At Agincourt by G. A. Henty
Chapter XX. Penshurst
After accompanying the king to London Sir Eustace and Guy rode to Summerley, where Long Tom and his companions had already arrived, having marched thither direct from Dover. There were great rejoicings at the castle. Not only the tenants, but people from a long way round came in to join in welcoming home two of the heroes of Agincourt. The archer had already brought news of Guy having been knighted, and he was warmly, congratulated by Dame Margaret and by Agnes, who received him with her usual sisterly affection. Katarina, also, congratulated him, but it was with less warmth of manner. In the evening, how ever, her mood changed, and she said to him:
"Though I do not say much, you know that I am pleased, Sir Guy."
"I am not sure, Countess Katarina--since we are to be ceremonious to each other--that I do quite know, for since I returned from France last time, I have seldom understood you; one moment you seem to me just as you used to be, at another you hold me at a distance, as if I were well-nigh a stranger."
Katarina shrugged her shoulders. "What would you have, Guy? One can't be always in the same humour."
"You are always in the same humour to Dame Margaret and Agnes," he said; "so far as I can see I am the only one whom you delight to tease."
"Now that you are a belted knight, Sir Guy, I shall not presume to tease you any more, but shall treat you with the respect due to your dignity." Then she swept a deep curtsey, and turning, went off with a merry laugh, while Guy looked after her more puzzled than ever.
That evening he received the news that during the absence of Sir Eustace and himself Sir William Bailey, a young knight whose estates lay near, had asked for the hand of Agnes, and that, although Dame Margaret had been unable to give an answer during her lord's absence, Agnes would willingly submit herself to her father's orders to wed Sir William.
Guy remained for some months quietly at Summerley. The Emperor Sigismund had paid a visit to England, and then to Paris, to endeavour to reconcile the two countries. His mediation failed. Henry offered, as a final settlement, to accept the execution, on the part of France, of the treaty of Trepigny. Nothing, however, came of it, for there was no government in France capable of making a binding treaty. In spite of the disgrace and the slaughter of the nobles at Agincourt there was no abatement of the internal dissensions, and the civil war between Burgundy and Armagnac was still raging, the only change in affairs being that the vicious and incapable Duke of Aquitaine had died, and the queen had once again gone over to the Burgundian faction. Count Charles d'Estournel had carried into effect the mission with which he had charged himself. Burgundy had eagerly embraced the opportunity of attaching to his side the castle and estates of Villeroy, and he and the Count d'Estournel between them raised a sum of money which was paid to Sir Eustace for the relinquishment to Burgundy of the fief, which was then bestowed upon Count Charles.
The sum in no way represented what would now be considered the value of the estate, but in those days, when fiefs reverted to the crown or other feudal superior upon the death of an owner without heirs, or were confiscated upon but slight pretence, the money value was far under the real value of the estate. Sir Eustace was well satisfied, however, with the sum paid him. Had his son Henry lived he had intended that the anomalous position of the lord of Villeroy, being also a vassal of England, should have been got rid of by one of his sons becoming its owner, and a vassal of France, while the other would inherit Summerley, and grow up a vassal of England only. Henry's death had put an end to the possibility of this arrangement, and Charlie would now become, at his father's death, Lord of Summerley and of such other English lands as could be obtained with the money paid for the surrender of the fief of Villeroy.
In the first week of July there were great rejoicings at Summerley over the marriage of Agnes with Sir William Bailey. The king had not forgotten his promise to Sir Eustace, and had raised him to the title of Baron Eustace of Summerley, and had presented him with a royal manor near Winchester. Guy was summoned to court to take part in the festivities that were held during the visit of Sigismund, and the king said to him pleasantly one day:
"I have not forgotten you, Sir Guy; but I have had many to reward, and you know importunate suitors, and those who have powerful connections to keep their claims ever in front, obtain an advantage over those who are content to hold themselves in the back-ground."
"I am in all ways contented, your majesty. I have lived all my life in the household at Summerley, and am so much one of my lord's family that I have no desire to quit it. Moreover, my father has just returned from Villeroy with the garrison of the castle, and it is a great pleasure to me to have his society again."
"I thought that some day you would have married Dame Margaret's fair daughter, after acting as their protector in the troubles in Paris, but I hear that she is betrothed to Sir William Bailey."
"Such an idea never entered my mind, your majesty. She was but a child in those days, not so much in years as in thought, and brought up together as we were I have always regarded her rather in the light of a sister."
