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   Chapter 17 A LONG PAUSE

At Agincourt By G. A. Henty Characters: 31358

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

A quarter of a mile beyond the gate the party was joined by eighteen men-at-arms, all fully armed and ready for any encounter; eight of them fell in behind Dame Margaret's retainers, the other ten took post in rear of the sumpter horses. With such a train as this there was little fear of any trouble with bands of marauders, and as the road lay through a country devoted to Burgundy there was small chance of their encountering an Orleanist force. They travelled by almost the same route by which Dame Margaret had been escorted to Paris. At all the towns through which they passed the Burgundian knights and their following were well entertained, none doubting that they were riding on the business of their duke. One or other of the knights generally rode beside Guy, and except that the heat in the middle of the day was somewhat excessive, the journey was altogether a very pleasant one. From Arras they rode direct to Villeroy. As soon as their coming was observed from the keep the draw-bridge was raised, and as they approached Sir Eustace himself appeared on the wall above it to hear any message the new-comers might have brought him. As they came near, the knights reined back their horses, and Dame Margaret and Agnes rode forward, followed by Guy having Charlie in front of him. As he recognized them Sir Eustace gave a shout of joy, and a moment later the drawbridge began to descend, and as it touched the opposite side Sir Eustace ran across to the outwork, threw open the gate, and fondly embraced his wife and children, who had already dismounted.

"Ah, my love!" he exclaimed, "you cannot tell how I have suffered, and how I have blamed myself for permitting you and the children to leave me. I received your first letter, saying that you were comfortably lodged at Paris, but since then no word has reached me. I of course heard of the dreadful doings there, of the ascendency of the butchers, of the massacres in the streets, and the murders of the knights and ladies. A score of times I have resolved to go myself in search of you, but I knew not how to set about it when there, and I should assuredly have been seized by Burgundy and thrown into prison with others hostile to his plans. But who are these with you?"

"They are three Burgundian knights, who from love and courtesy, and in requital of a service done them by your brave esquire here, have safely brought us out of Paris and escorted us on our way. They are Count Charles d'Estournel, Sir John Poupart, and Sir Louis de Lactre."

Holding his hand she advanced to meet them and introduced them to him.

"Gentlemen," Sir Eustace said, "no words of mine can express the gratitude that I feel to you for the service that you have rendered to my wife and children. Henceforth you may command me to the extent of my life."

"The service was requited before it was rendered, Sir Eustace," Count Charles said; "it has been service for service. In the first place your esquire, with that tall archer of yours, saved my life when attacked by a band of cutthroats in Paris. This to some small extent I repaid when, with my two good friends here and some others, we charged a mob that was besieging the house in which your dame lodged. Then Master Aylmer laid a fresh obligation on us by warning us that the butchers demanded our lives for interfering in that business, whereby we were enabled to cut our way out by the Port St. Denis and so save our skins. We could not rest thus, matters being so uneven, and therefore as soon as the king's party arrived in a sufficient force to put down the tyranny of the butchers, we returned to Paris, with the intention we have carried out-of finding Dame Margaret in her hiding-place, if happily she should have escaped all these perils, and of conducting her to you. And now, having delivered her into your hands, we will take our leave."

"I pray you not to do so, Count," the knight said; "it would mar the pleasure of this day to me, were you, who are its authors, thus to leave me. I pray you, therefore, to enter and accept my hospitality, if only for a day or two."

The knights had previously agreed among themselves that they would return that night to Arras; but they could not resist the earnestness of the invitation, and the whole party crossed the drawbridge and entered the castle, amid the tumultuous greeting of the retainers.

"You have been away but a few months," Sir Eustace said to his wife, as they were crossing the bridge, "though it seems an age to me. You are but little changed by what you have passed through, but Agnes seems to have grown more womanly. Charlie has grown somewhat also, but is scarcely looking so strong!"

"It has been from want of air and exercise; but he has picked up a great deal while we have been on the road, and I, too, feel a different woman. Agnes has shared my anxiety, and has been a great companion for me."

