Part 3 out of 6
attending on his sovereign as an adventurer in the camp. It was not
even worth while to name such scruples to the English friar who
shrived him on the last day before the departure, and who knew
nothing of his past history. He knew all priests would say the same
things, and as he had never made a binding vow, he saw no need of
consulting any one on the subject; it would only vex him again, and
fill him with doubts. The suspicion that Dr. Bennet was aware of his
previous intention made him shrink from him. So the last day had
come, and all was farewell. King Henry had persuaded the Queen to
seclude herself for one evening from Madame of Hainault, for his
sake. King James was pacing the gardens on the Thames banks, with
Joan Beaufort's hand for once allowed to repose in his; many a noble
gentleman was exchanging last words with his wife--many a young
squire whispering what he had never ventured to say before--many a
silver mark was cloven--many a bright tress was exchanged. Even Ralf
Percy was in the midst of something very like a romp with the
handsome Bessie Nevil for a knot of ribbon to carry to the wars.
Malcolm felt a certain exaltation in being enough like other people
to have a lady-love, but there was not much comfort otherwise;
indeed, he could so little have addressed Esclairmonde that it was
almost a satisfaction that she was the centre of a group of maidens
whose lovers or brothers either had been sent off beforehand, or who
saw their attentions paid elsewhere, and who all alike gravitated
towards the Demoiselle de Luxemburg for sympathy. He could but hover
on the outskirts, conscious that he must cut a ridiculous figure, but
unable to detach himself from the neighbourhood of the magnet. As he
looked back on the happy weeks of unconstrained intercourse, when he
came to her as freely as did these young girls with all his troubles,
he felt as if the King had destroyed all his joy and peace, and yet
that these flutterings of heart and agonies of shame and fits of
despair were worth all that childish calm.
He durst say nothing, only now and then to gaze on her with his great
brown wistful eyes, which he dropped whenever she looked towards him;
until at last, when the summer evening was closing in, and the last
signal was given for the break-up of the party, Malcolm ventured on
one faltering murmur, 'Lady, lady, you are not offended with me?'
'Nay,' said Esclairmonde, kindly; 'nothing has passed between us that
should offend me.'
His eye lighted. 'May I still be remembered in your prayers, lady?'
'As I shall remember all who have been my friends here,' she said.
'And oh, lady, if I should--should win honour, may I lay it at your
'Whatever you achieve as a good man and true will gladden me,' said
Esclairmonde, 'as it will all others that wish you well. Both you
and your sister in her loneliness shall have my best prayers.
Farewell, Lord Malcolm; may the Saints bless and guard you, whether
in the world or the Church.'
Malcolm knew why she spoke of his sister, and felt as if there were
no hope for him. Esclairmonde's grave kindness was a far worse sign
than would have been any attempt to evade him; but at any rate she
had spoken with him, and his heart could not but be cheered. What
might he not do in the glorious future? As the foremost champion of
a crusading king, bearing St. Andrew's cross through the very gates
of Jerusalem, what maiden, however saintly, could refuse him his
And he knew that, for the present, Esclairmonde was safe from
retiring into any convent, since her high birth and great possessions
would make any such establishment expect a large dower with her as a
right, and few abbesses would have ventured to receive a runaway
foreigner, especially as one of her guardians was the Bishop of
CHAPTER VII: THE SIEGE OF MEAUX
Wintry winds and rains were sweeping over the English tents on the
banks of the Marne, where Henry V. was besieging Meaux, then the
stronghold of one of those terrible freebooters who were always the
offspring of a lengthened war. Jean de Gast, usually known as the
Bastard de Vaurus, nominally was of the Armagnac or patriotic party,
but, in fact, pillaged indiscriminately, especially capturing
travellers on their way to Paris, and setting on their heads a heavy
price, failing which he hung them upon the great elm-tree in the
market-place. The very suburbs of Paris were infested by the forays
of this desperate routier, as such highway robbers were called; the
supplies of previsions were cut off, and the citizens had petitioned
King Henry that he would relieve them from so intolerable an enemy.
The King intended to spend the winter months with his queen in
England, and at once attacked the place in October, hoping to carry
it by a coup de main. He took the lower city, containing the market-
place and several large convents, with no great difficulty; but the
upper city, on a rising ground above the river, was strongly
fortified, well victualled, and bravely defended, and he found
himself forced to invest it, and make a regular siege, though at the
expense of severe toil and much sickness and suffering. Both his own
prestige in France and the welfare of the capital depended on his
success, and he had therefore fixed himself before Meaux to take it
at whatever cost.
The greater part of the army were here encamped, together with the
chief nobles, March, Somerset, Salisbury, Warwick, and likewise the
King of Scots. James had for a time had the command of the army
which besieged and took Dreux while Henry was elsewhere engaged, but
in general he acted as a sort of volunteer aide-de-camp to his
brother king, and Malcolm Stewart of Glenuskie was always with him as
his squire. A great change had come over Malcolm in these last few
months. His feeble, sickly boyhood seemed to have been entirely cast
off, and the warm genial summer sun of France to have strengthened
his frame and developed his powers. He had shot up suddenly to a
fair height, had almost lost his lameness, and gained much more
appearance of health and power of enduring fatigue. His nerves had
become less painfully sensitive, and when after his first skirmish,
during which he had kept close to King James, far too much terrified
to stir an inch from him, he had not only found himself perfectly
safe, but had been much praised for his valour, he had been so much
pleased with himself that he quite wished for another occasion of
displaying his bravery; and, what with use, and what with the
increasing spirit of pugnacity, he was as sincere as Ralf Percy in
abusing the French for never coming to a pitched battle. Perhaps,
indeed, Malcolm spoke even more eagerly than Ralf, in his own
surprise and gratification at finding himself no coward, and his fear
lest Percy should detect that he ever had been supposed to be such.
So far the King of Scots had succeeded in awakening martial fire in
the boy, but he found him less the companion in other matters than he
had intended. When at Paris, James would have taken him to explore
the learned hoards of the already venerable University of Paris,
where young James Kennedy--son to Sir James Kennedy of Dunure, and to
Mary, an elder sister of the King--was studying with exceeding zeal.
Both James and Dr. Bennet were greatly interested in this famous
abode of hearing--the King, indeed, was already sketching out designs
in his own mind for a similar institution in Scotland, designs that
were destined to be carried out after his death by Kennedy; and
Malcolm perforce heard many inquiries and replies, but he held aloof
from friendship with his clerkly cousin Kennedy, and closed his ears
as much as might be, hanging back as if afraid of returning to his
books. There was in this some real dread of Ralf Percy's mockery of
his clerkliness, but there was more real distaste for all that
appertained to the past days that he now despised.
The tide of vitality and physical vigour, so long deficient, had,
whom it had fairly set in, carried him away with it: and in the
activity of body newly acquired, mental activity had well-nigh
ceased. And therewith went much of the tenderness of conscience and
devout habits of old. They dropped from him, sometimes for lack of
time, sometimes from false shame, and by and by from very weariness
and distaste. He was soldier now, and not monk--ay, and even the
observances that such soldiers as Henry and James never failed in,
and always enforced, were becoming a burthen to him. They wakened
misgivings that he did not like, and that must wait till his next
And Esclairmonde? Out of her sight, Malcolm dreamt a good deal about
her, but more as the woman, less as the saint; and the hopes, so low
in her presence, burnt brighter in her absence as Malcolm grew in
self-confidence and in knowledge of the world. He knew that when he
parted with her he had been a miserable little wretch whom any woman
would despise, yet she had shown him a sort of preference; how would
it be when he returned to her, perhaps a knight, certainly a brave
man like other men!
Of Patrick Drummond he had as yet heard nothing, and only believed
him to be among the Scots who fought on the French side under the
Earls of Buchan and Douglas. Indeed, James especially avoided places
where he knew these Scots to be engaged, as Henry persisted in
regarding them as rebels against him, and in hanging all who were
made prisoners; nor had Malcolm, during the courtesies that always
pass between the outposts of civilized armies, made much attempt to
have any communication with his cousin, for though his own abnegation
of his rights had never been permitted by his guardian, or reckoned
on by his sister or her lover, still he had been so much in earnest
about it himself, as, while regarding it as a childish folly, to feel
ill at ease in the remembrance, and, though defiant, willing to avoid
all that could recall it.
Meantime he, with his king, was lodged in a large old convent, as
part of the immediate following of King Henry. Others of the princes
and nobles were quartered in the market hall and lower town, but
great part of thine troops were in tents, and in a state of much
discomfort, owing to the overflowings of the Marne. Fighting was the
least of their dangers, though their skirmishes were often fought
ankle-deep in mud and mire; fever and ague were among them, and many
a sick man was sent away to recover or die at Paris. The long dark
evenings were a new trial to men used to summer campaigning, and
nothing but Henry's wonderful personal influence and perpetual
vigilance kept up discipline. At any hour of the day or night, at
any place in the camp, the King might be at hand, with a cheery word
of sympathy or encouragement, or with the most unflinching sternness
towards any disobedience or debauchery--ever a presence to be either
loved or dreaded. An engineer in advance of his time, he was
persuaded that much of the discomfort might be remedied by trenching
the ground around the camp; but this measure proved wonderfully
distasteful to the soldiery. How hard they laboured in the direct
siege operations they cared not, but to be set to drain French fields
seemed to them absurd and unreasonable, and the work would not have
proceeded at all without constant superintendence from one of the
chiefs of the army, since the ordinary knights and squires were as
obstinately prejudiced as were the men.
Thus it was that, on a cold sleety December day, James of Scotland
rode along the meadows, splashing through thin ice into muddy water,
and attended by his small personal suite, excepting Sir Nigel Baird,
who was gone on a special commission to Paris. Both he and Malcolm
were plainly and lightly armed, and wore long blue cloaks with the
St. Andrew's cross on the shoulder, steel caps without visors, and
the King's merely distinguished by a thread-hike circlet of gold.
They had breastplates, swords, and daggers, but they were not going
to a quarter where fighting was to be expected, and bright armour was
not to be exposed to rust without need. A visit of inspection to the
delvers was not a congenial occupation, for though the men-at-arms
had obeyed James fairly well when he was in sole command at Dreux,
yet whenever he was obliged to enforce anything unpopular, the
national dislike to the Scot was apt to show itself, and the whole
army was at present in a depressed condition which made such
manifestations the more probable.
But King Henry was not half recovered from a heavy feverish cold,
which he had not confessed or attended to, and he had also of late
been troubled with a swelling of the neck. This morning, too, much
to his inconvenience and dismay, he had missed his signet-ring. The
private seal on such a ring was of more importance than the autograph
at that time, and it would never have left the King's hand; but no
doubt, in consequence of his indisposition, his finger, always small-
boned, had become thin enough to allow the signet to escape unawares,
he was unwilling to publish the loss, as it might cast doubt on the
papers he despatched, and he, with his chamberlain Fitzhugh, King
James, Malcolm, Percy, and a few more, had spent half the morning in
the vain search, ending by the King sending his chamberlain, Lord
Fitzhugh, to carry to Paris a seal already bearing his shield, but
lacking the small private mark that authenticated it as his signet.
