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   Chapter 5 HOSTAGES

At Agincourt By G. A. Henty Characters: 31705

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Margaret rose to meet her husband when he entered. She had looked pale in her dress of deep mourning before, but he thought that she looked paler now. She, too, had evidently been thinking over the summons that he had received, and there was an expression of firmness and resolution in her face that seemed to say that she had arrived at a more definite conclusion than he had done.

"'Tis a knotty question, wife," Sir Eustace said. "In the first place, it is clear we cannot hope to defend the castle successfully against an attack by Burgundy. The last was but of the character of a raid, the next would be a serious siege by experienced soldiers provided with all proper means and appliances. Before, it was certain that Sir Clugnet would, if he tarried here, be shortly attacked by the Burgundians, whereas now there would be no prospect of assistance. There is no hope of help from England, for there is no force in Calais that could contend with that which would probably be sent against me; therefore I take it that if attacked the castle must in the end fall, in which case probably its defenders would all be put to the sword. I myself should most likely be killed, the estates forfeited, and you and the children taken prisoners to Paris. Now it seems to me that that is not to be thought of. It remains to decide, therefore, whether we shall abandon the castle and journey to England, or whether we will admit a Burgundian garrison, which will in fact, we may be sure, be the first step towards losing the castle and estate altogether. It seems to me that the first will be the best plan. I see no chance of it at present, but in time Henry may invade France; and as we lie only some seven or eight miles from the frontier he would doubtless recapture Villeroy, and we should again become its masters."

"You have not mentioned the other alternative, Eustace, namely, that I and the children should go to Paris as hostages; and this, it seems to me, is the best of the three to follow. If there were indeed a chance of an English invasion I should not say so, but I think not that there is any such prospect. It is many years since England has done aught in earnest, and during all that time her power in France has been waning. I would not that our children should lose this fair estate when it can well be preserved by some slight sacrifice on my part. Were I and the children to go to Paris it would put an end to all doubts as to your loyalty, and you would hold the castle and estates. The peace now patched up between the parties will not last, and as soon as they are engaged with each other, and have no time to spare to think of attacking you here, I will endeavour to escape with the children and rejoin you. I shall assuredly have no cause for complaint. I shall, of course, have honourable treatment, and apartments fitting to our rank assigned to me. It would be no great hardship, and even were it so it would be worth enduring in order that our son Charles should inherit his father's estate."

"I could not part from you, love."

"Nay, Eustace, as I have said, it cannot be for long; and you must remember that twice when the children were infants I remained in England with them while you were some months here. It would be no worse now. I would take Guy with me; the lad has sense and courage, the children are both fond of him, and I myself could, if occasion arose, take counsel with him. Then I could have two or three stout men-at-arms who might ride in my train in peaceful garb as retainers. As to a maid I can, if I need one, hire her in Paris. Surely, husband, it would be far better so than that we should lose castle and land. There could be little danger to one in Paris at any time, still less to the wife of a vassal of the crown, least of all to a hostage. I shall be but staying at the court. If you peril life and limb, Eustace, in defence of your castle, surely it is not much that I should put myself to the slight inconvenience of a stay in Paris for a while."

"I like it not," the knight said moodily. "I see well enough that what you say is true, and that you should be safe at Charles's court, indeed safer than here. The citizens of Paris are indeed turbulent, whether they shout for Orleans or Burgundy, but what if Henry of England should again lead an army here?"

"But why imagine what is not likely to happen? Long ere Henry comes I may have joined you again; should it be otherwise I might perhaps escape, or at the very worst of all they could but keep me in duress in my chamber. Who ever heard of a woman being ill-treated for the disobedience of her lord? All that they could do would be to make you pay ransom for my return."

"I would rather go as a hostage myself."

"Nay, husband, that could hardly be. Who would then take care of your castle? It is not a hard thing that the king asks, merely that I and the children shall for a time live at his court as a proof that you, his vassal, hold your castle for him. Even if the worst comes to the worst we can but lose castle and land, as we must lose it now if I do not go. Nay, my dear lord, do not wrinkle your brow, we cannot strive against the might of France; and at present we must bow our heads and wait until the storm has passed, and hope for better times. There may be an English war; ere long Henry may again extend his frontiers, and you might again become a vassal of England for these possessions of yours even as your fathers were."