"You have brought all the men back, as well as Guy?"

"You should rather say that Guy has brought us all back, Eustace, for 'tis assuredly wholly due to him that we have escaped the dangers that threatened us."

The knights and men-at-arms dismounted in the courtyard, and Sir Eustace and Dame Margaret devoted themselves at once to making them welcome with all honour. The maids hurried to prepare the guest-chambers, the servitors to get ready a banquet. Guy and his men-at-arms saw to the comfort of the knights' retainers and their horses, and the castle rang with sounds of merriment and laughter to which it had been a stranger for months. After the cup of welcome had been handed round Sir Eustace showed the knights over the castle.

"We heard the details of the siege, Sir Eustace, from your esquire, and it is of interest to us to inspect the defences that Sir Clugnet de Brabant failed to capture, for, foe though he is to Burgundy, it must be owned that he is a very valiant knight, and has captured many towns and strong places. Yes, it is assuredly a strong castle, and with a sufficient garrison might well have defeated all attempts to storm it by foes who did not possess means of battering the walls, but the force you had was quite insufficient when the enemy were strong enough to attack at many points at the same time, and I am surprised that you should have made good your defence against so large a force as that which assailed you.

"But it was doubtless in no slight degree due to your English archers. We saw in Paris what even one of these men could do."

"I am all anxiety to know what took place there," Sir Eustace said, "and I shall pray you after supper to give me an account of what occurred."

"We will tell you as far as we know of the matter, Sir Eustace; but in truth we took but little share in it, there was just one charge on our part and the mob were in flight. Any I can tell you that we did it with thorough good-will, for in truth we were all heartily sick of the arrogance of these butchers, who lorded over all Paris; even our Lord of Burgundy was constrained to put up with their insolence, since their aid was essential to him. But to us, who take no very great heed of politics and leave these matters to the great lords, the thing was well-nigh intolerable; and I can tell you that it was with hearty good-will we seized the opportunity of giving the knaves a lesson."

As soon as the visitors had arrived, mounted men had ridden off to the tenants, and speedily returned with a store of ducks and geese, poultry, wild-fowl, brawn, and fish; the banquet therefore was both abundant and varied. While the guests supped at the upper table, the men-at-arms were no less amply provided for at the lower end of the hall, where all the retainers at the castle feasted royally in honour of the return of their lady and her children. The bowmen were delighted at the return of Long Tom, whom few had expected ever to see again, while the return of Robert Picard and his companions was no less heartily welcomed by their comrades. After the meal was concluded Dame Margaret went round the tables with her husband, saying a few words here and there to the men, who received her with loud shouts as she passed along.

Then the party from the upper table retired to the private apartment of Sir Eustace, leaving the men to sing and carouse unchecked by their presence. When they were comfortably seated and flagons of wine had been placed on the board, the knight requested Count Charles to give him an account of his adventure with the cut-throats and the part he had subsequently played in the events of which he had spoken. D'Estournel gave a lively recital, telling not only of the fray with the White Hoods, but of what they saw when, after the defeat of the mob, they entered the house. "Had the passage and stairs been the breach of a city attacked by assault it could not have been more thickly strewn with dead bodies," the count said; "and indeed for my part I would rather have struggled up a breach, however strongly defended, than have tried to carry the barricade at the top of the stairs, held as it was. I believe that, even had we not arrived, Master Aylmer could have held his ground until morning, except against fire."

"I wonder they did not fire the house," Sir Eustace remarked.

"Doubtless the leaders would have done so as soon as they saw the task they had before them; but you see plunder was with the majority the main object of the attack, while that of the leaders was assuredly to get rid of the provost of the silversmiths, who had powerfully withstood them. The cry that was raised of 'Down with the English spies!' was but a pretext. However, as all the plate-cases with the silverware were in the barricade, there would have been no plunder to gather had they set fire to the house, and it was for this reason that they continued the attack so long; but doubtless in the end, when they were convinced that they could not carry the barricade, they would have resorted to fire."