Fitzhugh would stand over the lapidary and see this added, and bring
it back. Ralf Percy had meantime been sent to bring a report of the
diggers, but he was long in returning; and when Henry became uneasy,
James had volunteered to go himself, and Henry had consented, not
because the air was full of sleety rain or snow, but because his
hands were full of letters needing to be despatched to all quarters.
The air was so thick that it was not easy to see where were the
sullen group of diggers presided over by the quondam duellists of
Thirsk, Kitson and Trenton, now the most inseparable and
impracticable of men; but James and his companions had ridden about
two miles from the market-place, when Ralf Percy came out of the
mist, exclaiming, 'Is it you, Sir King? Maybe you can do something
with those rascals! I've talked myself blue with cold to make them
slope the sides of their dyke, but the owl Kitson says no
Yorkshireman ditcher ever went but by one fashion, and none ever
shall; and when I lifted my riding-rod at the most insolent of the
rogues, what must Trenton do but tell me the lot were free yeomen,
and I'd best look out, or they'd roll me in the mire if I meddled
with a soul of them.'
'You didn't threaten to strike Trenton?'
'No, no; the sullen cur is a gentleman. 'Twas one of those lubberly
men-at-arms! I told them they should hear what King Harry would say
to their mood. I would it were he!'
'So would I,' said James. 'Little chance that they will hearken to a
Scot when you have put them in such a mood. Hold, Ralf, do not go
for the King; he has letters for the Emperor mattering more than this
He rode on, and did his best by leaping into the ditch, taking the
spade, and showing the superior security of the angle of inclination
traced by the King, but all in vain; both Trenton and Kitson silently
but obstinately scouted the notion that any king should know more
about ditches than themselves.
'See,' cried Percy, starting up, 'here's other work! The fellows,
whence came they?'
Favoured by the fog and the soft soil of the meadows, a considerable
body of the enemy were stealing on the delvers with the manifest
purpose of cutting them off from the camp. They were all mounted,
but the only horses in the English party were those of James, Percy,
Malcolm, and the half-dozen men of his escort. James, assuming the
command at once, bade these to be all released; they would be sure to
find their way to the camp, and that would bring succour. Meantime
he drew the whole of the men, about thirty in number, into a compact
body. They were, properly, archers, but their bows had been left
behind, and they had only their pikes and bills, which were, however,
very formidable weapons against cavalry as long as they continued in
an unbroken rank; and though the bogs, pools, sunken hedges, and
submerged stumps made it difficult to keep close together as they
made their way slowly with one flank to the river, these obstacles
were no small protection against a charge of horsemen.
For a quarter of a mile these tactics kept them unharmed, but at
length they reached a wide smooth meadow, and the enemy seemed
preparing to charge. James gave orders to close up and stand firm,
pikes outwards. Malcolm's heart beat fast; it was the most real
peril he had yet seen; and yet he was cheered by the King's ringing
voice, 'Stand firm, ye merry men. They must soon be with us from the
Suddenly a voice shouted, 'The Scots! the Scots! 'Tis the Scots!
Treachery! we are betrayed. Come, Sir' (to Percy), 'they'll be on
'An' it were, you fool, would a Percy turn his back?' cried Ralf,
striking at the man; but the panic had seized the whole body; all
were shouting that the false Scots king had brought his countrymen
down on them; they scattered hither and thither, and would have
fallen an easy prey if they had been pursued. But this did not seem
to be the purpose of the enemy, who merely extended themselves so as
to form a hedge around the few who stood, sword in hand, disdaining
to fly. These were, James, somewhat in advance, with his head high,
and a lion look on his brow; Malcolm, white with dismay; Ralf,
restless with fury; Kitson and Trenton, apparently as unmoved as
ever; Brewster, equally steady: and Malcolm's follower, Halbert, in
a glow of hopeful excitement.
'Never fear, friends,' said James, kindly; 'to you this can only be
matter of ransom.'
'I fear nothing,' sharply answered Ralf.
'We'll stand by you, Sir,' said Kitson to Ralf; 'but if ever there
were foul treason--'
'Pshaw! you ass,' were all Percy's thanks; for at that moment a
horseman came forward from among the enemy, a gigantic form on a tall
white horse, altogether a 'dark gray man,' the open visor revealing
an elderly face, hard-featured and grim, and the shield on his arm so
dinted, faded, and battered, as scarce to show the blue chief and the
bleeding crowned heart; but it was no unfamiliar sight to Malcolm's
eyes, and with a slight shudder he bent his head in answer to the
fierce whisper, 'Old Douglas himself!' with which Hotspur's son
certified himself that he had the foe of his house before him. King
James, resting the point of his sword on his mailed foot, stood erect
and gravely expectant; and the Scot, springing to the ground,
advanced with the words, 'We greet you well, my liege, and hereby--'
he was bending his knee as he spoke, and removing his gauntlet in
preparation for the act of homage.
'Hold, Earl Douglas,' said James, 'homage is vain to a captive.'
'You are captive no longer, Sir King,' said Earl Archibald. 'We have
long awaited this occasion, and will at once return to Scotland with
you, with the arms and treasure we have gained here, and will bear
down the craven Albany.'
Kitson and Trenton looked at one another and grasped their swords, as
though doubting whether they ought not to cut down their king's
prisoner rather than let him be rescued; and meanwhile the cry, 'Save
King James!' broke out on all sides, knights leapt down to tender
their homage, and among the foremost Malcolm knew Sir Patrick
Drummond, crying aloud, 'My lord, my lord, we have waited long for
you. Be a free king in free Scotland! Trust us, my liege.'
'Trust you, my friends!' said James, deeply touched; 'I trust you
with all my heart; but how could you trust me if I began with a
breach of faith to the King of England?'
Ralf Percy held up his finger and nodded his head to the Yorkshire
squires, who stood open-mouthed, still believing that a Scot must be
false. There was an angry murmur among the Scots, but James gazed at
them undauntedly, as though to look it down.
'Yes, to King Harry!' he said, in his trumpet voice. 'I belong to
him, and he has trusted me as never prisoner was trusted before, nor
will I betray that trust.'
'The foul fiend take such niceties,' muttered old Douglas; but,
checking himself, he said, 'Then, Sir, give me your sword, and we'll
have you home as my prisoner, to save this your honour!'
'Yea,' said James, 'that is mine own, though my body be yours, and
till England put me to ransom you would have but a useless captive.'
'Sir,' said Sir John Swinton, pressing forward, 'if my Lord of
Douglas be plain-spoken, bethink you that it is no cause for casting
aside this one hope of freedom that we have sought so long. If you
have the heart to strike for Scotland, this is the time.'
'It is not the time,' said James, 'nor will I do Scotland the wrong
of striking for her with a dishonoured hand.'
'That will we see when we have him at Hermitage Castle,' quoth
Douglas to his followers. 'Now, Sir King, best give your sword
without more grimace. Living or dead you are ours.'
'I yield not,' said James. 'Dead you may take me--alive, never.'
Then turning his eyes to the faces that gazed on him so earnestly in
disappointment, in affection, or in scorn, he spoke: 'Brave friends,
who may perchance love me the better that I have been a captive half
my life and all my reign, you can believe how sair my heart burns for
my bonnie land's sake, and how little I'd reck of my life for her
weal. But broken oaths are ill beginnings. For me, so notably
trusted by King Henry, to break my bonds, would shame both Scots and
kings; and it were yet more paltry to feign to yield to my Lord of
Douglas. Rescue or no rescue, I am England's captive. Gentles,
kindly brother Scots, in one way alone can you free me. Give up this
wretched land of France, whose troubles are but lengthened by your
valour. Let me gang to King Harry and tell him your swords are at
his service, so soon as I am free. Then am I your King indeed; we
return together, staunch hearts and strong hands, and the key shall
keep the castle, and the bracken bush keep the cow, though I lead the
life of a dog to bring it about.'
His tawny eye flashed with falcon light; and as he stood towering
above all the tall men around, there were few who did not in heart
own him indeed their king. But his picture of royal power accorded
ill with the notions of a Black Douglas, in the most masterful days
of that family; and Earl Archibald, who had come to regard kings as
beings meant to be hectored by Douglases, resentfully exclaimed,
'Hear him, comrades; he has avouched himself a Southron at heart.
Has he reckoned how little it would cost to give a thrust to the
caitiff who has lost heart in his prison, and clear the way for
Albany, who is at least a true Scot?'
'Do so, Lord Earl,' said James, 'and end a long captivity. But let
these go scatheless.'
With one voice, Percy, Kitson, Trenton, and Brewster, shouted their
resolve to defend him to the last; and Malcolm, flinging himself on
Patrick Drummond, adjured him to save the King.
'Thou here, laddie!' said Patrick, amazed; and while several more
knights exclaimed, 'Sir, Sir, we'll see no hand laid on you!' he
thrust forward, 'Take my horse, Sir, ride on, and I'll see no scathe
'Thanks,' said James; 'but my feet will serve me best; we will keep
The Scottish force seemed dividing into two: Douglas and his friends
and retainers, mounted and holding together, as though still
undecided whether to grapple with the King and his half-dozen
companions; while Drummond and about ten more lances were disposed to
guard him at all risks.
'Now,' said James to his English friends; and therewith, sword in
hand, he moved with a steady but swift stride towards the camp, nor
did Douglas attempt pursuit; some of the other horsemen hovered
between, and Patrick Drummond, with a puzzled face, kept near on
foot. So they proceeded till they reached a bank and willow hedge,
through which horses could hardly have pursued them.
On the other side of this, James turned round and said, 'Thanks, Sir
Knight; I suppose I may not hope that you will become a follower of
the knight adventurer.'
'I cannot fight under the English banner, my liege. Elsewhere I
would fellow you to the death.'
'This is no time to show your error,' said James; 'and I therefore
counsel you to come no farther. The English will be pricking forth
in search of us: so I will but thank you for your loyal aid.'
'I entreat you, Sir,' cried Patrick, 'not to believe that we meant
this matter to go as it has done! It had long been our desire--of
all of us, that is, save my Lord Buchan's retainers--to find you and
release you; but never did we deem that Lord Douglas would have dared
to conduct matters thus.'
'You would be little the better for me did Lord Douglas bring me back
on his own terms,' said James, smiling. 'No, no; when I go home, it
shall be as a free king, able to do justice to all alike; and for
that I am content to bide my time, and trust to such as you to back
me when it comes.'
