
Sibyll pressed her father's hand, and, though her own heart was very heavy, she forced her lips to smile and her voice to soothe. Adam interrupted her.
"Child, child, ye women know not what presses darkest and most bitterly on the minds of men. You know not what it is to form out of immaterial things some abstract but glorious object,—to worship, to serve it, to sacrifice to it, as on an altar, youth, health, hope, life,—and suddenly in old age to see that the idol was a phantom, a mockery, a shadow laughing us to scorn, because we have sought to clasp it."
"Oh, yes, Father, women have known that illusion."
"What! Do they study?"
"No, Father, but they feel!"
"Feel! I comprehend thee not."
"As man's genius to him is woman's heart to her," answered Sibyll, her dark and deep eyes suffused with tears. "Doth not the heart create, invent? Doth it not dream? Doth it not form its idol out of air? Goeth it not forth into the future, to prophesy to itself? And sooner or later, in age or youth, doth it not wake at last, and see how it hath wasted its all on follies? Yes, Father, my heart can answer, when thy genius would complain."
"Sibyll," said Warner, roused and surprised, and gazing on her wistfully, "time flies apace. Till this hour I have thought of thee but as a child, an infant. Thy words disturb me now."
"Think not of them, then. Let me never add one grief to thine."
"Thou art brave and gay in thy silken sheen," said Adam, curiously stroking down the rich, smooth stuff of Sibyll's tunic; "her grace the duchess is generous to us. Thou art surely happy here!"
"Not happy!" exclaimed Adam, almost joyfully, "wouldst thou that we were back once more in our desolate, ruined home?"
"Yes, ob, yes!—but rather away, far away, in some quiet village, some green nook; for the desolate, ruined home was not safe for thine old age."
"I would we could escape, Sibyll," said Adam, earnestly, in a whisper, and with a kind of innocent cunning in his eye, "we and the poor Eureka! This palace is a prison-house to me. I will speak to the Lord Hastings, a man of great excellence, and gentle too. He is ever kind to us."
"No, no, Father, not to him," cried Sibyll, turning pale,—"let him not know a word of what we would propose, nor whither we would fly."
"Child, he loves me, or why does he seek me so often, and sit and talk not?"
Sibyll pressed her clasped hands tightly to her bosom, but made no answer; and while she was summoning courage to say something that seemed to oppress her thoughts with intolerable weight, a footstep sounded gently near, and the Lady of Bonville (then on a visit to the queen), unseen and unheard by the two, approached the spot. She paused, and gazed at Sibyll, at first haughtily; and then, as the deep sadness of that young face struck her softer feelings, and the pathetic picture of father and child, thus alone in their commune, made its pious and sweet effect, the gaze changed from pride to compassion, and the lady said courteously,—
"Fair mistress, canst thou prefer this solitary scene to the gay company about to take the air in her grace's gilded barge?"
Sibyll looked up in surprise, not unmixed with fear. Never before had the great lady spoken to her thus gently. Adam, who seemed for a while restored to the actual life, saluted Katherine with simple dignity, and took up the word,—
"Noble lady, whoever thou art, in thine old age, and thine hour of care, may thy child, like this poor girl, forsake all gayer comrades for a parent's side!"
The answer touched the Lady of Bonville, and involuntarily she extended her hand to Sibyll. With a swelling heart, Sibyll, as proud as herself, bent silently over that rival's hand. Katherine's marble cheek coloured, as she interpreted the girl's silence.
"Gentle sir," she said, after a short pause, "wilt thou permit me a few words with thy fair daughter? And if in aught, since thou speakest of care, Lord Warwick's sister can serve thee, prithee bid thy young maiden impart it, as to a friend."
"Tell her, then, my Sibyll,—tell Lord Warwick's sister to ask the king to give back to Adam Warner his poverty, his labour, and his hope," said the scholar, and his noble head sank gloomily on his bosom.
