At Agincourt by G. A. Henty
Chapter IX. A Stout Defence
The Duke of Burgundy had left Paris upon the day after he had received Dame Margaret, and as the king had a lucid interval, the Duke of Aquitaine, his son, was also absent with the army. In Paris there existed a general sense of uneasiness and alarm. The butchers, feeling that their doings had excited a strong reaction against them, and that several of the other guilds, notably that of the carpenters, were combining against them, determined to strike terror into their opponents by attacking some of their leaders. Several of these were openly murdered in the streets, and the houses of others were burnt and sacked. One evening when Guy had returned at nine o'clock from a supper at Count Charles's lodgings, it being the first time he had been out after dark since his first adventure, he had but just gone up to his room, when he heard a loud knocking at the door below. Going to the front window he looked out of the casement.
"Who is it that knocks?" he asked.
"It is I--the lad of Notre Dame."
He recognized the voice and ran down and opened the door.
"What is it, signora?"
"My father bids me tell you, sir, that he but learned the instant before he despatched me that the butchers are going to attack this house this evening, under the pretext that there are English spies here, but really to slay the provost of the silversmiths, and to gratify their followers by the sack of his house. I fear that I am too late, for they were to march from the abattoirs at nine, and it is already nearly half-past. Look! I see torches coming up the street."
"It is too late, indeed, to fly, even if we wished to," Guy said. "Dame Margaret and the children retired to bed an hour ago. Will you take this ring," and he took off from his finger one that D'Estournel had given him, "and carry it at once to the lodgings of Count Charles d'Estournel? They are in the house on this side of the Hotel of St. Pol. He is still up, and has some of his friends with him. Tell him from me that this house is being attacked, and beg him to gather a party, if he can, and come to our assistance. Say that we shall defend it until the last."
The girl took the ring and ran off at the top of her speed. The roar of the distant crowd could now be distinctly heard. Guy put up the strong bars of the door and then rushed upstairs. First he knocked at the door of Maitre Leroux.
"The butchers are coming to attack your house!" he shouted. "Call up your servants; bid them take to their arms." Then he ran up to the room where his men slept. Long Tom, who had met him at D'Estournel's door and accompanied him home, sprang to his feet from his pallet as Guy entered. "The butchers are about to attack the house, Tom; up all of you and arm yourselves; bring down your bow and arrows. Where do the men-servants sleep?"
"There are five of them in the next room, and the two who serve in the shop are in the chamber beyond," the archer replied, as he hastily buckled on his armour. Guy rushed to the door and awoke the inmates of the rooms, telling them to arm and hasten down to defend the house, which was about to be attacked. A moment later Maitre Leroux himself appeared and repeated the order.
"Art sure of what you say, Master Guy?" he asked.
"Look from the window and you will see them approaching," Guy replied, and going to the casement window which was at the front of the house he threw it open. Some four hundred yards away a dense throng was coming along; a score of torches lighted up the scene.
"Resistance is vain," the silversmith said. "It is my life they seek; I will go down to them."
"Resistance will not be in vain," Guy said firmly. "I have already sent for aid, and we shall have a body of Burgundian men-at-arms here to our assistance before long. Your life will not satisfy them; it is the plunder of your shop and house that they long for, and you may be sure that they will put all to the sword if they once break in. Now let us run down and see what we can do to strengthen our defences."
"The shutters and doors are all strong," the provost said as they hurried downstairs, followed by the four men-at-arms and the servants--for in those days men removed but few of their garments as they lay down on their rough pallets.
"In the first place," Guy said, "we must pile everything that we can find below against these doors, so that when they yield we can still make a defence here, before we retire. Are there other stairs than these?"
"So much the better. As soon as we have blocked the door we will barricade the first landing and defend ourselves there. Jean Bart, do you take the command below for the present. Seize everything that you can lay hands on, logs from the wood-store, sacks of charcoal, cases, everything heavy that you can find, and pile them up against the door. Tom, do you come with us; an arrow or two will check their ardour, and it is not likely they have brought bows or cross-bows with them. Try to parley with them as long as you can, Maitre Leroux, every minute is of value."