'And with all my heart, Sir,' said Patrick. 'Would that you were
where I could do so now. Ah! laddie,' to Malcolm; 'ye're in good
hands. My certie, I kenned ye but by your voice! Ye're verily grown
into a goodly ship after all, and ye stood as brave as the rest. My
poor father would have been fain to see this day!'
Malcolm flushed to the ears; somehow Patrick's praise was not as
pleasant to him as he would have expected, and he only faltered, 'You
'I ken but what Johnnie Swinton brought me in a letter frae the Abbot
of Coldingham, that my father--the saints be with him!--had been set
on and slain by yon accursed Master of Albany--would that his
thrapple were in my grip!--that he had sent you southwards to the
King, and that your sister was in St. Abbs. Is it so?'
Malcolm had barely time to make a sign of affirmation, when the King
hurried him on. 'I grieve to balk you of your family tidings, but
delay will be ill for one or other of us; so fare thee well, Sir
Patrick, till better times.'
He shook the knight's hand as he spoke, cut short his protestations,
and leapt down the bank, saying in a low voice, as he stretched out
his hand and helped Malcolm down after him, 'He would have known me
again for your guest if we had stood many moments longer; he looked
hard at me as it was; and neither in England nor Scotland may that
journey of mine be blazed abroad.'
Malcolm was on the whole rather relieved; he could not help feeling
guilty towards Patrick, and unless he could have full time for
explanation, he preferred not falling in with him.
And at the same moment Kitson stepped towards the King. 'Sir, you
are an honest man, and we crave your pardon if we said aught that
seemed in doubt thereof.'
James laughed, shaking each honest hand, and saying, 'At least, good
sirs, do not always think Scot and traitor the same word; and thank
you for backing me so gallantly.'
'I'd wish no better than to back such as you, Sir,' said Kitson
heartily; and James then turned to Ralf Percy, and asked him what he
thought of the Douglas face to face.
'A dour old block!' said Ralf. 'If those runaways had but stayed
within us, the hoary ruffian should have had his lesson from a
James smiled, for the grim giant was still a good deal more than a
match for the slim, rosy-faced stripling of the house of Percy, who
nevertheless simply deemed his nation and family made him invincible
by either Scot or Frenchman.
The difficulties of their progress, however, entirely occupied them.
Having diverged from the regular track, they had to make their way
through the inundated meadows; sometimes among deep pools, sometimes
in quagmires, or ever hedges; while the water that drenched them was
fast freezing, and darkness came down on them. All stumbled or were
bogged at different times; and Malcolm, shorter and weaker than the
rest, and his lameness becoming more felt than usual, could not help
impeding their progress, and at last was so spent that but for the
King's strong arm he would have spent the night in a bog-hole.
At last the lights were near, the outskirts were gained, the pass-
word given to the watch, and the rough but welcome greeting was
heard--'That's well! More of you come in! How got you off?'
'The rogues got back, then?' said Kitson.
'Some score of them,' was the answer; 'but 'tis thought most are
drowned or stuck by the French. The King is in a proper rage, as
well he may be; but what else could come of a false Scot in the
'Have a care, you foul tongue!' Percy was the first to cry; and as
torches were now brought out and cast their light on the well-known
faces, the soldiers stood abashed; but James tarried not for their
excuses; his heart was hot at the words which implied that Henry
suspected him, and he strode hastily on to the convent, where the
quadrangle was full of horses and men, and the windows shone with
lights. At the door of the refectory stood a figure whose armour
flashed with light, and his voice sounded through the closed visor--
'I tell you, March, I cannot rest till I knew what his hap has been.
If he have done this thing-- '
'What then?' answered James out of the darkness, in a voice deep with
wrath; but Henry started.
'You there! you safe! Speak again! Come here that I may see. Where
'Here, Sir King,' said James, gravely.
'Now the saints be thanked!' cried Henry, joyously. 'Where be the
caitiffs that brought me their false tale? They shall hang for it at
'It was the less wonder,' said James, still coldly, 'that they should
have thought themselves betrayed, since their king believed it of
'Nay, 'twas but for a hot moment--ay, and the bitterest I ever spent.
What could I do when the villains swore that there were signals and I
know not what devices passing? I hoped yet 'twas but a plea for
their own cowardice, and was mounting to come and see for you. Come,
I should have known you better; I'd rather the whole world deceived
me than have distrusted you, Jamie.'
There was that in his tone which ended all resentment, and James's
hand was at once clasped in his, while Henry added, 'Ho, Provost-
marshal! to the gallows with these knaves!'
'Nay, Harry,' said James, 'let me plead for them. There was more
than ordinary to dismay them.'
'Dismay! ay, the more cause they should have stood like honest men.
If a rogue be not to hang for deserting his captain and then
maligning him, soon would knavery be master of all.'
'Hear me first, Hal.'
'I'll hear when I return and you are dried. Why, man, thou art an
icicle errant; change thy garments while I go round the posts, or I
shall hear nought for the chattering of thy teeth.'
'Nor I for your cough, if you go, Harry. Surely, 'tis Salisbury's
'The more cause that I be on the alert! Could I be everywhere,
mayhap a few winter blasts would not have chilled and frozen all the
manhood out of the host.'
He spoke very sharply as he threw him on his horse, and wrapped his
cloak about him--a poor defence, spite of the ermine lining, against
the frost of the December night for a man whose mother, the fair and
wise Mary de Bohun, had died in early youth from disease of the
James and the two young partners of his adventure had long been clad
in their gowns of peace, and seated by the fire in the refectory,
James with his harp in his hand, from time to time dreamily calling
forth a few plaintive notes, such as he said always rang in his ears
after hearing a Scottish voice, when they again heard Henry's voice
in hot displeasure with the provost-marshal for having deferred the
execution of the runaways till after the hearing of the story of the
King of Scots.
'His commands were not to be transgressed for the king of anything,'
and he only reprieved the wretches till morning that their fate might
be more signal. He spoke with the peremptory fierceness that had of
late almost obscured his natural good-humour and kindliness; and when
he entered the refectory and threw himself into a chair by the fire,
he looked wearied out in body and mind, shivered and coughed, and
said with unwonted depression that the sullen fellows would make a
quagmire of their camp after all, since a French reinforcement had
come up, and the vigilance that would be needed would occupy the
whole army. At supper he ate little and spoke less; and when James
would have related his encounter within the Scots, he cut him short,
saying, 'Let that rest till morning; I am sick of hearing of it! An
air upon thy harp would be more to the purpose.'
Nor would James have been unwilling to be silent on old Douglas's
conduct if he had not been anxious to plead for the panic-stricken
archers, as well as to extol the conduct of the two youths, and of
the Yorkshire squires; but, as he divined that the young Hotspur
would regard praise from him as an insult, he deferred the subject
for his absence, and launched into a plaintive narrative ballad, to
which Henry listened, leaning back in his chair, often dozing, but
without relaxation of the anxiety that sat on his pale face, and ever
and anon wakening within a heavy sigh, as though his buoyant spirits
were giving way under the weight of care he had brought on himself.
James was just singing of one of the many knightly orphans of
romance, exposed in woods to the nurture of bears, his father slain,
his mother dead of grief--a ditty he had perhaps chosen for its
soporific powers--when a gay bugle blast rang through the court of
'The French would scarce send to parley thus late,' exclaimed James;
but the next moment a joyful clamour arose without, and Henry,
springing to his feet, spoke not, but stood awaiting the tidings with
the colour burning on cheek and brow in suppressed excitement.
An esquire, splashed to the ears, hurried into the room, and falling
on his knees, cried aloud, 'God save King Harry! News, news, my
lord! The Queen has safely borne you a fair son at Windsor Castle,
five days since.'
Henry did not speak, but took the messenger's hand, wrung it, and
left a costly ring there. Then, taking off his cap, he put his hands
over his face, uttering a few words of fervent thanksgiving almost
within himself, and then turning to the esquire, made further
inquiries after his wife's welfare, took from him the letter that
Archbishop Chicheley had sent, poured out a cup of wine for him, bade
the lords around make him good cheer, but craved license for himself
It was so unlike his usual hilarious manner that all looked at one
another in anxiety, and spoke of his unusual susceptibility to
fatigue and care; while the squire, looking at the rich jewel in his
hand, declared within disappointment in his tone, that he would
rather have had a mere flint stone so he had heard King Harry's own
James was not the least anxious of them, but long ere light the next
morning Henry stood at his bedside, saying, 'I must go round the
posts before mass, Jamie. Will you face the matin frost?'
'I am fitter to face it than thou,' said James, rising. 'Is there
need for this?'
'Great need,' said Henry. 'Here are these fresh forces all aglow
within their first zeal, and unless they are worse captains than I
suppose them, they will attempt some mischief ere long--nor is any
time so slack as cock-crow.'
James was speedily ready, and, within some suppressed sighs, so was
Malcolm, who knew himself in duty bound to attend his master, and was
kept on the alert by seeing Ralf Percy also on foot. But it was a
great relief to him that the young gentleman murmured in no measured
terms against the intolerable activity of their kings. No other
attendants went within them, since Henry was wont to patrol his camp
with as little demonstration as possible.
'I would scarcely ask a dog to come out with me this wintry morn,'
said he, as he waved back his sleepy chamberlain, Fitzhugh, and took
his brother king's arm; 'but I could not but crave a turn with thee,
Jamie, ere the hue and cry of rejoicing begins.'
'That is poor welcome for your heir,' said James.
'Poor child!' said Henry; then, after they had walked some space in
silence, he added, 'You'll mock me, but I would that this had not
befallen at Windsor. I had laid my plans that it should be
otherwise; but ladies are ill to guide.'
'And wherefore should it not have been at fair Windsor? If I can
love it as a prison, sure your son may well love it as a cradle.'
'No dishonour to Windsor,' said Henry; 'but, sleeping or waking, this
whole night hath this adage rung in my ears -
"Harry, born at Monmouth, shall short time live and all get;
Harry, born at Windsor, shall long time live and lose all."'
'A most choice piece of royal poesy and prophecy,' laughed James.
'Nay, do not charge me with it, thou dainty minstrel. It was sung to
me by mime old Herefordshire nurse, when Windsor seemed as little
within my reach as Meaux, and I never thought of it again till I
looked to have a son.'
'Then balk the prophecy,' said James; 'Edward born at Windsor got
enough, and lived long enough to boot!'
'Too late!' was the answer. 'The Archbishop christened the poor
child Harry in the very hour of his birth.'
'Poor child!' echoed James, rather sarcastically.
'Nay, 'tis not solely the rhyme,' said Henry; 'but this has been a
wakeful night, and not without misgivings whether I am one who ought
to look for joy in his children.'
'What is past was not such that you alone should cry mea culpa,' said
'I never thought so till now,' said Henry. 'Yet who knows? My
father was a winsome young man ere his exile, full of tenderness to
us all, at the rare times he was with us. Who knows what cares may
make of me ere my boy learns to knew me?'