The Lady of Bonville, still holding Sibyll's hand, drew her a few paces up the walk, and then she said suddenly, and with some of that blunt frankness which belonged to her great brother, "Maiden, can there be confidence between thee and me?"
"Of what nature, lady?"
Again Katherine blushed, but she felt the small hand she held tremble in her clasp, and was emboldened,—
"Maiden, thou mayst resent and marvel at my words; but when I had fewer years than thou, my father said, 'There are many carks in life which a little truth could end.' So would I heed his lesson. William de Hastings has followed thee with an homage that has broken, perchance, many as pure a heart,—nay, nay, fair child, hear me on. Thou hast heard that in youth he wooed Katherine Nevile,—that we loved, and were severed. They who see us now marvel whether we hate or love,—no, not love—that question were an insult to Lord Bonville's wife!—Ofttimes we seem pitiless to each other,—why? Lord Hastings would have wooed me, an English matron, to forget mine honour and my House's. He chafes that he moves me not. I behold him debasing a great nature to unworthy triflings with man's conscience and a knight's bright faith. But mark me!—the heart of Hastings is everlastingly mine, and mine alone! What seek I in this confidence? To warn thee. Wherefore? Because for months, amidst all the vices of this foul court-air, amidst the flatteries of the softest voice that ever fell upon woman's ear, amidst, peradventure, the pleadings of thine own young and guileless love, thine innocence is unscathed. And therefore Katherine of Bonville may be the friend of Sibyll Warner."
However generous might be the true spirit of these words, it was impossible that they should not gall and humiliate the young and flattered beauty to whom they were addressed. They so wholly discarded all belief in the affection of Hastings for Sibyll; they so haughtily arrogated the mastery over his heart; they so plainly implied that his suit to the poor maiden was but a mockery or dishonour, that they made even the praise for virtue an affront to the delicate and chaste ear on which they fell. And, therefore, the reader will not be astonished, though the Lady of Bonville certainly was, when Sibyll, drawing her hand from Katherine's clasp, stopping short, and calmly folding her arms upon her bosom, said,—
"To what this tends, lady, I know not. The Lord Hastings is free to carry his homage where he will. He has sought me,—not I Lord Hastings. And if to-morrow he offered me his hand, I would reject it, if I were not convinced that the heart—"
"Damsel," interrupted the Lady Bonville, in amazed contempt, "the hand of Lord Hastings! Look ye indeed so high, or has he so far paltered with your credulous youth as to speak to you, the daughter of the alchemist, of marriage? If so, poor child, beware!
"I knew not," replied Sibyll, bitterly, "that Sibyll Warner was more below the state of Lord Hastings than Master Hastings was once below the state of Lady Katherine Nevile."
"Thou art distraught with thy self-conceit," answered the dame, scornfully; and, losing all the compassion and friendly interest she had before felt, "my rede is spoken,—reject it if thou wilt in pride. Rue thy folly thou wilt in shame!"
She drew her wimple round her face as she said these words, and, gathering up her long robe, swept slowly on.
CHAPTER III. WHEREIN THE DEMAGOGUE SEEKS THE COURTIER.
On quitting Adam's chamber, Hilyard paused not till he reached a stately house, not far from Warwick Lane, which was the residence of the Lord Montagu.
That nobleman was employed in reading, or rather, in pondering over, two letters, with which a courier from Calais had just arrived, the one from the archbishop, the other from Warwick. In these epistles were two passages, strangely contradictory in their counsel. A sentence in Warwick's letter ran thus:—
"It hath reached me that certain disaffected men meditate a rising against the king, under pretext of wrongs from the queen's kin. It is even said that our kinsmen, Copiers and Fitzhugh, are engaged therein. Need I caution thee to watch well that they bring our name into no disgrace or attaint? We want no aid to right our own wrongs; and if the misguided men rebel, Warwick will best punish Edward by proving that he is yet of use."