"What is all this, Guy?" Dame Margaret asked as she entered the apartment. Having been aroused by the noise she had hastily attired herself, and had just come into the front room.
"The butchers are about to attack the house, lady; we are going to defend it. I have sent to D'Estournel, and we may hope for aid before long."
At this moment there was a loud knocking at the door and a hoarse roar of voices from the street. The silversmith went to the casement and opened it, and he and Guy looked out. A shout of fury arose from the street, with cries of "Death to the English spies!" "Death to the Armagnac provost!"
Leroux in vain endeavoured to make his voice heard, and so tell the crowd that his guests were not spies, but had been lodged at his house by the Duke of Burgundy himself. A tall man on horseback, one of several who were evidently leaders of the mob, pressed his way through the crowd to the door and evidently gave some orders, and a din of heavy sledge-hammers and axes beating against it at once mingled with the shouts of the crowd. The horseman crossed again to the other side of the street and shook his fist threateningly at Leroux.
"That is Jacques Legoix," the silversmith said, as he retired from the window; "one of the great leaders of the butchers; his family, and the St. Yons and Taiberts rule the market."
"Tom," Guy said to the archer, who was standing behind him. "Begin by picking off that fellow on horseback opposite."
Tom had already bent his bow and had an arrow in readiness, a moment later the shaft flew and struck the butcher between the eyes, and he fell dead from his horse. A yell of consternation and rage rose from the crowd.
"Now you can distribute a few arrows among those fellows at the door," Guy said.
The archer leant far out of the low casement. "It is awkward shooting, Master Guy," he said quietly, "but I daresay I can make a shift to manage it." Disregarding the furious yells of the crowd, he sent arrow after arrow among the men using the sledges and axes. Many of them had steel caps with projecting rims which sheltered the neck, but as they raised their weapons with both hands over their heads they exposed their chests to the marksman above, and not an arrow that was shot failed to bring down a man. When six had fallen no fresh volunteers came forward to take their places, although another horseman made his way up to them and endeavoured by persuasions and threats to induce them to continue the work. This man was clad in armour, and wore a steel cap in the place of the knightly helmet.
"Who is that fellow?" Guy asked the merchant.
"He is the son of Caboche, the head of the flayers, one of the most pestilent villains in the city."
"Keep your eye on him, Tom, and when you see a chance send an arrow home."
"That armour of his is but common stuff, Master Guy; as soon as I get a chance I will send a shaft through it."
The man with a gesture of anger turned and gave instructions to a number of men, who pushed their way through the crowd, first picking up some of the fallen hammers and axes. The fate of his associate had evidently taught the horseman prudence, for as he moved away he kept his head bent down so as not to expose his face to the aim of the terrible marksman at the window. He halted a short distance away and was evidently haranguing the crowd round him, and in his vehemence raised his arm. The moment he did so Tom's bow twanged. The arrow struck him at the unprotected part under the arm-pit, and he fell headlong from his horse. Maddened with rage the crowd no longer hesitated, and again attacked the door. Just as they did so there was a roar of exultation down the street as twelve men brought up a solid gate that they had beaten in and wrenched from its hinges from a house beyond.
"You can shoot as you like now, Tom. I will go down and see how the men are getting on below; the mob will have the door in sooner or later."
Guy found that the men below had not wasted their time. A great pile of logs, sacks, and other materials was piled against the door, and a short distance behind stood a number of barrels of wine and heavy cases ready to be placed in position.
"Get them upstairs, Jean," Guy said; "they will make a better barricade than the furniture, which we may as well save if possible."
The nine men set to work, and in a very short time a strong barricade was formed across the top of the wide staircase.
"Have you all the cases out of the shop?"
"Yes, we have not left one there, Master Guy. If they are all full of silver there must be enough for a royal banqueting-table."
Some, indeed, of the massive chests were so heavy that it required the efforts of six men to carry them upstairs.
"How do matters go, Guy?" Dame Margaret asked quietly as he re-entered the apartment.
"Very well," he replied. "I don't think the door will hold out much longer; but there is a strong barricade behind it which it will take them some time to force, and another on the landing here that we ought to be able to hold for an hour at least, and before that yields we will have another ready on the landing above."