Then he went on to recount how Guy had warned himself and his friends of the danger that threatened, and how difficult it had been to persuade them that only by flight could their safety be secured; and how at last he and the two knights with him had returned to Paris to escort Dame Margaret.

"Truly, Count, your narrative is a stirring one," Sir Eustace said; "but I know not as yet how Guy managed to gain the information that the house was going to be attacked and so sent to you for aid, or how he afterwards learned that your names were included with those of the Duke of Bar and others whom the butchers compelled the Duke of Aquitaine to hand over to them."

"Dame Margaret or your esquire himself can best tell you that," the count said. "It is a strange story indeed."

"And a long one," Dame Margaret added. "Were I to tell it fully it would last till midnight, but I will tell you how matters befell, and to-morrow will inform you of the details more at length."

She then related briefly the incidents that had occurred from the day of her interview with the Duke of Burgundy to that of her escape, telling of the various disguises that had been used, the manner in which Guy had overheard the councils of the butchers before they surrounded the hotel of the Duke of Aquitaine and dragged away a large number of knights and ladies to prison, and how the four men-at-arms had re-entered Paris after their escape, and remained there in readiness to aid her if required.

Guy himself was not present at the narration, as he had, after staying for a short time in the room, gone down into the banqueting-hall to see that the men's wants were well attended to, and to talk with the English men-at-arms and archers.

"It seems to me," Sir Eustace said when his wife had finished the story, "that my young esquire has comported himself with singular prudence as well as bravery."

"He has been everything to me," Dame Margaret said warmly; "he has been my adviser and my friend. I have learned to confide in him implicitly. It was he who secured for me in the first place the friendship of Count Charles, and then that of his friends. He was instrumental in securing for us the assistance of the Italian who warned and afterwards sheltered us-one of the adventures that I have not yet told, because I did not think that I could do so without saying more than that person would like known; but Guy rendered him a service that in his opinion far more than repaid him for his kindness to us. The messenger he employed was a near relation of his."

And she then related how Guy had rescued this relation from the hands of the butchers, how he had himself been chased, and had killed one and wounded another of his assailants; and how at last he escaped from falling into their hands by leaping from the bridge into the Seine.

"You will understand," she said, "that not only our host but we all should have been sacrificed had not the messenger been rescued. He would have been compelled by threats, and if these failed by tortures, to reveal who his employer was and where he lived, and in that case a search would have been made, we should have been discovered, and our lives as well as that of our host would have paid the penalty."

"It is impossible to speak too highly of the young esquire," Sir John Poupart said warmly. "For a short time we all saw a good deal of him at the fencing-school, to which D'Estournel introduced him. He made great progress, and wonderfully improved his swordsmanship even during the short time he was there, and the best of us found a match in him. He was quiet and modest, and even apart from the service he had rendered to D'Estournel, we all came to like him greatly. He is a fine character, and I trust that ere long he may have an opportunity of winning his spurs, for the courage he has shown in the defence of his charges would assuredly have gained them for him had it been displayed in battle."

The knights were persuaded to stay a few days at the castle, and then rode away with their retainers with mutual expressions of hope that they would meet again in quieter times. Guy had opened the little packet that Katarina had given him at starting. It contained a ring with a diamond of great beauty and value, with the words "With grateful regards."

He showed it to Sir Eustace, who said:

"It is worth a knight's ransom, lad, and more, I should say. Take it not with you to the wars, but leave it at home under safe guardianship, for should it ever be your bad luck to be made a prisoner, I will warrant it would sell for a sufficient sum to pay your ransom. That is a noble suit of armour that the silversmith gave you. Altogether, Guy, you have no reason to regret that you accompanied your lady to Paris. You have gained a familiarity with danger which will assuredly stand you in good stead some day, you have learned some tricks of fence, you have gained the friendship of half a score of nobles and knights; you have earned the lasting gratitude of my dame and myself, you have come back with a suit of armour such as a noble might wear in a tournament, and a ring worth I know not how much money. It is a fair opening of your life, Guy, and your good father will rejoice when I tell him how well you have borne yourself. It may be that it will not be long before you may have opportunities of showing your mettle in a wider field. The English have already made several descents on the coast, and have carried off much spoil and many prisoners, and it may not be long before we hear that Henry is gathering a powerful army and is crossing the seas to maintain his rights, and recover the lands that have during past ye

ars been wrested from the crown.