'You will not hold him aloof, and give him no chance of loving you?'
'I trow not! I'll have him with me in the camp, and he and my brave
men shall be one another's pride. Which Roman emperor is it that
hears the nickname his father's soldiers gave him as a child? Nay--
Caligula was it? Omens are against me this morning.'
'Then laughs them to scorn, and be yourself,' said James. 'Bless God
for the goodly child, who is born to two kingdoms, won by his
father's and his grandsire's swords.'
'Ah!' said Henry, depressed by failing health, a sleepless night, and
hungry morning, 'maybe it were better for him, soul and body both,
did I stand here Duke of Lancaster, and good Edmund of March yonder
were head of realm and army.'
'Never would he be head of this army,' said James. 'He would be
snoring at Shene; that is, if he could sleep for the trouble the Duke
of Lancaster would be giving him.'
Henry laughed at last. 'Good King Edmund, he would assuredly never
try to set the world right on its hinges. Honest fellow, soon he
will be as hearty in his congratulations as though he did not lie
under a great wrong. Heigh-ho! such as he may be in the right on't.
I've marvelled of late, whether any priest or hermit could bring back
my old assurance, that all this is my work on earth, or tell me if it
be all one grand error. Men there have been like Caesar, Alexander,
or Charlemagne, who thought my thoughts and worked them out; and
surely Church and nations cry aloud for purifying. Jerusalem, and a
general council--I saw them once clear and bright before me; but now
a mist seems to rise up from Richard's blood, and hide them from me;
and there comes from it my father's voice when he asked on his
deathbed what right I had to the crown. What would it be if I had to
leave this work half done?'
He was interrupted by the sight of a young knight stealing into the
camp, after a furtive expedition to Paris. It was enough to rouse
him from his despondent state; and the severity of his wrath was in
full proportion to the offence. Nor did he again utter his
misgivings, but was full of his usual alacrity and life, as though
daylight had restored his buoyancy.
James, on the way back to the thanksgiving mass, interceded for last
night's offenders, as an act of grace suitable to the occasion; but
Henry was inexorable.
'Had they stood to die like Englishmen, they had not lied like dogs!
'he said; 'and as dogs they shall hang!'
In fact, in the critical state of his army, he knew that the only
safety lay in the promptest and sternest justice; and therefore the
three foremost in accusing King James of treachery were hung long
However, he called for the two Yorkshiremen, and thus addressed them:
'Well done, my masters! Thanks for showing Scots and Frenchmen what
stuff Englishmen are made of! I keep my word, good fellows. Kneel
down, and I'll dub each a knight. How now! what are you blundering
and whispering for?'
'So please you, Sir,' said Kitson, 'this is no matter to win one's
spurs for--mere standing still without a blow.'
'I would all had that same gift of standing still,' returned Henry.
'What is it sticks in your gizzard, friend? If 'tis the fees, I take
them on myself.'
'No, Sir,' hoarsely cried both.
And Kitson explained: 'Sir, you said you'd knight the one of us that
was foremost. Now, the two being dubbed, we shall be but where we
were before as to Mistress Agnes of Mineshull, unless of your good-
will you would be pleased to let us fight out the wager of the
heriard in all peace and amity.'
Henry burst out laughing, with all his old merriment, as he said,
'For no Mistress Agnes living can I have honest men's lives wasted,
specially of such as have that gift of standing still. If she does
not knew her own mind, one of you must get himself killed by the
Frenchmen, not by one another. So kneel down, and we'll make your
knighthood's feast fall in with that of my son.'
Thus Sir Christopher Kitson and Sir William Trenton rose up knights;
and bore their honours with a certain bluntness that made them butts,
even while they were the heroes of the day; and Henry, who had
resumed his gay temper, made much diversion out of their mingled
shrewdness and gruffness.
'So,' muttered Malcolm to Ralf Percy, 'we are passed over in the
self-same matter for which these fellows are knighted.'
'Tush!' answered Percy; 'I'd scorn to be confounded with a couple of
clowns like them! Moreover,' he added, with better reason, 'their
valour was more exercised than ours, inasmuch as they thought there
was treachery, and we did not. No, no; when my spurs are won, it
shall be for some prowess, better than standing stock-still.'
Malcolm held his tongue, unwilling that Percy should see that he did
feel this an achievement; but he was vexed at the lack of reward,
fancying that knighthood would be no small step in the favour of that
imaginary Esclairmonde whom he had made for himself.
'Light of the world' he loved to call her still, but it was in the
commonplace romance of his time, the mere light of beauty and grace
illuminating the world of chivalry.
CHAPTER VIII: THE CAPTURE
The seven months' siege ended at last, but it was not until the
brightness of May was on the fields outside, and the deadly blight of
famine on all within, that a haggard, wasted-looking deputation came
down from the upper city to treat with the King.
Henry was never severe with the inhabitants of French cities, and
exacted no harsh terms, save that he insisted that Vaurus, the robber
captain, and his two chief lieutenants, should be given up to him to
suffer condign punishment. The warriors who had shut themselves up
to hold out the place by honourable warfare for the Dauphin must be
put to ransom as prisoners of war; but the burghers were to be
unmolested, on condition of their swearing allegiance to Henry as
regent for, and heir of, Charles VI.
To this the deputies consented, and the next day was fixed for the
surrender. The difficulty was, as Henry had found at Harfleur,
Rouen, and many other places, to enforce forbearance on his soldiery,
who regarded plunder as their lawful prey, the enemy as their natural
game, and the trouble a city had given them as a cause for
unmercifulness. The more time changed his army from the feudal
gathering of English country gentlemen and yeomen to mercenary bands
of men-at-arms, the mere greedy, rapacious, and insubordinate became
their temper. Well knowing the greatness of the peril, and that the
very best of his captains had scarcely the will, if they had the
power, to restrain the license that soon became barbarity
unimaginable, he spoke sadly overnight of his dread of the day of
surrender, when it might prove impossible to prevent deeds that would
be not merely a blot on his scutcheon, but a shame to human nature;
looking back to the exultation with which he had entered Harfleur as
a mere effect of boyish ignorance and thoughtlessness.
Having taken all possible precautions, he stood in his full armour,
with the fox's brush in his helmet, under the great elm in the
market-place, received the keys, accepted the sword of the captain
commissioned by Charles with royal courtesy, gave his hand to be
kissed by the mayor; and then, with grave inexorable air, like a
statue of steel, watched as the freebooter Vaurus and his two chief
companions were led down with their hands tied, halters round their
necks, and priests at their sides, preparing them to be hung on that
very tree. They were proud hard men, and uttered no entreaty for
grace. They had hung too many travellers upon these same branches
not to expect their own turn, and they were no cravens to abase
That act of justice ended, Henry mounted his warhorse and rode in at
the gates. His wont was to go straight to the principal church, and
there attend a solemn mass of thanksgiving; but experience had taught
him that his devotions were the very opportunity of his men's rapine:
he had therefore arranged that as soon as he should have arrived in
the choir of the cathedral, James should take his place, and he slip
out by a side door, so as to return to the scene of action.
In full procession he and his suite reached the chief door, and there
dismounted in an immense crowd, which thronged in at the doors.
'Come, Glenuskie,' said Ralf Percy, as the two youths were pushed
chose together in the press; 'if you have a fancy for being smothered
in the minster, I have none. We shall never be missed. 'Twill be
sport to walk round and see how these hardy rogues contrived to hold
Malcolm willingly turned aside with him, and looked down the sloping
street, which was swarming with comers and goers. The whole place
was in an inflammable state. Soldiers were demanding quarters, which
the citizens unwillingly gave. A refusal or expostulation against a
rough entry led to violence; and ever as the two youths walked
farther from the cathedral, there was more of excitement, more rude
oaths of soldiers, more shrieking of women, often crying out even
before any harm was done to them or their houses.
At last, before a tall overhanging house, there was an immense press,
and a frightful din of shouts and imprecations, filling both the new-
comers with infectious eagerness.
'How now? how now?' called Percy. 'Keep the peace, good fellows.'
'Sir,' cried a number of voices, passionately, 'the French villains
have barred their door. There's a lot of cowardly Armagnacs hid
there with their gold, trying to balk honest men of their ransom.'
Such was the cry resounding on all sides. 'Have at them! There's
the rogue at the windows. Out on the fellows! Burn down the door!
'Tis Vaurus himself and all his gold. Treason! treason!'
The clamour was convincing to the spirit, if not to the senses. The
two lads believed in the concealed Armagnacs, or perhaps more truly
were carried away by the vehemence around them; and with something of
the spirit of the chase, threw themselves headlong into the affair.
'Open! open!' shouted Ralf. 'Open, in the name of King Henry!'
An old man's face peeped through a little wicket in the door, and at
sight of the two youths, evidently of high rank, said in a trembling
voice, 'Alas! alas! Sir, bid these cruel men go away. I have
nothing here--no one--only my sick daughter.'
'You hear,' said Malcolm, turning round; 'only his sick daughter.'
'Sick daughter!--old liar! Here's an honest tinker makes oath he has
hoards of gold laid up for Vaurus, and ten Armagnacs hidden in his
house. Have at him! Bring fire!'
Blows hailed thick on the door; a flaming torch was handed over the
heads of the throng; horrible growls and roars pervaded them.
Malcolm and Ralf, furious at the cheat, stood among the foremost,
making so much noise themselves between thundering and reviling, and
calling out, 'Where are the Armagnacs? Down with the traitors!' that
they were not aware of a sudden hush behind them, till a buffet from
a heavy hand fell on Malcolm's shoulder, and a mighty voice cried
'Shame! shame! What, you too!'
'There are traitors hid here, Sir,' said Percy, in angry self-
'And what an if there are? Back, every one of you! rogues that you
be!--Here, Fitzhugh, see those villains back to the camp. Let their
arms be given up to the Provost-marshal.--Kites and crows as you are!
Away, out with you!'
Henry pointed to the broken door, and the cowed and abashed soldiers
slunk away from the terrible light of his eyes. No man could stand
before the face of the King.
There was a stillness. He stood leaning on his sword, his chest
heaving with his panting breaths. He was naturally as fleet as the
swift-footed Achilles, but the winter had told upon him, and the
haste with which he had rushed to the rescue left him breathless and
speechless, while he seemed as it were to nail the two lads to the
spot by his steady gaze of mingled distress and displeasure.
Neither could brook his eye: Percy hung his head like a boy in a
scrape; Malcolm quailed with terror, but at the same time felt a keen
sense of injury in being thus treated as a plunderer, and the blow
under which his shoulder ached seemed an indignity to his royal
'Boys,' said Henry, still low and breathlesly, but all the more
impressively, 'what is to become of honour and mercy if such as you
must needs become ravening wolves at scent of booty?'