On the other hand, thus wrote the prelate:—
"The king, wroth with my visit to Calais, has taken from me the chancellor's seal. I humbly thank him, and shall sleep the lighter for the fardel's loss. Now, mark me, Montagu: our kinsman, Lord Fitzhugh's son, and young Henry Nevile, aided by old Sir John Copiers, meditate a fierce and well-timed assault upon the Woodvilles. Do thou keep neuter,—neither help nor frustrate it. Howsoever it end, it will answer our views, and shake our enemies."
Montagu was yet musing over these tidings, and marvelling that he in England should know less than his brethren in Calais of events so important, when his page informed him that a stranger, with urgent messages from the north country, craved an audience. Imagining that these messages would tend to illustrate the communications just received, he ordered the visitor to be admitted.
He scarcely noticed Hilyard on his entrance, and said abruptly, "Speak shortly, friend,—I have but little leisure."
"And yet, Lord Montagu, my business may touch thee home."
Montagu, surprised, gazed more attentively on his visitor: "Surely, I know thy face, friend,—we have met before."
"True; thou wert then on thy way to the More."
"I remember me; and thou then seemedst, from thy bold words, on a still shorter road to the gallows."
"The tree is not planted," said Robin, carelessly, "that will serve for my gibbet. But were there no words uttered by me that thou couldst not disapprove? I spoke of lawless disorders, of shameful malfaisance throughout the land, which the Woodvilles govern under a lewd tyrant—"
"A tyrant," continued Robin, heeding not the interruption nor the angry gesture of Montagu, "a tyrant who at this moment meditates the destruction of the House of Nevile. And not contented with this world's weapons, palters with the Evil One for the snares and devilries of witchcraft."
"Hush, man! Not so loud," said Montagu, in an altered voice. "Approach nearer,—nearer yet. They who talk of a crowned king, whose right hand raises armies, and whose left hand reposes on the block, should beware how they speak above their breath. Witchcraft, sayest thou? Make thy meaning clear."
Here Robin detailed, with but little exaggeration, the scene he had witnessed in Friar Bungey's chamber,—the waxen image, the menaces against the Earl of Warwick, and the words of the friar, naming the Duchess of Bedford as his employer. Montagu listened in attentive silence. Though not perfectly free from the credulities of the time, shared even by the courageous heart of Edward and the piercing intellect of Gloucester, he was yet more alarmed by such proofs of determined earthly hostility in one so plotting and so near to the throne as the Duchess of Bedford, than by all the pins and needles that could be planted into the earl's waxen counterpart.
"A devilish malice, indeed," said he, when Hilyard had concluded; "and yet this story, if thou wilt adhere to it, may serve us well at need. I thank thee, trusty friend, for thy confidence, and beseech thee to come at once with me to the king. There will I denounce our foe, and, with thine evidence, we will demand her banishment."
"By your leave, not a step will I budge, my Lord Montagu," quoth Robin, bluntly,—"I know how these matters are managed at court. The king will patch up a peace between the duchess and you, and chop off my ears and nose as a liar and common scandal-maker. No, no; denounce the duchess and all the Woodvilles I will; but it shall not be in the halls of the Tower, but on the broad plains of Yorkshire, with twenty thousand men at my back."
"Ha! thou a leader of armies,—and for what end,—to dethrone the king?"
"That as it may be,—but first for justice to the people; it is the people's rising that I will head, and not a faction's. Neither White Rose nor Red shall be on my banner; but our standard shall be the gory head of the first oppressor we can place upon a pole."
"What is it the people, as you word it, would demand?"
