This promise sent him away, planning the enjoyment of conquering Esclairmonde’s long resistance, and teaching her where to find happiness. Should he punish her, by being stern and tyrannical at first? or should his kindness teach her to repent? When he was a knight, he would be in a condition to assert his authority, he thought; and of knighthood both he and Ralf Percy felt almost certain, in that wholesale dubbing of knights that was wont to be the preliminary of a battle. To be sure, they had indulged in a good many unlicensed pleasures at Paris—Ralf from sheer reckless love of sport, Malcolm in his endeavour to forget himself, and to be manly; but they had escaped detection, and they knew plenty of young Englishmen, and many more Burgundians and Gascons, who had plunged far deeper into mischief, and thought it no disgrace, but rather held that there was some special dispensation for the benefit of warriors.
Malcolm and Ralf were riding with a party of these young men. King Henry had consented to make his first day’s journey as far as Corbeil in a litter, since only there he was to meet the larger number of his troops, whom Bedford and Warwick were assembling. James was riding close beside him, with his immediate attendants; and the two youths, not being needed, had joined their comrades with the advanced guard of the escort.
It was always a fiction maintained by Henry, that he was marching in a friendly country; plunder was strictly forbidden, and everything was to be paid for; but unfortunately, the peasantry on his way never realized this, and the soldiery often took care they should not. Therefore, when the advanced guard came to the village that had been marked out for their halt, instead of finding provisions and forage to be purchased, they met with only bare walls, and a few stray cats; and while storming and raving between hunger and disappointment, a report came from somewhere that the inhabitants had fled, and driven off their cattle to another village some four miles off, in the woods, on the heights above. Of course, they must be taught reason. It was true that the men-at-arms, who were under the command of Sir Christopher Kitson and Sir William Trenton, were obliged to abide where they were, much as Kitson growled at being unable to procure a draught of wine for Trenton, whom he had been nursing for weeks under intermitting fever, caught at Meaux; but the young gentlemen were well pleased to show themselves under no Yorkshireman’s orders, and galloped off en masse to procure refreshment for their horses and themselves, further stimulated by the report that the Armagnacs had left a sick man behind them there, who might be a valuable prisoner.
By and by, a woodland path brought the disorderly party, about forty in number, including their servants and the ruffians who always followed whenever plunder was to be scented, out upon a pretty French village of the better class, built round a green shaded with chestnuts, under which, sure enough, were hay-carts, cows, sheep, and goats, and their owners, taking refuge in a place thought to be out of the track of the invaders.