"I will see to that," she said. "I will take Agnes and Charlie up with me, and then, with the women, I will move out the clothes' and linen chests and build them up there."
"Thank you, madame; I trust long before the barricade here is carried we shall have D'Estournel and his friends to our assistance. Indeed, I doubt whether they will be able to carry it at all; it is as solid and almost as strong as a stone wall, and as there are thirteen or fourteen of us to defend it, it seems to me that nothing short of battering the cases to pieces will enable them to force a way."
"I wish I could do something," Agnes broke in; "it is hard not to be able to help while you are all fighting for us. I wish I had brought my bow with me, you know I can shoot fairly."
"I think that it is just as well that you have not," Guy said with a smile. "I do not doubt your courage for a moment, but if you were placing yourself in danger we should all be anxious about you, and I would much rather know that you were safe with your mother upstairs."
Guy now went to the window. Maitre Leroux had been directing his servants in the formation of the barricades.
"I can do nothing to protect the door," the archer said; "they have propped up that gate so as to cover the men who are hammering at it. I have been distributing my arrows among the crowd, and in faith there will be a good many vacancies among the butchers and flayers in the market tomorrow morning. I am just going up to fill my quiver again and bring down a spare armful of arrows."
"Leave those on the landing here, Tom, and bring your full quiver down below. The door will not hold many minutes longer: I could see that it was yielding when I was down there just now. I don't think that we shall be able to make a long defence below, for with their hooked halberts they will be able to pull out the logs, do what we will."
One of the servants now ran in.
"They have broken the door down, sir. It is only kept in place by the things behind it."
Guy ran out, climbed the barricade--which on the landing was four feet high, but as it was built on the edge of the top stair it was nine inches higher on that face--let himself drop on to the stairs, and ran down into the passage.
"I think, Maitre Leroux," he said, "that you and your men had better go up at once and station yourselves at the barricade. There is no room here for more than five of us to use our arms, and when we retire we shall have to do so quickly. Will you please fasten a chair on the top step in such a way that we can use it to climb over the barricade without delay? We are like to be hard pressed, and it is no easy matter to get over a five-foot wall speedily with a crowd of armed men pressing hotly on your heels."
The provost told two of his men to pick out a square block of firewood, as nearly as possible the thickness of the height of one of the steps. After trying several they found one that would do, and on placing it on the stair next to the top it formed with the step above it a level platform. On this the chair was placed, a strong rope being attached to it so that it could be pulled up over the barricade when the last of the defenders had entered. By the time this was finished the battle below began in earnest. The infuriated assailants had pulled the doors outwards and were making desperate efforts to climb the pile of logs. This they soon found to be impossible, and began with their halberts to pull them down, and it was not long before they had dislodged sufficient to make a slope up which they could climb. Their work had not been carried on with impunity, for the archer had stationed himself on the top and sent his arrows thick and fast among them.
"In faith, master," he said to Guy, who stood close behind, "methinks that I am doing almost as much harm as good, for I am aiding them mightily in making their slope, which will presently contain as many dead men as logs."
As soon as they deemed the slope climbable the furious assailants charged up. They were met by Guy and the four men-at-arms. Tom had now slung his bow behind him and had betaken himself to his heavy axe, which crashed through the iron caps of the assailants as though they had been eggshells. But in such numbers did they press on that Guy saw that this barricade could not be much longer held.
"Get ready to retire when I give the word!" he shouted to his companions. "Tom, you and Jules Varoy and Robert Picard run first upstairs. When you have climbed the barricade, do you, Tom, take your place on the top. Jean Bart and I will come up last, and you can cover us with your arrows. Tell Maitre Leroux to remove the light into the room, so that they will not be able to see what there is to encounter, while these torches here and those held by the crowd will enable you to see well enough to take aim. Now!" he shouted, "fall back!"
Tom and the two men-at-arms sprang up the stairs, Guy and Jean Bart followed more slowly, and halted a few steps from the top.