"I propose shortly to return to England. My dame has borne up bravely under her troubles, but both she and Agnes need rest and quiet. It is time, too, that Charlie applied himself to his studies for a time and learnt to read and write well, for methinks that every knight should at least know this much. I shall take John Harpen back with me. Such of the men-at-arms and archers as may wish to return home must wait here until I send you others to take their places, for I propose to leave you here during my absence, as my castellan. It is a post of honour, Guy, but I feel that the castle will be in good hands; and there is, moreover, an advantage in thus leaving you, as, should any message be sent by Burgundian or Orleanist, you will be able to reply that, having been placed here by me to hold the castle in my absence, you can surrender it to no one, and can admit no one to garrison it, until you have sent to me and received my orders on the subject. Thus considerable delay may be obtained.

"Should I receive such a message from you, I shall pass across at once to Calais with such force as I can gather. I trust that no such summons will arrive, for it is clear that the truce now made between the two French factions will be a very short one, and that ere long the trouble will recommence, and, as I think, this time Burgundy will be worsted. The Orleanists are now masters of Paris and of the king's person, while assuredly they have the support of the Duke of Aquitaine, who must long to revenge the indignities that were put upon him by Burgundy and the mob of Paris. They should therefore be much the stronger party, and can, moreover, issue what proclamations they choose in the king's name, as Burgundy has hitherto been doing in his own interest. The duke will therefore be too busy to think of meddling with us. Upon the other hand, if the Orleanists gain the mastery they are the less likely to interfere with us, as I hear that negotiations have just been set on foot again for the marriage of King Henry with Katherine of France. The English raids will therefore be stopped, and the French will be loath to risk the breaking off of the negotiations which might be caused by an assault without reason upon the castle of one who is an English as well as a French vassal, and who might, therefore, obtain aid from the garrison of Calais, by which both nations might be again embroiled."

"If you think well, my lord, to leave me here in command I will assuredly do the best in my power to prove myself worthy of your confidence; but it is a heavy trust for one so young."

"I have thought that over, Guy, but I have no fear that you will fail in any way. Were the garrison wholly a French one I might hesitate, but half the defenders of the castle are Englishmen; and in Tom, the captain of the archers, you have one of whose support at all times you will be confident, while the French garrison will have learned from the three men who went with you that they would as readily follow you as they would a knight of experience. Moreover, good fighters as the English are, they are far more independent and inclined to insubordination than the French, who have never been brought up in the same freedom of thought. Therefore, although I have no doubt that they will respect your authority, I doubt whether, were I to put a Frenchman in command, they would prove so docile, while with the French there will be no difficulty. I might, of course, appoint John Harpen, who is ten years your senior, to the command; but John, though a good esquire, is bluff and rough in his ways, and as obstinate as a mule, and were I to leave him in command he would, I am sure, soon set the garrison by the ears. As an esquire he is wholly trustworthy, but he is altogether unfitted for command, therefore I feel that the choice I have made of you is altogether for the best, and I shall go away confident that the castle is in good hands, and that if attacked it will be as staunchly defended as if I myself were here to direct the operations."

Two days later Sir Eustace with his family started, under the guard of ten English and ten French men-at-arms, for Calais. Before starting he formally appointed Guy as castellan in his absence, and charged the garrison to obey his orders in all things, as if they had been given by himself. He also called in the principal tenants and delivered a similar charge to them. The English men-at-arms were well pleased to be commanded by one whom they had known from childhood, and whose father they had been accustomed to regard as their master during the absences of Sir Eustace and Dame Margaret. The archers had not, like the men-at-arms, been drawn from the Summerley estate, but the devotion of their leader to Guy, and the tales he had told them of what had taken place in Paris rendered them equally satisfied at his choice as their leader. As for the French men-at-arms, bred up in absolute obedience to the will of their lord, they accepted his orders in this as they would have done on any other point. Sir Eustace left Guy instructions that he might make any further addition to the defences that he thought fit, pointing out to him several that he had himself intended to carry out.