"I scarce know what we demand as yet,—that must depend upon how we prosper," returned Hilyard, with a bitter laugh; "but the rising will have some good, if it shows only to you lords and Normans that a Saxon people does exist, and will turn when the iron heel is upon its neck. We are taxed, ground, pillaged, plundered,—sheep, maintained to be sheared for your peace or butchered for your war. And now will we have a petition and a charter of our own, Lord Montagu. I speak frankly. I am in thy power; thou canst arrest me, thou canst strike off the head of this revolt. Thou art the king's friend,—wilt thou do so? No, thou and thy House have wrongs as well as we, the people. And a part at least of our demands and our purpose is your own."
"What part, bold man?"
"This: we shall make our first complaint the baneful domination of the queen's family; and demand the banishment of the Woodvilles, root and stem."
"Hem!" said Montagu, involuntarily glancing over the archbishop's letter,—"hem, but without outrage to the king's state and person?"
"Oh, trust me, my lord, the franklin's head contains as much north-country cunning as the noble's. They who would speed well must feel their way cautiously."
"Twenty thousand men—impossible! Who art thou, to collect and head them?"
"Plain Robin of Redesdale."
"Ha!" exclaimed Montagu, "is it indeed as I was taught to suspect? Art thou that bold, strange, mad fellow, whom, by pike and brand—a soldier's oath—I, a soldier, have often longed to see. Let me look at thee. 'Fore Saint George, a tall man, and well knit, with dareiment on thy brow. Why, there are as many tales of thee in the North as of my brother the earl. Some say thou art a lord of degree and birth, others that thou art the robber of Hexham to whom Margaret of Anjou trusted her own life and her son's."
"Whatever they say of me," returned Robin, "they all agree in this,—that I am a man of honest word and bold deed; that I can stir up the hearts of men, as the wind stirreth fire; that I came an unknown stranger into the parts where I abide; and that no peer in this roiaulme, save Warwick himself, can do more to raise an army or shake a throne."
"But by what spell?"
"By men's wrongs, lord," answered Robin, in a deep voice; "and now, ere this moon wanes, Redesdale is a camp!"
"What the immediate cause of complaint?"
"The hospital of St. Leonard's has compelled us unjustly to render them a thrave of corn."
"Thou art a cunning knave! Pinch the belly if you would make Englishmen rise."
"True," said Robin, smiling grimly; "and now—what say you—will you head us?"
"Head you! No!"
"Will you betray us?"
"It is not easy to betray twenty thousand men; if ye rise merely to free yourselves from a corn-tax and England from the Woodvilles, I see no treason in your revolt."
"I understand you, Lord Montagu," said Robin, with a stern and half-scornful smile,—"you are not above thriving by our danger; but we need now no lord and baron,—we will suffice for ourselves. And the hour will come, believe me, when Lord Warwick, pursued by the king, must fly to the Commons. Think well of these things and this prophecy, when the news from the North startles Edward of March in the lap of his harlots."
Without saying another word, he turned and quitted the chamber as abruptly as he had entered.
Lord Montagu was not, for his age, a bad man; though worldly, subtle, and designing, with some of the craft of his prelate brother he united something of the high soul of his brother soldier. But that age had not the virtue of later times, and cannot be judged by its standard. He heard this bold dare-devil menace his country with civil war upon grounds not plainly stated nor clearly understood,—he aided not, but he connived: "Twenty thousand men in arms," he muttered to himself,—"say half-well, ten thousand—not against Edward, but the Woodvilles! It must bring the king to his senses; must prove to him how odious the mushroom race of the Woodvilles, and drive him for safety and for refuge to Montagu and Warwick. If the knaves presume too far," (and Montagu smiled), "what are undisciplined multitudes to the eye of a skilful captain? Let the storm blow, we will guide the blast. In this world man must make use of man."
CHAPTER IV. SIBYLL.