"All up, master!" Tom shouted, and Jean and Guy were able to cross the barricade before the foremost of their pursuers reached them. There had indeed been confusion below, for several of those who had first climbed the barricade had, instead of pressing hotly in pursuit, run along the hall and through the door into the shop, in their eagerness to be the first to seize upon the plunder. They expected the others to follow their example, but one of their leaders placed himself in their way and threatened to cut them down if they did not first assault the stairs.
"Fools!" he shouted, "do you think that the old fox has wasted the time we have given him? You may be sure that the richest prizes have been carried above."
There was an angry altercation, which was continued until those who had first run into the shop returned with the news that it had been completely stripped of its contents. There was now no longer any hesitation in obeying their leader, and the men poured up the stairs in a mass. Suddenly some torches appeared above, and those in front saw with consternation the obstacle that stood between them and their prey. They had little time for consideration, however, for the arrows from the archer now smote them, and that with a force and rapidity that bewildered them. Five or six of those in front fell shot through the brain.
"Heads down!" a voice shouted. There was no retreat for those in front, for the mass behind pressed them forward, and, instinctively obeying the order, they ran up. But neither helm nor breast-plate availed to keep out the terrible English arrows, which clove their way through the iron as if it had been pasteboard. Stumbling over the bodies of those who had fallen, the front rank of the assailants at last reached the barricade, but here their progress was arrested. A line of men stood behind the smooth wall of massive cases, and those who strove to climb it were smitten with axe or sword, while they themselves could not reach the defenders above them. They could but thrust blindly with pike or halbert, for if a face was raised to direct the aim one of the deadly arrows struck it instantly. In vain they strove by the aid of the halberts to haul down a case from its position, the weight was too great for one man's strength to move, and before several could grasp the handle of the halbert to aid them, the shaft was cut in two by the blow of an axe.
Hopeless as the attempt seemed, it was persevered in, for the crowd below, ignorant of the nature of the obstacle, maddened with fury and with the wine which had been freely served out before starting, still pressed forward, each fearing that the silversmith's treasures would be appropriated before he could obtain his share. For half an hour the fight continued, then there was a roar in the street, and Dame Margaret, who, after seeing the barricade above completed, had come down to her room and was gazing along the street, ran out on to the landing.
"Help is at hand!" she cried, "the knights are coming!"
Then came the loud tramp of horses, mingled with shouts of "Burgundy!" The crowd at the entrance at once turned and ran out, and as the alarm reached those within, they too rushed down, until the stairs were untenanted save by the dead. Bidding the others hold their places lest the assailants should return, Guy ran in and joined Lady Margaret at the window. A fierce conflict was going on in the street, with shouts of "Burgundy!" "A rescue!" "A rescue!"
The knights, who were followed by some fifty men-at-arms, rode into the mob, hewing them down with their swords. The humiliations that they had received from the arrogance and insolence of the butchers had long rankled in their minds, and they now took a heavy vengeance. The windows of all the houses opposite, from which men and women had been peering timidly out, were now crowded; women waving their handkerchiefs to the knights, and men loudly shouting greetings and encouragements. The whole of the traders of Paris were bitterly opposed to the domination of the market guilds, and while they cared but little for the quarrel between the rival dukes, the alliance between Burgundy and the butchers naturally drove them to sympathize with the opposite party. The proof afforded by the charge of the knights upon the mob delighted them, as showing that, allied with them though they might be, the Burgundians were determined no longer to allow the rioting and excesses of the men of the market guilds to continue.
In two or three minutes all was over. The resistance, though fierce, was short, and the mob was driven down the side streets and chased until the trading quarter was cleared of them. As the knights returned Guy went down to the door, to which Maitre Leroux had already descended to thank his rescuers for their timely aid.
"I thank you, my lords and knights," the silversmith said, "for the timely succour you have rendered me. I would pray you to enter and to allow me to thank you in more worthy fashion, but indeed the stairs and passage are encumbered with dead."
"Dame Margaret of Villeroy prays me to say that she also desires greatly to thank you," Guy said.
"I feared that we should have been too late," Count Charles replied. "We lost no time when your messenger came, Guy, but it took some time to rouse the men-at-arms and to saddle our horses. You must have made a stout defence indeed, judging by the pile of dead that encumber your passage."