"I should have set about these at once," he had said, "but it is only now that the vassals have completed the work of rebuilding their houses, and I would not call upon them for any service until that was completed. I have told them now that such works must be taken in hand, and that, as they saw upon the occasion of the last siege, their safety depends upon the power of the castle to defend itself, I shall expect their services to be readily and loyally rendered, especially as they have been remitted for over six months. It would be well also to employ the garrison on the works-in the first place, because they have long been idle, and idleness is bad for them; and in the second place because the vassals will all work more readily seeing that the garrison are also employed. While so engaged an extra measure of wine can be served to each man, and a small addition of pay. Here are the plans that I have roughly prepared. Beyond the moat I would erect at the centre of each of the three sides a strong work, similar to that across the drawbridge, and the latter I would also have strengthened.

"These works, you see, are open on the side of the moat, so that if carried they would offer the assailants no shelter from arrows from the walls, while being triangular in shape they would be flanked by our fire. Each of these three forts should have a light drawbridge running across the moat to the foot of the wall, thence a ladder should lead to an entrance to be pierced through the wall, some fifteen feet above the level of the moat; by this means the garrison could, if assailed by an overwhelming force, withdraw into the castle. These outposts would render it-so long as they were held-impossible for storming-parties to cross the moat and place ladders, as they did on the last occasion. The first task will, of course, be to quarry stones. As soon as sufficient are prepared for one of these outworks you should proceed to erect it, as it would render one side at least unassailable and diminish the circuit to be defended. As soon as one is finished, with its drawbridge, ladder, and entrance, proceed with the next. I would build the one at the rear first. As you see from this plan, the two walls are to be twenty feet high and each ten yards long, so that they could be defended by some twenty men. After they are built I would further strengthen them by leading ditches from the moat, six feet deep and ten feet wide, round them. The earth from these ditches should be thrown inside the walls, so as to strengthen these and form a platform for the defenders to stand on. If the earth is insufficient for that purpose the moat can be widened somewhat."

"I will see that your wishes are carried out, Sir Eustace; assuredly these little outworks will add greatly to the strength of the castle. Are the bridges to be made to draw up?"

"No; that will hardly be necessary. Let them consist of two beams with planks laid crosswise. They need not be more than four feet wide, and the planks can therefore be easily pulled up as the garrison falls back. I have told the tenants that during the winter, when there is but little for their men to do, they can keep them employed on this work, and that I will pay regular wages to them and for the carts used in bringing in the stones."

Guy was very glad that there was something specific to be done that would give him occupation and keep the men employed. Sir Eustace had informed the garrison of the work that would be required of them, and of the ration of wine and extra pay that would be given, and all were well satisfied with the prospect. For the English especially, having no friends outside, found the time hang very heavy on their hands, and their experience during the last siege had taught them that the additional fortifications, of the nature of which they were ignorant, however, would add to their safety.

As soon, therefore, as Sir Eustace had left, Guy commenced operations. A few men only were kept on guard, and the rest went out daily to prepare the stones under the direction of a master mason, who had been brought from Arras by Sir Eustace. Some fifty of the tenants were also employed on the work, and as the winter closed in this number was doubled.

The quarry lay at a distance of half a mile from the castle, and as fast as the stones were squared and roughly dressed they were taken in carts to the spot where they were to be used. Guy had the foundations for the walls dug in the first place, to a depth below that of the bottom of the moats, and filled up with cement and rubble. The trenches were then dug at a distance of five feet from the foot of the walls. With so many hands the work proceeded briskly, and before springtime the three works were all completed, with their bridges and ladders, passages pierced through the castle wall, and stone steps built inside by which those who passed through could either descend into the court yard or mount to the battlements. At the end of September fifteen archers and men-at-arms arrived from England to take the place of those who had desired to return home, and who on their coming marched away to Calais.