While Montagu in anxious forethought awaited the revolt that Robin of Redesdale had predicted; while Edward feasted and laughed, merry-made with his courtiers, and aided the conjugal duties of his good citizens in London; while the queen and her father, Lord Rivers, more and more in the absence of Warwick encroached on all the good things power can bestow and avarice seize; while the Duchess of Bedford and Friar Bungey toiled hard at the waxen effigies of the great earl, who still held his royal son-in-law in his court at Calais,—the stream of our narrative winds from its noisier channels, and lingers, with a quiet wave, around the temple of a virgin's heart. Wherefore is Sibyll sad? Some short month since and we beheld her gay with hope and basking in the sunny atmosphere of pleasure and of love. The mind of this girl was a singular combination of tenderness and pride,—the first wholly natural, the last the result of circumstance and position. She was keenly conscious of her gentle birth and her earlier prospects in the court of Margaret; and the poverty and distress and solitude in which she had grown up from the child into the woman had only served to strengthen what, in her nature, was already strong, and to heighten whatever was already proud. Ever in her youngest dreams of the future ambition had visibly blent itself with the vague ideas of love. The imagined wooer was less to be young and fair than renowned and stately. She viewed him through the mists of the future, as the protector of her persecuted father, as the rebuilder of a fallen House, as the ennobler of a humbled name; and from the moment in which her girl's heart beat at the voice of Hastings, the ideal of her soul seemed found. And when, transplanted to the court, she learned to judge of her native grace and loveliness by the common admiration they excited, her hopes grew justified to her inexperienced reason. Often and ever the words of Hastings, at the house of Lady Longueville, rang in her ear, and thrilled through the solitude of night,—"Whoever is fair and chaste, gentle and loving, is in the eyes of William de Hastings the mate and equal of a king." In visits that she had found opportunity to make to the Lady Longueville, these hopes were duly fed; for the old Lancastrian detested the Lady Bonville, as Lord Warwick's sister, and she would have reconciled her pride to view with complacency his alliance with the alchemist's daughter, if it led to his estrangement from the memory of his first love; and, therefore, when her quick eye penetrated the secret of Sibyll's heart, and when she witnessed—for Hastings often encountered (and seemed to seek the encounter) the young maid at Lady Longueville's house—the unconcealed admiration which justified Sibyll in her high-placed affection, she scrupled not to encourage the blushing girl by predictions in which she forced her own better judgment to believe. Nor, when she learned Sibyll's descent from a family that had once ranked as high as that of Hastings, would she allow that there was any disparity in the alliance she foretold. But more, far more than Lady Longueville's assurances, did the delicate and unceasing gallantries of Hastings himself flatter the fond faith of Sibyll. True, that he spoke not actually of love, but every look implied, every whisper seemed to betray it. And to her he spoke as to an equal, not in birth alone, but in mind; so superior was she in culture, in natural gifts, and, above all, in that train of high thought and elevated sentiment, in which genius ever finds a sympathy, to the court-flutterers of her sex, that Hastings, whether or not he cherished a warmer feeling, might well take pleasure in her converse, and feel the lovely infant worthy the wise man's trust. He spoke to her without reserve of the Lady Bonville, and he spoke with bitterness. "I loved her," he said, "as woman is rarely loved. She deserted me for another—rather should she have gone to the convent than the altar; and now, forsooth, she deems she hath the right to taunt and to rate me, to dictate to me the way I should walk, and to flaunt the honours I have won."
"May that be no sign of a yet tender interest?" said Sibyll, timidly.
The eyes of Hastings sparkled for a moment, but the gleam vanished. "Nay, you know her not. Her heart is marble, as hard and as cold; her very virtue but the absence of emotion,—I would say, of gentler emotion; for, pardieu, such emotions as come from ire and pride and scorn are the daily growth of that stern soil. Oh, happy was my escape! Happy the desertion which my young folly deemed a curse! No!" he added, with a sarcastic quiver of his lip—"no; what stings and galls the Lady of Harrington and Bonville, what makes her countenance change in my presence, and her voice sharpen at my accost, is plainly this: in wedding her dull lord and rejecting me, Katherine Nevile deemed she wedded power and rank and station; and now, while we are both young, how proves her choice? The Lord of Harrington and Bonville is so noted a dolt, that even the Neviles cannot help him to rise,—the meanest office is above his mind's level; and, dragged down by the heavy clay to which her wings are yoked, Katherine, Lady of Harrington and Bonville—oh, give her her due titles!—is but a pageant figure in the court. If the war-trump blew, his very vassals would laugh at a Bonville's banner, and beneath the flag of poor William Hastings would gladly march the best chivalry of the land. And this it is, I say, that galls her. For evermore she is driven to compare the state she holds as the dame of the accepted Bonville with that she lost as the wife of the disdained Hastings."