Guy's quiet stay at Summerley came to an end suddenly. A fortnight after the marriage of Agnes, Harfleur was besieged by the French by land and water, and the Earl of Dorset, its governor, sent to England for aid. The king sent hasty orders to his vassals of Kent, Surrey, and Hampshire, to march with their retainers to Rye, where a fleet was to gather for their conveyance. A body of archers and men-at-arms were also sent thither by the king, and the Duke of Bedford, his brother, appointed to the command of the expedition. Sir Eustace was suffering somewhat from the effects of a fever, the seeds of which he had contracted in France, and he accordingly sent his contingent, thirty archers and as many men-at-arms, under the command of Guy.
"I had hoped that we had done with Harfleur," Long Tom said as they started on their march to the seaport. "I don't mind fighting, that comes in the way of business, but to see men rotting away like sheep with disease is not to my fancy."
"We shall have no fighting on land, Tom," Guy replied, "at least I expect not. When the French see that the garrison is reinforced they will probably give up the siege, though we may have a fight at sea with the French ships that are blockading the town and preventing provisions from reaching the garrison. Doubtless we shall take a good store of food with us, and the French will know well enough that as we had such hard work in capturing the town, they can have no chance whatever of taking it by assault when defended by us."
Guy and his party had a small ship to themselves, with which he was well content, as, being but a newly-made knight, he would, had he been in a large ship, have been under the orders of any others who chanced to be with him; while he was now free to act as he chose. The voyage was favourable, but when the fleet arrived off the mouth of the Seine they found that the work before them was far more serious than they had expected. In addition to their own fleet, which was itself considerably stronger than the English, the besiegers had hired the aid of some great Genoese vessels, and a number of galleys, caravels, and many high-decked ships from Spain. They occupied a strong position off the town, and could be supported by some of the siege batteries. The English fleet lay to at the mouth of the Seine, and at night the captains of the troops on board the various ships were rowed to Bedford's ship, which displayed a light at the mast-head, so that the fleet could all lie in company round her. Here after much discussion a plan for the battle next day was agreed upon. The enterprise would have been a very hazardous one, but, happily, at daybreak the French ships were seen coming out to give battle. Confident in their superior numbers, and anxious to revenge their defeat at Agincourt, the French commanders were eager to reap the whole glory of victory without the assistance of their allies, whose ships remained anchored in the river.
Bedford at once made the signal to attack them, and a desperate fight ensued. Great as was the slaughter in those days in battles on land, it was far greater in sea-fights. Except to knights and nobles, from whom ransom could be obtained, quarter was never given to prisoners either by land or sea, consequently as soon as soldiers in a land battle saw that fortune was going against them they fled. But on sea there was no escape; every man knew that it was either death or victory, and therefore fought with determination and obstinacy to the end. The two first French ships that arrived were speedily captured, but when the rest came up a desperate battle took place. Guy was on the point of ordering his ship to be laid alongside a French craft little larger than his own, when his eye fell upon a great ship carrying the flag of a French admiral, and at once diverting the course of his vessel, he ran alongside her. The archers were on the bow and stern castles of his ship, and as they came within a short distance of the Frenchman, they sent their arrows thick and fast into the crowded mass on her deck. Two grapnels, to each of which were attached twenty feet of chain, were thrown into the shrouds of the French vessel, and Guy shouted to the men-at-arms in the waist to keep the enemy from boarding by holding the vessels apart by thrusting out light spars and using their spears.
The French had a few cross-bowmen on board, but Guy, running up on to the castle at the bow, where Long Tom himself was posted, bade him direct the fire of his men solely against them, and in a very short time the discharge of missiles from the French ship ceased. In vain the French attempted to bring the ships alongside each other by throwing grapnels; the ropes of these were cut directly they fell, and although many of the English spears were hacked in two, others were at once thrust out, and the spars, being inclined so as to meet the hull of the enemy below the water- line, could not be reached by their axes. The wind was light, and there was no great difference in point of sailing. The English sailors were vigilant, and when the Frenchman brailed up his great sail, so as to fall behind, they at once followed his example. At the end of a quarter of an hour the effect of the arrows of the thirty archers was so great that there was much confusion on board the enemy, and Guy thought that, comparatively small as his force was, an attack might be made. So the spars were suddenly drawn in and the chains hauled upon. The archers caught up their axes and joined the men-at-arms, and as the vessels came together they all leapt with a great shout upon the enemy's deck.