"I see that reason is on your side, Margaret, and yet I cannot bring myself to like the plan."

"Nor do I like it, husband; yet I feel that it were a thousand times better that I should be separated from you for a time than that we should risk another siege. The last has cost us dear enough, another might take you from me."

"Well, well, dear, I suppose you must have your way; indeed I do not see that harm can possibly come to you, and it will at any rate ensure peace for a time and enable us to repair our tenants' losses. I shall send over a message at once to Sir Aylmer, and beg him to choose and send me another fifty archers-with that reinforcement I could make head against any attack save in the greatest force-for there is no saying how things may go. The five-and-twenty did wonders, and with thrice that force I should feel confident that Villeroy could withstand any attack save by an army with an abundance of great machines.

"Well, Margaret, since you have decided for me that you are to go-and indeed I myself plainly see that that alternative is really the best-let us talk over who you had best take with you. I quite approve of your choice of Guy; he is a good lad, and will make a brave knight some day. I shall now make him one of my esquires, and as such he will always be in attendance on you; and assuredly Agnes and Charlie will, as well as yourself, benefit by his presence. He will be able to take them out and look after them, and as he talks French as well as English the lad will be useful to you in many ways. Have you any preference as to the four men-at-arms?"

"Could you spare Tom, the leader of the archers? I should like to have another Englishman with me, and he is very good-tempered and obliging. He is shrewd too, and with his strength and courage I should feel that I could wholly rely upon him in any strait, though indeed I see not that there is any probability of such occurring."

"Certainly you can have him, Margaret, and I shall be glad to know that he is with you. Dickon, who is next under him, can act as captain of the archers while he is away. I have noticed that Tom is picking up the language fast. He is always ready to do little kindnesses to the women and children, and I have often heard him talking with them. He will soon get to speak the language fairly. As to the others have you any choice?"

"No, I think you had better choose them for me, Eustace."

"They had better be French," he said; "it would not do for you to surround yourself entirely by English, although of course it is natural enough that you should have an English squire and servant. I think that you could not do better than take Jules Varey and Albert Bongarde. They are both stout men-at-arms, prudent fellows, and not given to the wine-cup. As a fourth I would say Jean Picard's son; he is a stout fellow too, and I know that, but for his father's hopes that he will one day succeed him as butler, he would have taken service regularly as a man-at-arms. He fought stoutly when the French gained the wall, and I marked him exchanging blows with Sir Clugnet himself, and bearing himself as well as any man there. You could choose no better."

"So be it," she said. "I think, Eustace, that with four such defenders, to say nothing of young Guy, you need not feel uneasy about us."

"I don't think that I shall feel uneasy, Margaret; but I know that I can ill spare you. You have ever been at my side since we were married, save when, after the birth of Agnes and Charles, you were forced to stay in England when I came over here. I felt it a dreary time then, and shall feel it so now; but I doubt not that all will go well with you, though it will be a very different life to that to which you have been accustomed."

"I shall do well enough," Margaret said cheerfully, "and maybe I shall get so fond of court that you will have to take me to that of Henry when we return to England."

"Now you had best begin to make your preparations. I will speak to Guy and the others myself."

Sir Eustace went into the court-yard, where Guy was superintending the issue of provisions for the women.

"This can go on without you," he said; "Gervaise will see to it. I would speak to you. You were at the meeting this morning, Guy, and you heard what the herald of France said. The position is a hard one. I cannot hold the castle against the strength of France, while if we take a Burgundian garrison I should cease to be its master, and it would doubtless soon pass into other hands. Again, if I go to England, it would equally be lost to us. Therefore my wife has resolved, in order to gain time until these disorders are over, to go to Paris with the children as a hostage for me. In no case, as it seems to me, are Dame Margaret and the children likely to be in danger; nevertheless, I am greatly loth for them to go. However, seeing no other way out of the business, I have consented, and we have arranged that you shall accompany her. You will go as my esquire, and I shall install you as such this afternoon. You will take Long Tom, two of the men-at-arms, and Robert Picard, all good men and true; but at the same time the burden and responsibility must rest upon your shoulders. You are young yet for so grave a charge, and yet I feel that I can confide it to you. You will have to be the stay and support of your mistress, you will have to be the companion and friend of my children, and I shall charge the four men-at-arms to take orders from you as from me. Tom will be a valuable fellow. In the first place, he is, I know, much attached to you, besides being shrewd, and a very giant in strength. The other three are all honest varlets, and you can rely upon them in any pinch."