'It was not booty, Sir; they said traitors were hid here,' said
'Tush! the old story! Ever the plea for rapine and bloodthirstiness.
After the warnings of last night you should have known better; but
you are all alike in frenzy for a sack. You have both put off your
knighthood till you have learnt not to become a shame thereto.'
'I take not knighthood at your hands, Sir,' burst out Malcolm, goaded
with hot resentment, but startled the next moment at the sound of his
'I cry you mercy,' said King Henry, in a cold, short tone.
Malcolm turned on his heel and walked away, without waiting to see
how the poor old man in the house threw himself at the King's feet
with a piteous history of his sick daughter and her starving
children, nor how Ralf hurried off headlong to the lower town to send
them immediate relief in bread, wine, and doctors. The gay, good-
natured, thoughtless lad no mere harboured malice for the
chastisement than if his tutor had caught him idling; but things went
deeper with Malcolm. True, he had undergone many a brutal jest and
cruel practical joke from his cousins; but that was all in the
family, not like a blow from an alien king, and one not apologized
for, but followed up by a rebuke that seemed to him unjust, lowering
him in his own eyes and those of Esclairmonde, and making him ready
to gnaw himself with moody vexation.
'You here, Malcolm!' said King James, entering his quarters; 'did you
miss me in the throng? I have not seen you all day.'
'I have been insulted, Sir,' said Malcolm. 'I pray your license to
depart and carry my sword to my kinsmen in the French camp.'
'How now! Is it the way to treat an insult to run away from it?'
'Not when the world judges men to be on equal terms, my lord.'
'What! Who has done you wrong, you silly loon?'
'King Henry, Sir; he struck me with his fist, and rated me like his
hound; and I will not eat another morsel of his bread unless he would
answer it to me in single combat.'
'Little enough bread you'd eat after that same answer!' ejaculated
James. 'Oh! I understand now. You were with young Hotspur and the
rest that set on the poor townsmen, and Harry made small distinction
of persons! Nay, Malcolm, it was ill in you, that talked of so
'I wanted no spulzie. There were Armagnacs hid in the house, and the
King would not hear us.'
'He knew that story too well. Were you asleep or idling last night,
when he warned all, on no plea whatever, to break into a house, but,
if the old tale of treachery came up, to set a guard, and call one of
the captains? Did you hear him--eh?'
'I can take chiding from you, Sir, but neither words nor blows from
any other king in Christendom, still less when he threatens me that I
have deferred my knighthood! As if I would have it from him!'
'From me you will not have it until he have pardoned Ralf Percy,'
said James, dryly. 'Malcolm, I had not thought you such a fule body!
Under a captain's banner, what can be done but submit to his rule? I
should do so myself, were Salisbury or March in command.'
'Then, Sir,' said Malcolm, much hurt that the King did not take his
part, 'I shall carry my service elsewhere.'
'So,' said James, much vexed, 'this is the meek lad that wanted to
hide in a convent from an ill world, flying off from his king and
kinsman that he may break down honest men's doors at his will.'
'That I may be free from insult, Sir.'
'You think John of Buchan like to cosset you! You found the Black
Douglas so courtly to me the other day as to expect him to be tender
to this nicety of yours! Malcolm, as your prince and guardian, I
forbid this folly, and command you to lay aside this fit of malice
and do your devoir. What! sobbing, silly lad--where's your manhood?'
'Sir, Sir, what will they think of me--the Lady Esclairmonde and all-
-if they hear I have sat down tamely with a blow?'
'She will never think about you at all but as a sullen malapert
ne'er-do-weel, if you go off to that camp of routiers, trying to prop
a bad cause because you cannot take correction, nor observe
A sudden suspicion came over Malcolm that the King would not thus
make light of the offence, if it had really been the inexpiable
insult he had supposed it, and the thought was an absolute relief;
for in effect the parting from James, and joining the party opposed
to Esclairmonde's friends, would have been so tremendous a step, that
he could hardly have contemplated it in his sober senses, and he
murmured, 'My honour, Sir,' in a tone that James understood.
'Oh, for your honour--you need not fear for that! Any knight in the
army could have done as much without prejudice to your honour. Why,
you silly loon, d'ye think I would not have been as angered as
yourself, if your honour had been injured?'
Malcolm's heart felt easier, but he still growled. 'Then, Sir, if
you assure me that I can do so without detriment to my honour, I will
not quit you.'
James laughed. 'It might have been more graciously spoken, my good
cousin, but I am beholden to you.'
Malcolm, ashamed and vexed at the sarcastic tone, held his tongue for
a little while, but presently exclaimed, 'Will the Bishop of
Therouenne hear of it?'
James laughed. 'Belike not; or, if he should, it would only seem to
him the reasonable training of a young squire.'
The King did not say what crossed his own mind, that the Bishop of
Therouenne was more likely to think Henry over-strict in discipline,
and absurdly rigorous.
The prelate, Charles de Luxemburg, brother to the Count de St. Pol,
had made several visits to the English camp. He was one of these
princely younger sons, who, like Beaufort at home, took
ecclesiastical preferments as their natural provision, and as a
footing whence they might become statesmen. He was a great admirer
of Henry's genius, and, as the chief French prelate who was heartily
on the English side, enjoyed a much greater prominence than he could
have done at either the French or Burgundian Court. He and his
brother of St. Pol were Esclairmonde's nearest kinsmen--'oncles a la
mode de Bretagne,' as they call the relationship which is here
sometimes termed Welsh uncle, or first cousins once removed--and from
him James had obtained much more complete information about
Esclairmonde than he could ever get from the flighty Duchess.
Her mother, a beautiful Walloon, had been heiress to wide domains in
Hainault, her father to great estates in Flanders, all which were at
present managed by the politic Bishop. Like most of the statesman-
secular-clergy, the Bishop hated nothing so much as the monastic
orders, and had made no small haste to remove his fair niece from the
convent at Dijon, where she had been educated, lest the Cistercians
should become possessed of her lands. He had one scheme for her
marriage; but his brother, the Count, had wished to give her to his
own second son, who was almost an infant; and the Duke of Burgundy
had designs on her for his half-brother Boemond; and among these
various disputants, Esclairmonde had never failed to find support
against whichever proposal was forced upon her, until the coalition
between the Dukes of Burgundy and Brabant becoming too strong, she
had availed herself of Countess Jaqueline's discontent to evade them
The family had, of course, been much angered, and had fully expected
that her estates would go to some great English abbey, or to some
English lord whose haughty reserve and insularity would be
insupportable. It was therefore a relief to Monseigneur de
Therouenne to hear James's designs; and when the King further added,
that he would be willing to let the claims on the Hainault part of
her estates be purchased by the Count de St. Pol, and those in
Flanders by the Duke of Burgundy, the Bishop was delighted, and
declared that, rather than such a negotiation should fail, he would
himself advance the sum to his brother; but that the Duke of
Burgundy's consent was more doubtful, only could they not do without
And he honoured Malcolm with a few words of passing notice from time
to time, as if he almost regarded him as a relation. No doubt it
would have been absurd to fly from such chances as these to Patrick
Drummond and the opposite camp; and yet there were times when Malcolm
felt as if he should get rid of a load on his heart if he were to
break with all his present life, hurry to Patrick, confess the whole
to him, and then--hide his head in some hermitage, leaving his pledge
That, however, could not be. He was bound to the King, and might not
desert him, and it was not unpleasant to brood over the sacrifice of
his own displeasure.
'See,' said Henry, in the evening, as he came into the refectory and
walked up to James, 'I have found my signet. It was left in the
finger of my Spanish glove, which I had not worn since the beginning
of winter. Thanks to all who took vain pains to look for it.'
But Malcolm did not respond with his pleased look to the thanks. He
was not in charity with Henry, and crept out of hearing of him, while
James was saying, 'You had best destroy one or the other, or they
will make mischief. Here, I'll crush it with the pommel of my
'Ay,' said Henry, laughing, 'you'd like to shew off one of your
sledge-hammer blows--Sir Bras de Fer! But, Master Scot, you shall
not smash the English shield so easily. This one hangs too loose to
be safe; I shall keep it to serve me when we have fattened up at
Paris, after the leanness of our siege.'
'Hal,' said James, seeing his gay temper restored, 'you have
grievously hurt that springald of mine. His northern blood cannot
away with the taste he got of your fist.'
'Pretty well for your godly young monk, to expect to rob unchecked!'
'He will do well at last,' said James. 'Manhood has come on him with
a rush, and borne him off his feet; nor would I have him over-tame.'
'There spake the Scot!' said Henry. 'By my faith, Jamie, we should
have had you the worst robber of all had we not caught you young!
Well, what am I do for this sprig of royalty? Say I struck unawares?
Nay, had I known him, I'd have struck with as much of a will as his
slight bones would bear.'
'An you love me, Hal, do something to cool his ill blood, and remove
the sense of shame that sinks a lad in his own eyes.'
'Methought,' said Henry, 'there was more shame in the deed than in
Nevertheless the good-natured King took an occasion of saying: 'My
Lord of Glenuskie, I smote without knowing you. It was no place for
a prince--nay, for any honest man; otherwise no hand should have been
laid on my guest or my brother's near kinsman. And whereas I hear
that both you and my fiery hot Percy verily credited the cry that
prisoners were hid in that house, let me warn you that never was
place yielded on composition but some villain got up the shout, and
hundreds of fools followed it, till they learnt villainy in their
turn. Therefore I ever chastise transgression of my command to touch
neither dwelling nor inhabitant. You have both learnt your lesson,
and the lion rampant and he of the straight tail will both be reined
up better another time.'
Malcolm had no choice but to bend his head, mutter something, and let
the King grasp his hand, though to him the apology seemed none at
all, but rather to increase the offence, since the blame was by no
means taken back again, while the condescension was such as could not
be rejected, and thus speciously took away his excuse for brooding
over his wrath. His hand lay so unwillingly in that strong hearty
clasp that the King dropped it, frowned, shrugged his shoulders, and
muttered to himself, 'Sullen young dog! No Scot can let bygones be
bygones!' and then he turned away and cast the trifle from his
James was amazed not to see the moody face clear up, and asked of
Malcolm whether he were not gratified with this ample satisfaction.
'I trow I must be, Sir,' said Malcolm.
'I tell thee, boy,' said James, 'not one king--nay, not one man--in a
thousand would have offered thee the frank amends King Harry hath
done this day: nay, I doubt whether even he could so have done, were
it not that the hope of his wife's coming hath made him overflow with
joy and charity to all the world.'