And if, in the heat and passion that such words betrayed, Sibyll sighed to think that something of the old remembrance yet swelled and burned, they but impressed her more with the value of a heart in which the characters once writ endured so long, and roused her to a tender ambition to heal and to console.
Then looking into her own deep soul, Sibyll beheld there a fund of such generous, pure, and noble affection, such reverence as to the fame, such love as to the man, that she proudly felt herself worthier of Hastings than the haughty Katherine. She entered then, as it were, the lists with this rival,—a memory rather, so she thought, than a corporeal being; and her eye grew brighter, her step statelier, in the excitement of the contest, the anticipation of the triumph. For what diamond without its flaw? What rose without its canker? And bedded deep in that exquisite and charming nature lay the dangerous and fatal weakness which has cursed so many victims, broken so many hearts,—the vanity of the sex. We may now readily conceive how little predisposed was Sibyll to the blunt advances and displeasing warnings of the Lady Bonville, and the more so from the time in which they chanced. For here comes the answer to the question, "Why was Sibyll sad?"
The reader may determine for himself what were the ruling motives of Lord Hastings in the court he paid to Sibyll. Whether to pique the Lady Bonville, and force upon her the jealous pain he restlessly sought to inflict; whether, from the habit of his careless life, seeking the pleasure of the moment, with little forethought of the future, and reconciling itself to much cruelty, by that profound contempt for human beings, man, and still more for woman, which sad experience often brings to acute intellect; or whether, from the purer and holier complacency with which one whose youth has fed upon nobler aspirations than manhood cares to pursue, suns itself back to something of its earlier lustre in the presence and the converse of a young bright soul,—whatever, in brief, the earlier motives of gallantries to Sibyll, once begun, constantly renewed, by degrees wilder and warmer and guiltier emotions roused up in the universal and all-conquering lover the vice of his softer nature. When calm and unimpassioned, his conscience had said to him, "Thou shalt spare that flower." But when once the passion was roused within him, the purity of the flower was forgotten in the breath of its voluptuous sweetness.
And but three days before the scene we have described with Katherine, Sibyll's fabric of hope fell to the dust. For Hastings spoke for the first time of love, for the first time knelt at her feet, for the first time, clasping to his heart that virgin hand, poured forth the protestation and the vow. And oh! woe—woe! for the first time she learned how cheaply the great man held the poor maiden's love, how little he deemed that purity and genius and affection equalled the possessor of fame and wealth and power; for plainly visible, boldly shown and spoken, the love that she had foreseen as a glory from the heaven sought but to humble her to the dust.
The anguish of that moment was unspeakable,—and she spoke it not. But as she broke from the profaning clasp, as escaping to the threshold she cast on the unworthy wooer one look of such reproachful sorrow as told at once all her love and all her horror, the first act in the eternal tragedy of man's wrong and woman's grief was closed. And therefore was Sibyll sad!
CHAPTER V. KATHERINE.