"There are many more inside," Guy said, "and methinks that we could have held out for another hour yet if it had been needed. Indeed, the only thing that I feared was that they might set fire to the lower part of the house."
"I should like to see your defences, Maitre Leroux," Count Walter de Vesoul said, "What say you, my friends, shall we mount and see the scene of this battle? Methinks we might well gain something by it, for 'tis no slight thing that an unfortified house should for over an hour defend itself against a mob full a couple of thousand strong. I doubt not, too, that Master Leroux will serve us with a flagon of wine; and, moreover, we should surely pay our respects to this English lady,--who while a hostage of the duke has been thus sorely ill-treated by the scum of Paris,--if she will please receive us at this hour of the evening."
The other knights, of whom there were ten in number, at once dismounted. The silversmith's servants brought torches, and after ordering two of them to broach a cask of wine and to regale the men-at-arms, the provost led the way upstairs.
"Wait a moment, good provost," the Count de Vesoul said, "let us understand the thing from the beginning. I see that the knaves lying here and many of those in the road are pierced by arrows, which, as I note, have in some cases gone through iron cap or breast-piece; how comes that?"
"That is the work of one of my lady's retainers. He is an English archer, and one of the most skilful. He comes from her English estate, and when she chose him as one of the four men-at-arms to accompany her, he begged leave to bring his bow and arrows, and has in truth, as you see, made good use of them."
"That is the same tall fellow who, as I told you, Walter, did me such good service in that fray," said D'Estournel.
"By Saint Anne, Guy, I would that I had a dozen such men among my varlets. Why, there are a round dozen lying outside the door."
"There would have been more," Guy said, "had they not brought up that great gate and used it as a screen while they battered in the door here."
"Then you built the barricade behind it?" Count Walter said as he climbed over the heap of logs.
"Yes, Count, it was built against the door, but when that gave way they pulled it down with halberts until they could climb over it. But, as you see, no small portion of slope on the outside is composed of their bodies. The archer's arrows did good execution as they worked at it, and when they made the assault we--that is to say, Dame Margaret's four retainers and I --held it for some time, then we retired up the stairs and defended that barricade we had built across the top."
The knights picked their way among the bodies that encumbered the stairs.
"By Saint Denis, Charles, this is a strong work indeed!" the count said to D'Estournel, as they reached the top; "no wonder the knaves found it too much for them. What are all these massive cases?"
"They contain the goods from my shop," Maitre Leroux said. "Master Aylmer had them carried here while the archer was defending the door, and by so doing not only made, as you see, a stout breast-work, but saved them from being plundered."
"They were well fitted for it," Guy said, "for they are very weighty; and though the fellows tried hard they could not move them with their hooks, and as fast as they strove to do so the provost's men and ours struck off the heads of the halberts with axes; and the work was all the more difficult as our archer had always a shaft fitted to let fly whenever they lifted their heads."
"But how did you manage to get over safely when they won the barricade below?" D'Estournel asked; "it was not an easy feat to climb this wall with a crowd of foemen behind."
Guy explained how they had arranged a chair to form a step. "There was, however," he went on, "no great need for haste. The archer and two others went first, and he took his stand on the top of the chests in readiness to cover the retreat of the fourth man-at-arms and myself. But happily many of the knaves wanted to sack the shop more than to follow us, and there was such confusion below, that we had time to climb over and pull up the chair before they had mustered to the attack."
While they were talking Long Tom and the others had removed one of the chests and made a passage by which they could pass through, and Maitre Leroux led them into his private apartments, which were similar to, although larger than, Dame Margaret's. A number of candles had already been lighted, and in a minute Mistress Leroux entered, followed by two of her maids carrying trays with great beakers of wine and a number of silver goblets, and she and the provost then poured out the wine and offered it with further expressions of thanks to the knights.
