Henry laughed at last. ’Good King Edmund, he would assuredly never try to set the world right on its hinges. Honest fellow, soon he will be as hearty in his congratulations as though he did not lie under a great wrong. Heigh-ho! such as he may be in the right on’t. I’ve marvelled of late, whether any priest or hermit could bring back my old assurance, that all this is my work on earth, or tell me if it be all one grand error. Men there have been like Caesar, Alexander, or Charlemagne, who thought my thoughts and worked them out; and surely Church and nations cry aloud for purifying. Jerusalem, and a general council—I saw them once clear and bright before me; but now a mist seems to rise up from Richard’s blood, and hide them from me; and there comes from it my father’s voice when he asked on his deathbed what right I had to the crown. What would it be if I had to leave this work half done?’
He was interrupted by the sight of a young knight stealing into the camp, after a furtive expedition to Paris. It was enough to rouse him from his despondent state; and the severity of his wrath was in full proportion to the offence. Nor did he again utter his misgivings, but was full of his usual alacrity and life, as though daylight had restored his buoyancy.
James, on the way back to the thanksgiving mass, interceded for last night’s offenders, as an act of grace suitable to the occasion; but Henry was inexorable.
’Had they stood to die like Englishmen, they had not lied like dogs! ’he said; ‘and as dogs they shall hang!’
In fact, in the critical state of his army, he knew that the only safety lay in the promptest and sternest justice; and therefore the three foremost in accusing King James of treachery were hung long before noon.
However, he called for the two Yorkshiremen, and thus addressed them: ’Well done, my masters! Thanks for showing Scots and Frenchmen what stuff Englishmen are made of! I keep my word, good fellows. Kneel down, and I’ll dub each a knight. How now! what are you blundering and whispering for?’
‘So please you, Sir,’ said Kitson, ’this is no matter to win one’s spurs for—mere standing still without a blow.’
‘I would all had that same gift of standing still,’ returned Henry. ’What is it sticks in your gizzard, friend? If ’tis the fees, I take them on myself.’
‘No, Sir,’ hoarsely cried both.
And Kitson explained: ’Sir, you said you’d knight the one of us that was foremost. Now, the two being dubbed, we shall be but where we were before as to Mistress Agnes of Mineshull, unless of your good-will you would be pleased to let us fight out the wager of the heriard in all peace and amity.’
Henry burst out laughing, with all his old merriment, as he said, ’For no Mistress Agnes living can I have honest men’s lives wasted, specially of such as have that gift of standing still. If she does not knew her own mind, one of you must get himself killed by the Frenchmen, not by one another. So kneel down, and we’ll make your knighthood’s feast fall in with that of my son.’