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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 the 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 ancle 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 cluaks, with the St. Andrew's ross on the shoulder, steel caps without vizors, and the King's merely distinguished by a thread-like circlet of gold. They had breastplatės, 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 anawares. 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 duelists 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 dyke.
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 camp.'
Suddenly a voice shouted, 'The Scots ! the Scots! 'Tis the Scots ! Treachery! we are betrayed. Come, Sir,' to Percy, they'll be on you. Treason !
' 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 grey 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 shew 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 Jand'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 befall you.'
“Thanks,' said James ; 'but my feet will serve me best; we will keep together.'
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 band, 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 follow you to the death.'