Having taken all possible precautions, he stood in his full armour, with the fox’s brush in his helmet, under the great elm in the market-place, received the keys, accepted the sword of the captain commissioned by Charles with royal courtesy, gave his hand to be kissed by the mayor; and then, with grave inexorable air, like a statue of steel, watched as the freebooter Vaurus and his two chief companions were led down with their hands tied, halters round their necks, and priests at their sides, preparing them to be hung on that very tree. They were proud hard men, and uttered no entreaty for grace. They had hung too many travellers upon these same branches not to expect their own turn, and they were no cravens to abase themselves.
That act of justice ended, Henry mounted his warhorse and rode in at the gates. His wont was to go straight to the principal church, and there attend a solemn mass of thanksgiving; but experience had taught him that his devotions were the very opportunity of his men’s rapine: he had therefore arranged that as soon as he should have arrived in the choir of the cathedral, James should take his place, and he slip out by a side door, so as to return to the scene of action.
In full procession he and his suite reached the chief door, and there dismounted in an immense crowd, which thronged in at the doors.
‘Come, Glenuskie,’ said Ralf Percy, as the two youths were pushed chose together in the press; ’if you have a fancy for being smothered in the minster, I have none. We shall never be missed. ’Twill be sport to walk round and see how these hardy rogues contrived to hold out.’
Malcolm willingly turned aside with him, and looked down the sloping street, which was swarming with comers and goers. The whole place was in an inflammable state. Soldiers were demanding quarters, which the citizens unwillingly gave. A refusal or expostulation against a rough entry led to violence; and ever as the two youths walked farther from the cathedral, there was more of excitement, more rude oaths of soldiers, more shrieking of women, often crying out even before any harm was done to them or their houses.
At last, before a tall overhanging house, there was an immense press, and a frightful din of shouts and imprecations, filling both the new-comers with infectious eagerness.
‘How now? how now?’ called Percy. ‘Keep the peace, good fellows.’
‘Sir,’ cried a number of voices, passionately, ’the French villains have barred their door. There’s a lot of cowardly Armagnacs hid there with their gold, trying to balk honest men of their ransom.’
Such was the cry resounding on all sides. ’Have at them! There’s the rogue at the windows. Out on the fellows! Burn down the door! ’Tis Vaurus himself and all his gold. Treason! treason!’
The clamour was convincing to the spirit, if not to the senses. The two lads believed in the concealed Armagnacs, or perhaps more truly were carried away by the vehemence around them; and with something of the spirit of the chase, threw themselves headlong into the affair.