"I will do my best, my lord," Guy said quietly; "and I am grateful to you indeed for the confidence that you show in me, and I shall, I hope, prove worthy of it, and of my father."

The news soon spread through the castle that Dame Margaret was going to Paris. The maids wept at the thought, as did many of the tenants' wives, for since the siege began, her kindness and the pains that she had taken to make them comfortable had endeared her greatly to them. On her previous visits they had seen comparatively little of her; she had been to them simply their lord's English wife, now they knew her as a friend. Nevertheless, their regret at her leaving was softened by the thought that her going to be near the king insured peace for them, and that they would now be able to venture out to the houses that were fast rising on the ruins of their former homes, and to take up their life again as they had left it.

Early next morning the little cortege mustered in the court-yard in readiness for a start. Sir Eustace and his wife had said good-bye to each other in their chamber, and she looked calm and tranquil as she mounted her horse; for, having been accustomed from a child to ride with her father hunting and hawking, she could sit a horse well, and scorned to ride, as did so many ladies, on a pillion. Guy rode by her side, with Agnes on a pillion behind him. Long Tom, with Charlie perched in front of him, followed them, and the three men-at-arms brought up the rear. Charlie was in high spirits; he regarded the trip as a sort of holiday, and had been talking, ever since he got up, of the wonders that he should see in Paris. Agnes better understood the situation, and nothing but the feeling that she ought to emulate the calmness of her mother restrained her from bursting into tears when her father lifted her on to her seat. The herald led the way, followed by his two pursuivants. Dame Margaret checked her horse in the middle of the court-yard, and said in a loud clear voice to the tenants and men-at-arms round: "Adieu, good friends; I trust that I shall not be long away from you. I go to stay for a time at the court in Paris, and I leave you with the surety that you will have peace and rest until I return, and be able to repair the damages you suffered from the attack made upon us by men who regard not the law." She turned and waved her hand to Sir Eustace, who was standing immovable on the steps, and then, touching the horse with her heel, they moved on after the herald.

"Do not fear to speak, Tom," Dame Margaret said, after they had left the castle behind them; "the journey is a long one, and it will go all the quicker for honest talk. What think you of this expedition to Paris?"

"I would as lief go there as anywhere else, my lady. Indeed, men say that it is a fine city, and as I have never seen a bigger town than Southampton, I doubt not that I shall find plenty to interest me at times when you may not require our services."

"I see that you have brought your bow with you."

"Ay, my lady, I could not bring myself to part with it. Sir Eustace told me that I could not carry it, as its length would be a matter of remark, and point me out at once as being an Englishman, seeing that the French archers carry no bows of such length; so I have, even as you see, wrapped it round with straw, and fastened it to the saddle beneath my leg. I have also put fourscore arrows among the valises on the pack-horses."

"There is no chance of your needing them, Tom."

"I trust that it is so," the archer replied; "but, indeed, there is never any saying, and an archer without his bow is but a poor creature,-though, indeed, I trust that I can swing an axe as well as another."

"And much better than most, Tom; still, I hope that neither axe nor bow will be required."

"To that I say amen also; for, although a fray may sometimes be to my taste, I have no desire to be mixed up in a mêlée without some of my own stout comrades with me."

"Shall we get to Paris to-night, Lady Mother?" Charlie asked.

"No, indeed; it will be five days, if not six, for I see by the way that we are travelling we are bearing east, and shall sleep at Lille or may be at Tournay; then, doubtless, we shall bear south, and may stop the next night at Cambrai, and make to Noyon on the following day, and thence to Compiègne or to Senlis, and the next day will take us to Paris. It all depends how far and how fast we ride each day. But these matters will be arranged by the herald. Were we to go by the shortest route we should get there more quickly; but Amiens is held by the party to w

hom the men who attacked our castle belong, and by the way we are travelling we shall keep for some time in Artois, and so escape all risk of trouble on the road."