Malcolm did not make much reply, and James regarded him with some
disappointment. The youth was certainly warmly attached to him, but
these tokens of superiority to the faults of his time and country
which had caused the King to seek him for a companion seemed to have
vanished with his feebleness and timidity. The manhood that had been
awakened was not the chivalrous, generous, and gentle strength of
Henry and his brothers, but the punctilious pride and sullenness, and
almost something of the license, of the Scot. The camp had not
proved the school of chivalry that James, in his inexperience, had
imagined it must be under Henry, and the tedium and wretchedness of
the siege had greatly added to its necessary evils by promoting a
reckless temper and willingness to snatch at any enjoyment without
heed to consequences. Close attendance on the kings had indeed
prevented either Malcolm or Percy from even having the temptation of
running into any such lengths as those gentry who had plundered the
shrine of St. Fiacre at Breuil, or were continually galloping off for
an interval of dissipation at Paris; but they were both on the
outlook for any snatch of stolen diversion, for in ceasing from
monastic habits Malcolm seemed to have laid aside the scruples of a
religious or conscientious youth, and specially avoided Dr. Bennet,
the King's almoner.
James feared he had been mistaken, and looked to the influence of
Esclairmonde to repair the evil, if perchance she should follow the
Queen to France. And this it was almost certain she must do, since
she was entirely dependent upon the Countess of Hainault, and could
not obtain admission to a nunnery without recovering a portion of her
CHAPTER IX: THE DANCE OF DEATH
The Queen was coming! No sooner had the first note of surrender been
sounded from the towers of Meaux, than Henry had sent intelligence to
England that the way was open for the safe arrival of his much-loved
wife; and at length, on a sunny day in May, tidings were received
that she had landed in France, under the escort of the Duke of
Vincennes, in the midst of its noble forest, was the place fixed for
the meeting of the royal pair; and never did a happier or more
brilliant cavalcade traverse those woodlands than that with which
Henry rode to the appointed spot.
All the winter, the King had heeded appearances as little as of old
when roughing it with Hotspur in Wales; but now his dress was of the
most royal. On his head was a small green velvet cap, encircled by a
crown in embroidery; his robe was of scarlet silk, and over it was
thrown a mantle of dark green samite, thickly powdered with tiny
embroidered white antelopes; the Garter was on his knee, the George
on his neck. It was a kingly garb, and well became the tall slight
person and fair noble features. During these tedious months he had
looked wan, haggard, and careworn; but the lines of anxiety were all
effaced, his lustrous blue eyes shone and danced like Easter suns,
his complexion rivalled the fresh delicate tints of the blossoms in
the orchards; and when, with a shyness for which he laughed at
himself, he halted to brush away any trace of dust that might offend
the eye of his 'dainty Kate,' and gaily asked his brother king if he
were sufficiently pranked out for a lady's bower, James, thinking he
had never seen him so handsome, replied:
'Like a young bridegroom--nay, more like a young suitor.'
'You're jealous, Jamie--afraid of being outshone. 'Tis is your own
fault, man; none can ever tell whether you be in festal trim or not.'
For King James's taste was for sober, well-blending hues; and as he
never lapsed into Henry's carelessness, his state apparel was not
very apparently dissimilar from his ordinary dress, being generally
of dark rich crimson, blue, or russet, with the St. Andrew's cross in
white silk on his breast, or else the ruddy lion, but never
conspicuously; and the sombre hues always seemed particularly well to
suit his auburn colouring.
Malcolm, in scarlet and gold, was a far gayer figure, and quite
conscious of the change in his own appearance--how much taller,
ruddier, and browner he had become; how much better he held himself
both in riding and walking; and how much awkwardness and
embarrassment he had lost. No wonder Esclairmonde had despised the
sickly, timid, monkish school-boy; and if she had then shown him any
sort of grace or preference, what would she think of the princely
young squire he could new show her, who had seen service, had proved
his valour, and was only not a knight because of King Henry's
unkindness and King James's punctilio?--at any rate, no child to be
brow-beaten and silenced with folly about cloistral dedication, but a
youth who had taken his place in the world, and could allege that his
inspiration had come through her bright eyes.
Would she be there? That was the chief anxiety: for it was not
certain that either she or her mistress would risk themselves on the
Continent; and Catherine had given no intimation as to who would be
in her suite--so that, as Henry had merrily observed, he was the only
one in the whole party who was not in suspense, except indeed
Salisbury, who had sent his commands to his little daughter to come
out with the Queen.
'She is come!' cried Henry. 'Beforehand with us, after all;' and he
spurred his horse on as he saw the banner raised, and the escort
around the gate; and in a few seconds more he and his companions had
hurried through the court, where the ladies had scarcely dismounted,
and hastened into the hall, breaking into the seneschal's solemn
reception of the Queen.
'My Kate, my fairest! Mine eyes have been hungry for a sight of
And Catherine, in her horned head-gear and flutter of spangled veil,
was almost swallowed up in his hearty embrace; and the fervency of
his great love so far warmed her, that she clung to him, and tenderly
said, 'My lord, it is long since I saw you.'
'Thou wert before me! Ah! forgive thy tardy knight,' he continued,
gazing at her really enhanced beauty as if he had eyes for no one
else, even while with lip and hand, kiss, grasp, and word, he greeted
her companions, of whom Jaqueline of Hainault and John of Bedford
were the most prominent.
'And the babe! where is he?' then cried he. 'Let me have him to hold
up to my brave fellows in the court!'
'The Prince of Wales?' said Catherine. 'You never spake of my
'If I spake not, it was because I doubted not for a moment that you
would keep him with you. Nay, verily it is not in sooth that you
left him. You are merely sporting with use.'
'Truly, Sir,' said Catherine, 'I never guessed that you would clog
yourself with a babe in the cradle, and I deemed him more safely
nursed at Windsor.'
'If it be for his safety! Yet a soldier's boy should thrive among
soldiers,' said the King, evidently much disappointed, and proceeding
to eager inquiries as to the appearance and progress of his child; to
which the Queen replied with a certain languor, as though she had no
very intimate personal knowledge of her little son.
Other eyes were meanwhile eagerly scanning the bright confusion of
veils and wimples; and Malcolm had just made out the tall head and
dark locks under a long almost shrouding white veil far away in the
background behind the Countess of Hainault, when the Duke of Bedford
came up with a frown of consternation on his always anxious face, and
drawing King James into a window, said, 'What have you been doing to
him?'--to which James, without hearing the question, replied, 'Where
'Joan? At home. It was the Queen's will. Of that another time.
But what means this?' and he signed towards his brother. 'Never saw
I man so changed.'
'Had you seen him at Christmas you might have said so,' replied
James; 'but now I see naught amiss; I had been thinking I had never
seen him so fair and comely.'
'I tell you, James,' said Bedford, contracting his brows till they
almost met ever his arched nose, 'I tell you, his look brings back to
me my mother's, the last time she greeted my father!'
'To your fantasy, not your memory, John! You were a mere babe at her
'Of five years,' said Bedford. 'That face--that cough--have brought
all back--ay, the yearning look when my father was absent, and the
pure rosy fairness that Harry and Tom cited so fiercely against one
who would have told them how sick to death she was. I mind me too,
that when our grandame of Hereford made us motherless children over
to our grandsire of Lancaster, it was with a warning that Harry had
the tender lungs of the Bohuns, and needed care. One deadly sickness
he had at Kenilworth, when my father was ridden for post-haste. My
mind misgave me throughout this weary siege; but his service held me
fast at home, and I trusted that you would watch over him.'
'A man like him is ill to guide,' said James; 'but he is more himself
now than he has been for months, and a few weeks' quiet with his wife
will restore him. But what is this?' he proceeded in his turn; 'why
is the Lady Joan not here?'
'How can I tell? It was no fault of mine. I even got a prim warning
that it became me not to meddle about her ladies, and I doubted what
slanders you might hear if I were seen asking your Nightingale for a
'Have you none! Good John, I know you have.'
John smiled his ironical smile, produced from the pouch at his girdle
a small packet bound with rose-coloured silk, and said: 'The
Nightingale hath a plume, you see, and saith, moreover, that her
knight hath done his devoir passably, but that she yet looks to see
him send some captive giant to her feet. So, Sir Knight, I hope your
poor dwarf hath acquitted him well in your chivalrous jargon.'
James smiled and coloured with pleasure; the fantastic message was
not devoid of reality in the days when young imaginative spirits
tried to hide the prose of war and policy in a bright mist of
romantic fancy; nor was he ashamed to bend his manly head in
reverence to, and even press to his lips, his lady's first love-
letter, in the very sight of the satirical though sympathizing
Bedford, of whom he eagerly asked of the fair Joan's health and
welfare, and whether she were flouted by Queen Catherine.
'No more than is the meed of her beauty,' said Bedford. 'Sister Kate
likes not worship at any shrine save one. Look at our suite: our
knights--yea, our very grooms are picked for their comeliness; to wit
that great feather-pated oaf of a Welshman, Owen Tudor there; while
dames and demoiselles, tire-women and all, are as near akin as may be
to Sir Gawain's loathly lady.'
'Not at least the fair Luxemburg. Did not I see her stately mien?'
'She is none of the Queen's, and moreover she stands aloof, so that
the women forgive her gifts! There is that cough of Harry's again!
He is the shadow of the man he was; I would I knew if this were the
'Nay, John, when you talk to me of Harry's cough, and of night-
watches and flooded camps, I hearken; but when your wits run wool-
gathering after that poor woman, making waxen images stuck full--'
'You are in the right on't, James,' said Henry, who had come up to
them while he was speaking. 'John will never get sorceries out of
his head. I have thought it over, and will not be led into
oppressing my father's widow any more. I cannot spend this Pentecost
cheerily till I know she is set free and restored to her manors; and
I shall write to Humfrey and the Council to that effect.'
And as John shrugged his shoulders, Henry gaily added: 'Thou seest
what comes of a winter spent with this unbeliever Jamie; and truly, I
found the thought of unright to my father's widow was a worse pin in
my heart than ever she is like to thrust there.'
Thus then it was, that in the overflowing joy and good-will of his
heart, and mayhap with the presentiment which rendered him willing to
be at peace with all his kindred, Henry forgave and released his
step-mother, Joan of Navarre, whom common rumour termed the Witch
Queen, and whom he had certainly little reason to love, whether it
were true or not that she had attempted to weave spells against him.
In fact, there were few of the new-comers from England who did not,
like Bedford, impute the transparency of Henry's hands, and the
hollowness of his brightly-tinted cheek, to some form of sorcery.
Meantime, Esclairmonde de Luxemburg, more beautiful than ever under a
still simpler dress, had greeted Malcolm with her wonted kindness;
adding, with a smile, that he was so much grown and embrowned that
she should not have known him but for the sweet Scottish voice which
he, like his king, possessed.
'You do me too much grace in commending aught that is mine, madame,'
said Malcolm, with an attempt at the assurance he believed himself to
have acquired; but he could only finish by faltering and blushing.
There was a power of repression about Esclairmonde that annihilated
all his designs, and drove him back into his bashful self whenever he
came into contact with her, and felt how unlike the grave serene
loftiness of her presence was to the mere queen of romance, that in
her absence her shadow had become.