"Say naught about it, madame," Count Walter said; "it was high time that a check was put on these rough fellows who lord it over Paris and deem themselves its masters. I doubt not that they will raise some outcry and lay their complaint before the duke; but you, I trust, and other worthy citizens, will be beforehand with them, and send off a messenger to him laying complaints against these fellows for attacking, plundering, and burning at their will the houses of those of better repute than themselves. We have come to your help not as officers of the duke, but as knights and gentlemen who feel it a foul wrong that such things should be done. Moreover, as Dame Margaret of Villeroy, a hostage of the duke, was lodged here at his request, it was a matter that nearly touched his honour that her life should be placed in danger by these scurvy knaves, and we shall so represent the matter to the duke."
Just as the knights had drunk their wine, Guy, who had left them on the landing, entered, escorting Dame Margaret and her two children. Count Charles d'Estournel, after saluting her, presented his companions to her, and she thanked each very heartily for the succour they had brought so opportunely.
"In truth, lady," the Count de Vesoul said, "methinks from what we saw that you might even have managed without us, so stoutly were you defended by your esquire and your retainers, aided as they were by those of the provost, though in the end it may be that these must have succumbed to numbers; for I can well imagine that your assailants, after the loss that they have suffered, would have spared no effort to avenge themselves, and might indeed, as a last resource, have fired the house. This they would no doubt have done long before had it not been that by so doing they would have lost all the plunder that they counted on. This stout defence will no doubt teach these fellows some moderation, for they will see that citizens' houses are not to be plundered without hard fighting and much loss. As for ourselves, we shall see the Duke of Burgundy's lieutenant to- morrow morning and lay the matter before him, praying him to issue a proclamation saying that in order to suppress the shameful disorders that have taken place, he gives notice that all who attack the houses of peaceful citizens will henceforth be treated as evildoers and punished accordingly."
After some further conversation the knights prepared to leave.
"I shall do myself the honour, sirs," Maitre Leroux said, "of sending to your lodgings to-morrow the cups that you have used, as a small testimony of my gratitude to you, and as a memorial of the events of this evening."
While they were upstairs the men-at-arms and servants had been employed in clearing the stairs, throwing the bodies that had encumbered it out into the street. The men-at-arms of the knights had, after drinking the wine that had been sent out to them, aided in clearing the passage; buckets of water had been thrown down on the stairs, and the servitors by a vigorous use of brooms had removed most of the traces of the fray. The work had just been finished, and Dame Margaret's men had, by Guy's orders, stationed themselves on the landing to do honour to the knights as they set out.
"Ah, my tall friend," D'Estournel said to the archer, "so you have been at work again, and I can see that you are even more doughty with the bow than with that long staff of yours. Well, this time there must have been enough fighting to please even you."
"It has been an indifferent good fight, my lord," Tom said; "but in truth, save for the stand on that pile of logs below, when things were for a time brisk, it has been altogether too one-sided to please me."
"Most people would think that the one-sidedness was all the other way," D'Estournel laughed. "Well, men, you have all done your duty to your lady right well this night, and there is not one of us here who would not gladly have such brave fellows in his service. I see that you are all four wounded."
"They are scarce to be called wounds, Sir Count, seeing that they are but flesh cuts from their halberts which we got in the fray below. These slaughterers can doubtless strike a good blow with a pole-axe, but they are but clumsy varlets with other weapons. But to give them their due, they fought stoutly if with but little skill or discretion."
Several of the others also said a few words of commendation to the men. The provost and Guy escorted the knights to the door below. The latter had ordered twenty of their men-at-arms to remain in the house until morning, after which ten were to stay there until the doors had been repaired and refixed. As soon as the knights had ridden off the silversmith ordered several bundles of rushes to be strewn in the shop for the guard, and a meal of cold meat to be set for their supper. Two of them were posted as sentinels at the door.
"I shall not open the shop to-morrow," he said as he ascended the stairs with Guy, "nor indeed shall I do so until things have settled down. There will be for some time a mighty animosity on the part of these butchers and skinners against me, and it is only reasonable that after such an attack I should close my shop. Those who have dealings with me will know that they can do their business with me in private. And now methinks we will retire to bed; 'tis past midnight, and there is no fear of our being disturbed again. If they send anyone to spy out whether we are on the watch, the sight of the Burgundian soldiers below will suffice to tell them that there is nothing to be done. The first thing tomorrow I will set the carpenters to work to make me an even stronger pair of doors than those that have been spoilt."