"I don't care for trouble," Charlie said stoutly; "we have got Long Tom and Robert Picard and the other two, and Guy can fight also."

"That would be all very well, my son," his mother said smiling, "if we were only attacked by half a dozen vagrants, but brave as they all are they could do naught if a large body surprised us; but be assured that there is no fear of that-by the way we are travelling we shall meet with none but friends."

"I should like to be attacked by the vagrants, mother. The last time you made us stay with you when there was fighting going on, except just at the first, but here we should see it all."

"Well, I don't want to see it, Charlie, and I am glad that we are not likely to do so; and you must remember that you and I and Agnes would sorely hamper our friends."

Nevertheless whenever a party of peasants was met upon the road Charlie looked out hopefully and heaved a sigh of disappointment when, after doffing their caps in respect, they passed on quietly. Several times they encountered bodies of knights and men-at-arms, but the presence of the royal herald saved them from all question. At each halting-place Dame Margaret, her children and maid, were lodged in the house of one of the principal citizens, while Guy and the men-at-arms lay at an inn. The troubled state of the times was only manifest by the number of men-at-arms in the streets, and the strict watch kept at the gates of the towns. Many of these were kept shut, and were only opened once an hour to let people pass in and out. This, however, did not affect the travellers, for the gates were opened the moment the emblazonings on the surcoat of the herald could be made out.

"We have assuredly nothing to complain of so far, Guy," Dame Margaret said, as they set out on their last day's journey; "had we been the king's special guests we could not have been more honourably treated, and I have no doubt that although we shall be much less important personages at Paris than as travellers under the royal protection, we shall yet be made comfortable enough, and shall have naught to grieve over save the separation from our lord."

"I cannot doubt that it will be so, lady," Guy replied; "and that at any rate there will be no trouble, unless the Armagnacs lay siege to Paris or there are riots in the city. I heard last night at the inn from some travellers who had just left it, that although the majority of the people there are in favour of Burgundy, yet that much discontent exists on account of the harsh measures of the officers he has appointed, and especially of the conduct of the guild of butchers, who, as it seems, are high in favour with the duke, and rule the city as if it belonged to them."

"It matters little to us, Guy, though it seems strange that the nobles of France and the respectable citizens of Paris should allow themselves to be ruled over by such a scum as that; but it was the same in Flanders, where Von Artevelde, our ally, a great man and the chief among them, was murdered by the butchers who at the time held sway in Ghent, and who were conspicuous for many years in all the tumults in the great towns there."

"I hear, madam, that the king is ill, and can see no one."

"Yes, I have heard the same from the herald. It will be John of Burgundy who will, for the time, be our master."

"I could desire a better," Guy said bluntly; "but we shall at any rate know that his fair words are not to be trusted. For my part, however, I wonder that after the (agreement with) the Duke of Orleans, with whom he had sworn a solemn peace, any man should hold converse with him."

"Unfortunately, Guy, men's interests count for more than their feelings, and a great noble, who has it in his power to grant favours and dispense honours, will find adherents though he has waded through blood. Burgundy, too, as I hear, has winning manners and a soft tongue, and can, when it pleases him, play the part of a frank and honest man. At least it must be owned that the title of 'Fearless' does not misbecome him, for, had it been otherwise, he would have denied all part in the murder of Orleans, instead of openly avowing that it was done by his orders."

They had started at an earlier hour than usual that morning, as the herald had pointed out to Dame Margaret, that it were best to arrive in Paris as early as possible, in order that the question of their lodging might be settled at once. Accordingly, they had been up at daybreak, and arrived in Paris at noon.

"How long will it be, I wonder," Dame Margaret said, as they rode through the gates, "before we shall pass through here again?"

"Not very long I hope, my lady," Guy said; "but be sure that if at any time you wish to leave we shall be able to procure disguises for you all, and to make our way out without difficulty."