From time to time reports were received of the events happening in Paris. Paris had been strongly occupied by the Orleanists, and a proclamation had at once been issued in the name of the king condemning all that had been done in the city, and denouncing by name all the ringleaders of the late tumults, and such of these as were found in Paris were arrested. Another proclamation was then issued enjoining all parties to keep the peace, to refrain from gathering in armed bodies, and to abstain from the use of expressions against each other that might lead to a breach of the peace.

On the 13th of November, the year being 1413, fresh and more stringent orders were issued by the king against any assemblies of men-in-arms, and at the end of this month the Duke of Burgundy sent to the king a letter of complaint and accusation against his enemies. Those surrounding Charles persuaded him to send no answer whatever to what they considered his insolent letter. Some of the Burgundian knights had still remained in Paris, and on the advice of the Dukes of Berri and Orleans and other princes, the queen caused four knights of the suite of the Duke of Aquitaine to be carried away from the Louvre. This so much enraged the duke that he at first intended to sally out and call upon the populace of Paris to aid him to rescue the prisoners. The princes of the blood, however, restrained him from doing this; but although he pretended to be appeased he sent secret letters to the Duke of Burgundy begging him to come to his assistance.

This served as an excuse for Burgundy to gather all his adherents and to march towards Paris, and as he collected the force he sent letters to all the principal towns saying that at the invitation of his son-in-law, the Duke of Aquitaine, and in consequence of the breach of the peace committed by his enemies, he was forced to take up arms to rescue his beloved daughter and the duke from the hands of those who constrained them. Upon the other hand, letters were written in the king's name to the various towns on the line by which Burgundy would advance from Artois, begging them not to open their gates to him.

The Burgundian army advanced and occupied St. Denis, thence the duke sent detachments to the various gates of Paris in hopes that the populace would rise in his favour. However, the citizens remained quiet, and the duke, being unprovided with the engines and machines necessary for a siege, fell back again, placing strong garrisons in Compiègne and Soissons. Then the Orleanists took the offensive, besieged and captured town after town, and revenged the murder of their friends in Paris by wholesale massacres and atrocities of the worst description. The Burgundians in vain attempted to raise an army of sufficient strength to meet that of the king, who himself accompanied the Orleanist forces in the field. The fact that he was present with them had a powerful influence in preventing many lords who would otherwise have done so from joining Burgundy, for although all knew that the king was but a puppet who could be swayed by those who happened to be round him, even the shadow of the royal authority had great weight, and both parties carried on their operations in the king's name, protesting that any decrees hostile to themselves were not the true expression of his opinion, but the work of ambitious and traitorous persons who surrounded him. After occupying Laon, Peronne, and other places, the king's army entered Artois, captured Bapaume, and advanced against Arras, where Sir John of Luxemburg, who commanded a Burgundian garrison, prepared for the siege by sending away the greater part of the women and children, and destroying all the buildings and suburbs outside the walls.

As soon as it was evident that the Orleanist army was marching against Artois, Guy despatched one of the English soldiers to Summerley to inform his lord that if, as it seemed, the Orleanists intended to subdue all the Burgundian towns and fortresses in the province, it was probable that Villeroy would be besieged. The messenger returned with twenty more archers, and brought a letter from Sir Eustace to Guy saying that Dame Margaret had been ill ever since her return from France, and that she was at present in so dangerous a state that he could not leave her.

"I trust," he said, "that as the negotiations for the marriage of the king with the French princess are still going on, you will not be disturbed. The main body of the French army will likely be engaged on more important enterprises, and if you are attacked it will probably be only by strong plundering detachments; these you need not fear. Should you be besieged strongly, hold out as long as you can. I shall be sure to receive news of it from Calais, and will go at once to the king and pray for his protection, and beg him to write to the King of France declaring that, to his knowledge, I have ever been as loyal a vassal of France as of England. Should you find that the pressure upon you is too great, and that the castle is like to be taken, I authorize you to make surrender on condition that all within the castle are permitted to march away free and unmolested whithersoever they will."

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