Thus Sir Christopher Kitson and Sir William Trenton rose up knights; and bore their honours with a certain bluntness that made them butts, even while they were the heroes of the day; and Henry, who had resumed his gay temper, made much diversion out of their mingled shrewdness and gruffness.
‘So,’ muttered Malcolm to Ralf Percy, ’we are passed over in the self-same matter for which these fellows are knighted.’
‘Tush!’ answered Percy; ’I’d scorn to be confounded with a couple of clowns like them! Moreover,’ he added, with better reason, ’their valour was more exercised than ours, inasmuch as they thought there was treachery, and we did not. No, no; when my spurs are won, it shall be for some prowess, better than standing stock-still.’
Malcolm held his tongue, unwilling that Percy should see that he did feel this an achievement; but he was vexed at the lack of reward, fancying that knighthood would be no small step in the favour of that imaginary Esclairmonde whom he had made for himself.
‘Light of the world’ he loved to call her still, but it was in the commonplace romance of his time, the mere light of beauty and grace illuminating the world of chivalry.
CHAPTER VIII: THE CAPTURE
The seven months’ siege ended at last, but it was not until the brightness of May was on the fields outside, and the deadly blight of famine on all within, that a haggard, wasted-looking deputation came down from the upper city to treat with the King.
Henry was never severe with the inhabitants of French cities, and exacted no harsh terms, save that he insisted that Vaurus, the robber captain, and his two chief lieutenants, should be given up to him to suffer condign punishment. The warriors who had shut themselves up to hold out the place by honourable warfare for the Dauphin must be put to ransom as prisoners of war; but the burghers were to be unmolested, on condition of their swearing allegiance to Henry as regent for, and heir of, Charles VI.
To this the deputies consented, and the next day was fixed for the surrender. The difficulty was, as Henry had found at Harfleur, Rouen, and many other places, to enforce forbearance on his soldiery, who regarded plunder as their lawful prey, the enemy as their natural game, and the trouble a city had given them as a cause for unmercifulness. The more time changed his army from the feudal gathering of English country gentlemen and yeomen to mercenary bands of men-at-arms, the mere greedy, rapacious, and insubordinate became their temper. Well knowing the greatness of the peril, and that the very best of his captains had scarcely the will, if they had the power, to restrain the license that soon became barbarity unimaginable, he spoke sadly overnight of his dread of the day of surrender, when it might prove impossible to prevent deeds that would be not merely a blot on his scutcheon, but a shame to human nature; looking back to the exultation with which he had entered Harfleur as a mere effect of boyish ignorance and thoughtlessness.