Alice Montagu, returning to her side, relieved while disconcerting
him. Sweet little Alice had been in a continual flutter ever since
commands had come from Meaux that she was to come out to meet the
father whom she had not seen since what seemed like half her childish
lifetime, and the betrothed whom she had never seen at all; and Lady
Westmoreland had added to her awe by the lengthened admonition with
which she took leave of her. And on this day, when Esclairmonde
herself had arrayed the fair child in the daintiest of rose-pink
boddices edged with swan's-down, the whitest of kirtles, and softest
of rosy veils, the flush of anxiety on the pale little face made it
so fair to look upon, that as the maiden wistfully asked, 'Think you
he will flout me?' it was impossible not to laugh at the very notion.
'Ah! but I would be glad if he did, for then I might bide with you.'
When, in the general greeting, Alice had been sought out by a tall,
dark-browed, grizzled warrior, Esclairmonde had, cruelly, as the
maiden thought, kept her station behind the Countess, and never
stirred for all those wistful backward glances, but left her alone to
drop on her knee to seek the blessing of the mighty old soldier.
And now she was holding his great hand, almost as tough as his
gauntlets, and leading him up to her friend, while he louted low, and
spoke with a grand fatherly courtesy:
'Fair demoiselle, this silly wench of mine tells me that you have
been good friend to her, and I thank you for the same with all mine
'Silly' was a fond term of love then, and had all the affection of a
proud father in it, as the Earl of Salisbury patted the small soft
fingers in his grasp.
'Truly, my lord,' responded Esclairmonde, 'the Lady Alice hath been
my sweetest companion, friend, and sister, for these many months.'
'Nay, child, art worthy to be called friend by such a lady as this?
If so, I shall deem my little Alice grown a woman indeed, as it is
time she were--Diccon Nevil is bent on the wedding before we go to
the wars again.'
Alice coloured like a damask rose, and hid her face behind her
'Hast seen him, sweet?' asked Esclairmonde, when Salisbury had been
called away. 'Is he here?'
'Yes; out there--he with the white bull on his surcoat,' said Alice,
dreading to look that way.
'And hast spoken with him?' asked the lady next, feeling as if the
stout, commonplace, hardy-looking soldier she saw was scarce what she
would have chosen for her little wild rose of an Alice, comely and
brave though he were.
'He hath kissed mine hand,' faltered Alice, but it was quite credible
that not a word had passed. The marriage was a business contract
between the houses of Wark and Raby, and a grand speculation for Sir
Richard Nevil, that was all; but gentle Alice had no reluctance
beyond mere maidenly shyness, and unwillingness to enter on an
unknown future under a new lord. She even whispered to her dear
Clairette that she was glad Sir Richard never tormented her by
talking to her, and that he was grave, and so old.
'So old? why, little one, he can scarce be seven-and-twenty!'
'And is not that old? oh, so old!' said Alice. 'Able to take care of
me. I would not have a youth like that young Lord of Glenuskie. Oh
'That is well,' said Esclairmonde, smiling; 'but wherefore put such
disdain in thy voice, Alice? He used to be our playfellow, and he
hath grown older and more manly in this year.'
'His boyhood was better than such manhood,' said Alice; 'he was more
to my taste when he was meek, than now that he seems to say, "I would
be saucy if I durst." And he hath not the stuff to dare any way.'
'Fie! fie! Alice, you are growing slanderous.'
'Nay, now, Clairette, own verily--you feel the like!'
'Hush, silly one, what skills it? Youths must pass through
temptation; and if his king hindered his vocation, maybe the poor lad
may rue it sorely, but methinks he will come to the right at last.
It were better to say a prayer for his faults than to speak evil of
Poor Malcolm! He was at that very moment planning with an
embroiderer a robe wherein to appear, covered with flashes of
lightning transfixing the world, and mottoes around--'Esclaire mais
Every moment that he was absent from Esclairmonde was spent in
composing chivalrous discourses in which to lay himself at her feet,
but the mere sight of her steady dark eyes scattered them instantly
from his memory; and save for very shame he would have entreated King
James again to break the ice for him, since the lady evidently
supposed that she had last year entirely quashed his suit. And in
this mood Malcolm mounted and took his place to ride into Paris,
where the King wished to arrive in the evening, and with little
preparation, so as to avoid the weary length of a state reception,
with all its speeches and pageants.
In the glow of a May evening the cavalcade passed the gates, and
entered the city, where the streets were so narrow that it was often
impossible to ride otherwise than two and two. The foremost had
emerged into an open space before a church and churchyard, when there
was a sudden pause, a shock of surprise. All across the space,
blocking up the way, was an enormous line of figures, looking shadowy
in the evening light, and bearing the insignia of every rank and
dignity that earth presented. Popes were there, with triple crown
and keys, and fanned by peacock tails; scarlet-matted and caped
cardinals, mitred and crosiered bishops, crowned and sceptred kings,
ermined dukes, steel-clad knights, gowned lawyers, square-capped
priests, cowled monks, and friars of every degree--nay, the mechanic
with his tools, the peasant with his spade, even the beggar within
his dish; old men, and children of every age; and women too of all
grades--the tower-crowned queen, the beplumed dame, the lofty abbess,
the veiled nun, the bourgeoise, the peasant, the beggar;--all were
there, moving in a strange shadowy wild dance, sometimes slow,
sometimes swift and mad with gaiety, to the music of an unseen band
of clashing kettle-drums, cymbals, and other instruments, that played
fast and furiously; while above all a knell in the church tower rang
forth at intervals a slow, deep, lugubrious note; and all the time
there glided in and out through the ring a grisly being--skull-
headed, skeleton-boned, scythe in hand--Death himself; and ever and
anon, when the dance was swiftest, would he dart into the midst,
pounce on one or other, holding an hour-glass to the face, unheeding
rank, sex, or age, and bear his victim to the charnel-house beside
the church. It was a sight as though some terrible sermon had taken
life, as though the unseen had become visible, the veil were taken
away; and the implicit unresisting obedience of the victims added to
the sense of awful reality and fatality.
The advance of the victorious King Henry made no difference to the
continuousness of the frightful dance; nay, it was plain that he was
but in the presence of a monarch yet more victorious than himself,
and the mazes wound on, the performers being evidently no phantoms,
but as substantial as those who beheld them; nay, the grisly ring
began to absorb the royal suite within itself, and an awe-stricken
silence prevailed--at least, where Malcolm Stewart and Ralf Percy
were riding together.
Neither lad durst ask the other what it meant. They thought they
knew too well. Percy ceased not for one moment to cross himself, and
mutter invocations to the saints; Malcolm's memory and tongue alike
seemed inert and paralyzed with horror--his brain was giddy, his eyes
stretched open; and when Death suddenly turned and darted in his
direction, one horrible gush of thought--'Fallen, fallen! Lost,
lost! No confession!'--came over him; he would have sobbed out an
entreaty for mercy and for a priest, but it became a helpless shriek;
and while Percy's sword flashed before his eyes, he felt himself
falling, death-stricken, to the earth, and knew no more.
'There--he moved,' said a voice above him.
'How now, Glenuskie?' cried Ralf Percy. 'Look up; I verily thought
you were sped by Death in bodily shape; but 'twas all an abominable
grisly pageant got up by some dismal caitiffs.'
'It was the Danse Macabre,' added the sweet tone that did indeed
unclose Malcolm's eyes, to see Esclairmonde bending over him, and
holding wine to his lips. Ralf raised him that he might swallow it,
and looking round, he saw that he was in a small wainscoted chamber,
with an old burgher woman, Ralf Percy, and Esclairmonde; certainly
not in the other world. He strove to ask 'what it meant,' and
Esclairmonde spoke again:
'It is the Danse Macabre; I have seen it in Holland. It was invented
as a warning to those of sinful life, and this good woman tells me it
has become the custom to enact it every evening at this churchyard of
the Holy Innocents.'
'A custom I devoutly hope King Harry will break!' exclaimed Ralf.
'If not, I'll some day find the way between those painted ribs of
Monseigneur de la Mort, I can tell him! I had nearly given him a
taste of my sword as it was, only some Gascon rogue caught my arm,
and he was off ere I could get free. So I jumped off, that your poor
corpse should not be trodden by French heels; and I hardly know how
it was, but the Lady Esclairmonde was by my side as I dragged you
out, and caused these good folks to let me bring you in behind their
'Lady, lady, I am for ever beholden,' cried Malcolm, gathering
himself up as if to fall at her feet, and his heart bounding high
with joy, for this was from death to life indeed.
'I saw there was some one hurt,' said Esclairmonde in her repressive
manner. 'Drink some more wine, eat this bread, and you will be able
to ride to the Hotel de St. Pol.'
'Oh, lady, let me speak of my bliss!' and he snatched at her hand,
but was still so dizzy that he sank back, becoming aware that he was
stiff and bruised from his fall. Almost at the same moment a new
step and voice were heard in the little open booth where the cutler
displayed his wares, and King James was at once admitted.
'How goes it, laddie?' he asked. 'They told me grim Death had
clutched you and borne you off to his charnel-house; but at least I
see an angel has charge of you.'
Esclairmonde slightly coloured as she made answer:
'I saw some one fall, and came to offer my poor skill, Sir; but as
the Sieur de Glenuskie is fast recovering, if you will permit Sir
Nigel Baird to attend me, Sir, I will at once return.'
'I am ready--I am not hurt. Oh, let us go together!' panted Malcolm,
'Eh, gentlemen!' exclaimed the hospitable cutler's wife; 'you will
not away so fast! This gallant knight will permit you to remain.
And the fair lady, she will do me the honour to drink a cup of wine
to the recovery of her betrothed.'
'Not so, good woman,' said Esclairmonde, a little apart, 'I am the
betrothed of Heaven. I only assisted because I feared the youth's
fall was more serious than it proves.'
The bourgeoise begged pardon, and made a curtsey; there was nothing
unusual in the avowal the lady had made, when the convent was a
thoroughly recognized profession; but Esclairmonde could not carry
out her purpose of departing separately with old Sir Nigel Baird;
Malcolm was on his feet, quite ready to mount, and there was no
avoiding the being assisted to her saddle by any but the King, who
was in truth quite as objectionable a companion, as far as
appearances went, for a young solitary maiden, as was Malcolm
himself. Esclairmonde felt that her benevolence might have led her
into a scrape. When she had seen the fall, knowing that to the
unprepared the ghastly pageant must seem reality, she had obeyed the
impulse to hurry to the rescue, to console and aid in case of injury,
and she had not even perceived that her female companions did not
attempt to accompany her. However, the mischance could best be
counteracted by simplicity and unconsciousness; so, as she found
herself obliged to ride by the King, she unconcernedly observed that
these fantastic dances might perhaps arouse sinners, but that they
were a horrible sight for the unprepared.
