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and it were yet more Rescue or no rescue, I
are ill beginnings. For me, so notably trusted by King Henry, to break my bonds, would shame both Scots and kings; paltry to feign to yield to my Lord of Douglas. am England's captive. can you free me. 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 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.'
Gentles, kindly brother Scots, in one way alone Give up this wretched land of France, whose troubles
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 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 follow you to the death.'
"This is no time to shew 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've verily grown into a goodly slip 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 know-'
'I ken but what Johnnie Swinton brought me 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 baulk 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 with us, the hoary ruffian should have had his lesson from a Percy.'
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 over 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 felt more 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 camp?'
'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 vizor.
'I tell you, March, I cannot rest till I know 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 is he?'
'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 once.' 'It was the less wonder,' said James, still coldly, 'that they should have thought themselves betrayed, since their king believed it of me.'
'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, Provostmarshal, to the gallows with those 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, then would knavery be soon 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 naught for the chattering of thy teeth.'
'Nor I for your cough, if you go, Harry. Surely 'tis Salisbury's night!'
'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 lungs.
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 the 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 nothing and spoke less; and when James would have related his encounter with 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 with 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 convent.
"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 hath 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 licence for himself to retire.
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 with disappointment in his tone that he would rather have had a mere flint stone so he had heard King Harry's own cheery voice.
James was not the least anxious of them, but long ere light the next morning, Henry stood at his bed-side, 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 with their first zeal, and unless they are worse captains than I deem them, they will attempt some mischief ere long-nor is any time so slack as cock-crow.'
James was speedily ready, and with 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