The King rode forward towards the standard; but while yet the shouts were pealing from the army, be suddenly caught at his saddle-bow, reeled visibly, and would have fallen before Bedford could bring his horse to his side, had not James sprung forward, and laid one arm round him, and a hand on his rein.
‘It is nothing,’ said Henry. ‘Let me alone.’
Ere the words were finished, he put his hand to his side, dropped his bridle, and gasped, while a look of intense suffering passed over his features; and he was passive while his horse was led back to the tent, and he was lifted down and placed on the couch he had just quitted.
‘Loose my belt,’ he gasped; then trying to smile, ’Percy has strained it three holes tighter.’
Alas! though it was indeed thus drawn in, his armour was hanging on him like the shell of a last year’s nut. They released him from it, and he lay against the cushions with short painful respiration, and frequent cough.
‘You must go on with the men at once, John,’ he said. ’I will but be blooded, and follow in the litter.’
‘Warwick and Salisbury—’ began Bedford.
‘No, no!’ peremptorily gasped Henry. ’It must be you or I, I would, but this stitch in the side catches me, so that I can neither ride nor speak. Go, instantly. You know what I have ordered. I’ll be up with you ere the battle.’
He brooked no resistance. His impatience, and with it the oppression and pain, only grew by remonstrance; and Bedford was forced to obey the command to go himself, and leave no one he could help behind him.
‘You will stay, at least,’ said John, in his distress, turning to the Scottish king.
‘I must,’ said James.
‘You hold not your wrath?’ said Bedford. ’It will madden me to leave him to any save you in this stress. Some are dull; some he will not heed.’
‘I will tend him like yourself, John,’ said the Scot, taking his hand. ’Do what he may, Harry is Harry still. Hasten to your command, John; he will be calmer when you are gone.’
Bedford groaned. It was hard to leave his brother at a moment when he must be more than himself—become general of an army, with a battle imminent; but he was under dire necessity, and forced himself to listen to and gather the import of the few terse orders and directions that Henry, breathless as he was, rendered clear and trenchant as ever.
The King almost drove his brother away at last, while a barber was taking a copious stream of blood from him; and as the army had already been set in motion, a great stillness soon prevailed, no one being left save a small escort, and part of the King’s own immediate household, for Henry had himself ordered away Montagu, his chamberlain, Percy, and almost all on whom his eyes fell. The bleeding relieved him; he breathed less tightly, but became deadly pale, and sank into a doze of extreme exhaustion.