"Nay, Guy, you forget that it is only so long as we are here that Villeroy is safe from attack. Whatever happens, nothing, save the news that an English army has landed at Calais, and is about to invade France, would leave me free to attempt an escape. If not released before that, I must then, at all hazards, try to escape, for Sir Eustace, knowing that I am here, would be placed in a sore strait indeed; both by his own inclinations and as a vassal of England, for he would want to join the English as soon as they advanced, and yet would be hindered by the knowledge that I was a hostage here. It would be for me to relieve him of that fear; and the same feeling that induced me to come hither would then take me back to Villeroy."

"Then, madam, I fear that our stay here will be a long one, for Henry has never pushed on the war with France vigorously, and though plenty of cause has been given by the capture of his castles in Guienne, he has never drawn sword either to regain them or to avenge the insults put upon the English flag."

"King Henry is old, Guy; and they say that his son is as full of spirit and as fiery as his father is peaceful and indisposed for war. When the king dies, my lord thinks that it will be but a short time before the English banner will be unfurled in France; and this is one of the reasons why he consented to my becoming an hostage, thinking that no long time is likely to elapse before he will have English backing, and will be able to disregard the threats of France."

"How narrow and sombre are these streets!" Guy said, after a pause, "one seems to draw one's very breath with difficulty."

"They are well-nigh as narrow in London," his mistress replied; "but they are gay enough below. See how crowded they are, and how brilliant are some of the costumes!"

"Some of them indeed, madam, but more are poor and miserable; and as to the faces, they are so scowling and sombre, truly were we not on horseback I should keep my hand tight upon my pouch, though in truth there is nothing in it worth stealing."

"Ay, ay, Master Guy," Long Tom broke in, "methinks that there are a good many heads among these scowling knaves that I would gladly have a chance of cracking had I my quarter-staff in my hand and half a dozen stout fellows here with me. See how insolently they stare!"

"Hush, Tom!" Dame Margaret said, turning round, "if you talk of cracking skulls I shall regret that I brought you with me."

"I am not thinking of doing it, my lady," the archer said apologetically. "I did but say that I should like to do it, and between liking and doing there is often a long distance."

"Sometimes, Tom, but one often leads to the other. You must remember that above all things it behoves us to act prudently here, and to avoid drawing the attention of our foes. We English are not loved in Paris, and the less you open your mouth here the better; for when Burgundians and Armagnacs are ready to cut each other's throats over a name, fellow-countrymen though they be, neither would feel any compunction about killing an Englishman."

After riding for half an hour they entered the court-yard of a large building, where men-at-arms and varlets wearing the cognizance of Burgundy were moving about, a group of nobles were standing on the steps, while some grooms were walking their horses round the court-yard. The herald made his way to the door, and here all alighted.

"Whom have we here, I wonder?" one of the young nobles said to another as they came up. "A royal herald and his pursuivants; a young dame and a very fair one; her daughter, I suppose, also fair; the lady's esquire; and a small boy."

"Hostages, I should say," the other replied, "for the good conduct of the lady's lord, whoever he may be. I know her not, and think that she cannot have been at court for the last ten years, for I could hardly have forgotten her face."

Dame Margaret took the hands of her two children and followed the herald up the steps. She had made a motion of her head to Guy to attend her, and he accordingly followed behind.

"A haughty lady as well as a fair one," the young knight laughed. "She did not so much as glance at us, but held her head as high as if she were going in to rate Burgundy himself. I think that she must be English by her looks, though what an English woman can be doing here in Paris is beyond my understanding, unless it be that she is the wife of a knight of Guienne; in that case she would more likely be with Orleans than here."

"Yes, but you see the herald has brought her. It may be her lord's castle has been captured, and she has come under the safe-conduct of a herald to lay a complaint; but I think with you that she is English. The girl was fair too, though not so fair as her mother, and that curly-headed young esquire is of English stock too."

"He is a stout-looking fellow, De Maupas, and will make a powerful man; he looks as if he could strike a shrewd blow even now. Let us question their knaves, one of whom, by the way, is a veritable giant in point of height."

He beckoned to the four men, and Robert Picard came forward.

"Who is your lady, young man?"

"Dame Margaret de Villeroy, may it please you, sir. She is the wife of Sir

Eustace de Villeroy."

"Then we were right, De Maupas, for De Villeroy is, I know, a vassal of England for his wife's estates, and his people have always counted themselves English, because for over a hundred years their castle stood inside the English line."