'Very like a dream becoming flesh and blood,' said James. 'We in
advance were slow to perceive what it was, and then the King merely
thought whether it would alarm the Queen.'
'I trow it did not.'
'No; the thing has not been found that will stir her placid face.
She merely said it was very lugubrious, and an ill turn in the
Parisians thus to greet her, but they were always senseless betes;
and he, being relieved of care for her, looked with all his eyes,
with a strange mixture of drollery at the antics and the masques, yet
of grave musing at the likeness to this present life.'
'I think,' said Esclairmonde, 'that King Henry is one of the few men
to whom the spectacle IS a sermon. He laughs even while he lays a
thing to heart.'
These few sentences had brought them to the concourse around the
gateway of the great Hotel de St. Pol, in whose crowded courtyard
Esclairmonde had to dismount; and, after being handed through the
hall by King James, to make her way to the ladies' apartments, and
there find out, what she was most anxious about, how Alice, who had
been riding at some distance from her with her father, had fared
under the alarm.
Alice ran up to her eagerly. 'Ah, dear Clairette, and was he greatly
'Not much; he had only swooned for fright.'
'Swooned! to be a prince, and not have the heart of a midge!'
'And how was it with you, you very wyvern for courage?'
'With me? Oh, I was somewhat appalled at first, when my father took
hold of my rein, and bade me never fear; for I saw his face grow
amazed. Sir Richard Nevil rode up on the other side, and said the
hobgoblins should eat out his heart ere they hurt me; and I looked
into his face as he said that, and liked it more than ever I thought
to like any but yours, Clairette. I think my father was going to
leave me to him and see whether the King needed some one to back him;
but up came a French lord, and said 'twas all a mere show, and my
father said he was glad I was a stout-hearted wench that had never
cried out for fear; and then I was so pleased, that I never heeded
the ugly sight any more. Ay, and when Sir Richard lifted me off my
horse, he kissed my hand of his own accord.'
'This is all he has ever said to you?' said Esclairmonde, smiling.
'It is like an Englishman--to the purpose.'
'Yea, is it not? Oh! is it not better than all the fine speeches and
compliments that Joan Beaufort gets from her Scottish king?'
'They have truths in them too, child.'
'Ay; but too fine-spun, too minstrel-like, for a plain English maid.
The hobgoblins should eat out his heart ere they touched me!' she
repeated to herself, as though the saying were the most poetical
concert sung on minstrel lover's lute.
Death's Dance had certainly brought this affianced pair to a better
understanding than all the gayest festivities of the Court.
Esclairmonde would have been happy if no one had noticed her
benevolence to the young Scot save Alice Montagu; but she had to
endure countless railleries from every lady, from Countess Jaqueline
downwards, on the unmistakable evidence that her heart had spoken;
and her grave dignity had less effect in silencing them than usual,
so diverting was the alleged triumph over her propriety, well as they
knew that she would have done the same for the youngest horse-boy, or
the oldest man-at-arms.
CHAPTER X: THE WHITSUNTIDE FESTIVAL
'Lady, fairest lady! Ah, suffer your slave to fall at your feet with
'No thanks are due, Sir. I knew not who had fallen.'
'Cruel coyness! Take not away the joy that has fed a hungry heart.'
'Lord Glenuskie's heart was wont to hunger for better joys.'
'Lady, I have ceased to be a foolish boy.'
'Such foolishness was better than some men's wisdom.'
'Listen, belle demoiselle. I have been forth into the world, and
have learnt to see that monasteries have become mere haunts for the
sluggard, who will not face the world; and that honour, glory, and
all that is worth living for, lie beyond. Ah, lady! those eyes first
taught me what life could give.'
'Hush, Sir!' said Esclairmonde. 'I can believe that as a child you
mistook your vocation, and the secular life may be blest to you; but
with me it can never be so; and if any friendship were shown to you
on my part, it was when I deemed that we were brother and sister in
our vows. If I unwittingly inspired any false hopes, I must do
penance for the evil.'
'Call it not evil, lady,' entreated Malcolm. 'It cannot be evil to
have wakened me to life and hope and glory.'
'What should you call it in him who should endeavour to render Lady
Joan Beaufort faithless to your king, Lord Malcolm? What then must
it be to tempt another to break troth-plight to the King of Heaven?'
'Nay, madame,' faltered Malcolm; 'but if such troth were forbidden
'None has the right or power to cancel mine,' replied the lady.
'Yet,' he still entreated, 'your kindred are mighty.'
'But my Bridegroom is mightier,' she said.
'O lady, yet-- Say, at least,' cried Malcolm, eagerly, 'that were you
free in your own mind to wed, at least you would less turn from me
than from the others proposed to you.'
'That were saying little for you,' said Esclairmonde, half smiling.
'But, Sir,' she added gravely, 'you have no right to put the
question; and I will say nothing on which you can presume.'
'You were kinder to me in England,' sighed Malcolm, with tears in his
'Then you seemed as one like-minded,' she answered.
'And,' he cried, gathering fresh ardour, 'I would be like-minded
again. You would render me so, sweetest lady. I would kiss your
every step, pray with you, bestow alms with you, found churches,
endow your Beguines, and render our change from our childish purpose
a blessing to the whole world; become your very slave, to do your
slightest bidding. O lady, could I but give you my eyes to see what
it might be!'
'It could not be, if we began with a burthened conscience,' said
Esclairmonde. 'We have had enough of this, Sieur de Glenuskie. You
know that with me it is no matter of likes or dislikes, but that I am
under a vow, which I will never break! Make way, Sir.'
He could but obey: she was far too majestic and authoritative to be
gainsaid. And Malcolm, in an access of misery, stood lost to all the
world, kneeling in the window-seat, where she had left him resting
his head against the glass, when suddenly a white plump hand was laid
on his shoulder, and a gay voice cried:
'All a la mort, my young damoiseau! What, has our saint been
unpropitious? Never mind, you shall have her yet. We will see her
like the rest of the world, ere we have done within her!'
And Malcolm found himself face to face with the free-spoken Jaqueline
'You are very good, madame,' he stammered.
'You shall think me very good yet! I have no notion of being opposed
by a little vassal of mine; and we'll succeed, if it were but for the
fun of the thing! Monseigneur de Therouenne is on your side, or
would be, if he were sure of the Duke of Burgundy. You see, these
prelates hate nothing so much as the religious orders; and all the
pride of the Luxemburgs is in arms against Clairette's fancy for
those beggarly nursing Sisters; so it drives him mad to hear her say
she only succoured you for charity. He thinks it a family disgrace,
that can only be wiped off by marrying her to you; and he would do it
bon gre, mal gre, but that he waits to hear what Burgundy will say.
You have only to hold out, and she shall be yours, if I hold her
finger while you put on the ring. Only let us be sure of Burgundy.'
This was not a very flattering way of obtaining a bride; but Malcolm
was convinced that when once married to Esclairmonde, his devotion
would atone to her for all that was unpleasant in obtaining her. At
least, she loved no one else; she had even allowed that she had once
thought him like-minded; she had formerly distinguished him; and
nothing lay between them but her scruples; and when they were
overcome, by whatever means, his idol would be his, to adore, to
propitiate, to win by the most intense devotion. All now must,
however, turn upon the Duke of Burgundy, without whose sanction
Madame of Hainault would be afraid to act openly.
The Duke was expected at Paris for the Whitsuntide festival, which
was to be held with great state. The custom was for the Kings of
France to feast absolutely with all Paris, with interminable banquet
tables, open to the whole world without question. And to this Henry
had conformed on his first visit to the city; but he had learnt that
the costly and lavish feast had been of very little benefit to the
really distressed, who had been thrust aside by loud-voiced
miscreants and sturdy beggars, such as had no shame in driving the
feeble back with blows, and receiving their own share again and
By the advice of Dr. Bennet, his almoner, he was resolved that this
should not happen again; that the feast should be limited to the
official guests, and that the cost of the promiscuous banquet should
be distributed to those who really needed it, and who should be
reached through their parish priests and the friars known to be most
Dr. Bennet, as almoner, with the other chaplains, was to arrange the
matter; and horrible was the distress that he discovered in the city,
that had for five-and-twenty years been devastated by civil fury, as
well as by foreign wars; and famines, pestilences, murders, and
tyrannies had held sway, so as to form an absolute succession of
reigns of terror. The poor perished like flies in a frost; the
homeless orphans of the parents murdered by either faction roamed the
streets, and herded in the corners like the vagrant dogs of Eastern
cities; and meantime, the nobles and their partisans revelled in
Scholar as he was, Dr. Bennet was not familiar enough with Parisian
ways not to be very grateful for aid from Esclairmonde in some of his
conferences, and for her explanations of the different tastes and
needs of French and English poor.
What she saw and heard, on the other hand, gave form and purpose to
her aspirations. The Dutch Sisters of St. Bega, the English
Bedeswomen of St. Katharine, were sorely needed at Paris. They would
gather up the sufferers, collect the outcast children, feed the
hungry, follow with balm wherever a wound had been. To found a
Beguinage at Paris seemed to her the most befitting mode of devoting
her wealth; and her little admirer, Alice, gave up her longing desire
that the foundation should be in England, when she learned that, as
the wife of Nevil, her abode was likely to be in France as long as
that country required English garrisons.
To the young heiress of Salisbury, her own marriage, though close at
hand, seemed a mere ordinary matter compared with Esclairmonde's
Beguinage, to her the real romance. Never did she see a beggar
crouching at the church door, without a whisper to herself that there
was a subject for the Beguines; and, tender-hearted as she was, she
looked quite gratified at any lamentable tale which told the need.
If Esclairmonde had a climax to her visions of her brown-robed
messengers of mercy, it was that the holy Canon of St. Agnes should
be induced to come and act the part of master to her bedeswomen, as
did Master Kedbesby at home.
She had even dared to murmur her design to Dr. Bennet; and when he,
under strict seal of secrecy, had sounded King Henry, the present
real master of Paris, he reported that the tears had stood in the
King's eyes for a moment, as he said, 'Blessings on the maiden!
Should she be able to do this for this city, I shall know that Heaven
hath indeed sent a blessing by my arms!'
For one brief week, Esclairmonde and Alice were very happy in this
secret hope; but at the end of that time the Bishop of Therouenne
appeared. Esclairmonde had ventured to hope that the King's
influence, and likewise the fact that her intention was not to enrich
one of the regular monastic orders, might lead him to lend a
favourable ear to her scheme; but she was by no means prepared to
find him already informed of the affair of the Dance of Death, and
putting his own construction on it.
'So, my fair cousin, this is the end of your waywardness. The tokens
were certainly somewhat strong; but the young gentleman's birth being
equal to yours, after the spectacle you have presented, your uncle of
St. Pol, and I myself, must do our utmost to obtain the consent of