For several days Hastings avoided Sibyll; in truth, he felt remorse for his design, and in his various, active, and brilliant life he had not the leisure for obstinate and systematic siege to a single virtue, nor was he, perhaps, any longer capable of deep and enduring passion; his heart, like that of many a chevalier in the earlier day, had lavished itself upon one object, and sullenly, upon regrets and dreams, and vain anger and idle scorn, it had exhausted those sentiments which make the sum of true love. And so, like Petrarch, whom his taste and fancy worshipped, and many another votary of the gentil Dieu, while his imagination devoted itself to the chaste and distant ideal—the spiritual Laura—his senses, ever vagrant and disengaged, settled without scruple upon the thousand Cynthias of the minute. But then those Cynthias were, for the most part, and especially of late years, easy and light-won nymphs; their coyest were of another clay from the tender but lofty Sibyll. And Hastings shrunk from the cold-blooded and deliberate seduction of one so pure, while he could not reconcile his mind to contemplate marriage with a girl who could give nothing to his ambition; and yet it was not in this last reluctance only his ambition that startled and recoiled. In that strange tyranny over his whole soul which Katherine Bonville secretly exercised, he did not dare to place a new barrier evermore between her and himself. The Lord Bonville was of infirm health; he had been more than once near to death's door; and Hastings, in every succeeding fancy that beguiled his path, recalled the thrill of his heart when it had whispered "Katherine, the loved of thy youth, may yet be thine!" And then that Katherine rose before him, not as she now swept the earth, with haughty step and frigid eye and disdainful lip, but as—in all her bloom of maiden beauty, before the temper was soured or the pride aroused—she had met him in the summer twilight, by the trysting-tree, broken with him the golden ring of faith, and wept upon his bosom.
And yet, during his brief and self-inflicted absence from Sibyll, this wayward and singular personage, who was never weak but to women, and ever weak to them, felt that she had made herself far dearer to him than he had at first supposed it possible. He missed that face, ever, till the last interview, so confiding in the unconsciously betrayed affection. He felt how superior in sweetness and yet in intellect Sibyll was to Katherine; there was more in common between her mind and his in all things, save one. But oh, that one exception!—what a world lies within it,—the memory of the spring of life! In fact, though Hastings knew it not, he was in love with two objects at once; the one, a chimera, a fancy, an ideal, an Eidolon, under the name of Katherine; the other, youth and freshness and mind and heart and a living shape of beauty, under the name of Sibyll. Often does this double love happen to men; but when it does, alas for the human object! for the shadowy and the spiritual one is immortal,—until, indeed, it be possessed!
It might be, perhaps, with a resolute desire to conquer the new love and confirm the old that Hastings, one morning, repaired to the house of the Lady Bonville, for her visit to the court had expired. It was a large mansion, without the Lud Gate.
He found the dame in a comely chamber, seated in the sole chair the room contained, to which was attached a foot-board that served as a dais, while around her, on low stools, sat some spinning, others broidering—some ten or twelve young maidens of good family, sent to receive their nurturing under the high-born Katherine, [And strange as it may seem to modern notions, the highest lady who received such pensioners accepted a befitting salary for their board and education.] while two other and somewhat elder virgins sat a little apart, but close under the eye of the lady, practising the courtly game of "prime:" for the diversion of cards was in its zenith of fashion under Edward IV., and even half a century later was considered one of the essential accomplishments of a well-educated young lady. [So the Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VIL, at the age of fourteen, exhibits her skill, in prime or trump, to her betrothed husband, James IV. of Scotland; so, among the womanly arts of the unhappy Katherine of Arragon, it is mentioned that she could play at "cards and dyce." (See Strutt: Games and Pastimes, Hones' edition, p. 327.) The legislature was very anxious to keep these games sacred to the aristocracy, and very wroth with 'prentices and the vulgar for imitating the ruinous amusements of their betters.] The exceeding stiffness, the solemn silence of this female circle, but little accorded with the mood of the graceful visitor. The demoiselles stirred not at his entrance, and Katherine quietly motioned him to a seat at some distance.
"By your leave, fair lady," said Hastings, "I rebel against so distant an exile from such sweet company;" and he moved the tabouret close to the formidable chair of the presiding chieftainess.