"He is a stout knight. We heard a month ago how bravely he held his castle against Sir Clugnet de Brabant with 8000 Orleanists, and beat him off with a loss of five knights and 400 men. Sir Clugnet himself was sorely wounded. We all ought to feel mightily obliged to him for the check, which sent them back post-haste out of Artois, where they had already done damage enough, and might have done more had they not been so roughly handled. I wonder what the lady is here for?"

"It may be that he would have fought the Burgundians as stoutly as he fought the Armagnacs," the other said, "and that the duke does not care about having so strong a castle held by so stout a knight within a few miles of the English line."

The other shrugged his shoulders. "The English are sleeping dogs," he said; "there is no Edward and no Black Prince to lead them now."

"No, but you must remember that sleeping dogs wake up sometimes, and even try to bite when they do so; moreover we know of old that these particular dogs can bite hard."

"The sooner they wake up the better, I say, De Maupas. We have a long grudge to wipe off against them, and our men are not likely to repeat the mistakes that cost us so dearly before. Besides, the English have had no real fighting for years, and it seems to me that they have altogether given up any hope of extending their possessions in France."

"One can never tell, De Revelle. For my part I own that I care not that they should again spread their banner on this side of the sea. There can be no doubt that they are stout fighting-men, and seeing how France is divided they might do sore damage did they throw their weight into one side of the scale."

"Methinks that there is no fear of that. The dukes both know well enough that their own followers would not fight side by side with the English; and though they might propose an alliance with the Islanders, it would only be for the purpose of bringing the war to a close by uniting both parties against our old enemy."

In the meantime Dame Margaret had followed her conductor to the great chamber, where John of Burgundy held audience in almost royal state. Several nobles were gathered round him, but at the entrance of the herald these fell back, leaving him standing by himself. An eminently politic man, the duke saw at once by the upright figure and the fearless air with which Dame Margaret entered the hall, that this was a case where courtesy and deference were far more likely to bring about the desired end of winning her husband over to his interests, than any menaces or rough speaking; he therefore advanced two or three steps to meet her.

"My lord duke," the herald said, "this lady, Dame Margaret of Villeroy, has journeyed hither with me in accordance with the wish expressed by His Majesty the king."

"As the king's representative in Paris, lady," the duke said to Margaret,

"I thank you for your promptness in thus conceding to his wish."

"His Majesty's wish was naturally a command to me, Sir Duke," Margaret said with quiet dignity. "We, my husband and I, understood that some enemy had been influencing His Majesty's mind against my lord, and in order to assure him of my lord's loyalty as a faithful vassal for the land he holds, I have willingly journeyed here with my children, although in much grief for the loss of my eldest son, who died in the attack lately made upon our castle by a large body of men, of whom we knew naught, save that they did not come in the name of our lord the king."

"I have heard of the attack, lady, and of the gallant and successful defence made by Sir Eustace, and the king was greatly pleased to hear of the heavy check thus inflicted upon the men who had raised the banner of revolt, and were harassing His Majesty's faithful subjects."

"That being so, my lord duke," Margaret said, "'tis strange, after my lord had shown how ready and well prepared he was to protect his castle against ill-doers, that he should have been asked to admit a garrison of strangers to aid him to hold it. Sir Eustace has no desire to meddle with the troubles of the times; he holds his castle as a fief directly from the crown, as his ancestors have held it for two hundred years; he wishes only to dwell in peace and in loyal service to the king."



"Such we have always understood, madam, and gladly would the king have seen Sir Eustace himself at his court. The king will, I trust, shortly be recovered from his malady; until he is so I have-for I was made acquainted with your coming by messenger sent forward by Monjoie-arranged for you to be lodged in all honour at the house of Master Leroux, one of the most worshipful of the citizens of Paris, and provost of the guild of silversmiths. My chamberlain will at once conduct you thither."

"I thank you, my lord duke," Margaret said with a stately reverence, "and trust that when I am received by my lord the king I shall be able to prove to him that Sir Eustace is his faithful vassal, and can be trusted to hold his castle for him against all comers."

"I doubt it not, lady," the duke said courteously. "Sir Victor Pierrepoint, I pray you to see this lady to the entrance. Sir Hugo will already be waiting her there."

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