The French knights, whose armour had protected them to some extent from the slaughter that the arrows had effected among the soldiers, fought bravely and rallied their men to resistance; but with shouts of "Agincourt!" the men-at-arms and archers, led by Guy,--who now for the first time fought in his knightly armour,--were irresistible. They had boarded at the enemy's stern so as to get all their foes in front of them, and after clearing the stern castle they poured down into the waist and gradually won their way along it. After ten minutes' hard fighting the French admiral and knights were pent up on the fore castle, and defended the ladder by which it was approached so desperately that Guy ordered Tom, with a dozen of the archers, to betake themselves to the English fore castle and to shoot from there, and in a short time the French leaders lowered their swords and surrendered. The French flag at the stern had been hauled down and that of England hoisted as soon as they boarded, and the latter was now run up to the mast-head amid the loud hurrahs of the English.
The moment the French surrendered, Guy called to his men to cease from slaying and to disarm the prisoners, who were still much more numerous than themselves. The common men he told to take to their boats and row away, while the admiral and knights were conducted to the cabin, and a guard placed over them. As soon as this was done Guy looked round; the battle was still raging and many of the French ships had been captured, but others were defending themselves desperately. Twelve of Guy's men had been killed, and several of the others more or less severely wounded, and seeing that his countrymen did not need his assistance, he ordered the decks to be cleared and the dead bodies thrown overboard. In a quarter of an hour, the last French ship had been taken. There was now breathing time for half an hour, during which the Duke of Bedford, whose ship lay not far from Guy's prize, had himself rowed on board.
"All have done well to-day, Sir Guy Aylmer, but assuredly the feat you have performed surpasses any of the others, seeing that you have captured this great ship with one of the smallest in our fleet. Their crew must have been three or four times as strong as yours, which was, as I know, but sixty strong. Has the Count de Valles fallen?"
"No, my lord duke, he is, with six of his knights, a prisoner in the cabin."
"I will see him later," the duke said; "we are now going to attack the Genoese and Spaniards. Is there aught that I can do for you?"
"Some twenty of my men are dead or disabled," Guy said, "and I must leave ten in charge of this prize. I have suffered the French soldiers, after disarming them and the sailors, to leave in their boats, and ten men will therefore be sufficient to hold her. If your grace can spare me thirty men-at-arms I will go on in my own ship to attack the Genoese."
"I will do so," the duke replied. "I will send ten to keep this ship, and twenty to fill the places of those of your men who have fallen. I can spare ten from my own ship and will borrow twenty from such of the others as can best spare them."
In a few minutes the thirty men came on board, with a sub-officer to take charge of the prize. Guy returned with his own men and twenty new-comers to his vessel, and sailed in with the fleet to attack the great ships of the Genoese and Spaniards at their moorings. As they approached they were received with a heavy cannonade from the enemy's ships and shore batteries, but without replying they sailed on and ranged themselves alongside the enemy, their numbers permitting them to lay a vessel on each side of most of the great caravels. Their task was by no means an easy one, for the sides of these ships were fifteen feet above those of the low English vessels, and they were all crowded with men. Nevertheless, the English succeeded in boarding, forcing their way in through port-holes and windows, clambering up the bows by the carved work, or running out on their yards and swinging themselves by ropes on to the enemy's deck, while the cannon plied them with shot close to the water-line.
Most of the ships were taken by boarding, some were sunk with all on board, a few only escaped by cutting their cables and running up the Seine into shallow water. The loss of life on the part of the French and their allies in this brilliant British victory was enormous. With the exception of those on board the few ships which escaped, and the men sent off in the boats by Guy, the whole of the crews of the French, Genoese, and Spaniards, save only the nobles and knights put to ransom, were killed, drowned, or taken prisoners, and during the three weeks that the English fleet remained off Harfleur, the sailors were horrified by the immense number of dead bodies that were carried up and down by the tide. Harfleur was revictualled and put into a state of defence, and the Duke of Bedford then sailed with his fleet to England, having achieved the greatest naval victory that England had ever won save when Edward the Third, with the Black Prince, completely defeated a great Spanish fleet off the coast of Sussex, with a squadron composed of ships vastly inferior both in size and number to those of the Spaniards, which contained fully ten times the number of fighting men carried by the English vessels.
This great naval victory excited unbounded enthusiasm in England. The king gave a great banquet to the Duke of Bedford and his principal officers, and by the duke's orders Guy attended. Before they sat down to the table the duke presented his officers individually to the king. Guy, as the youngest knight, was the last to be introduced.
"The duke has already spoken to me of the right valiant deeds that you accomplished, Sir Guy Aylmer," the king said as he bowed before him, "and that with but a small craft and only sixty men-at-arms and archers you captured the ship of the French admiral, which he estimates must have carried at least three hundred men. We hereby raise you to the rank of knight-banneret, and appoint you to the fief of Penshurst in Hampshire, now vacant by the death without heirs of the good knight Sir Richard Fulk. And we add thereto, as our own gift, the two royal manors of Stoneham and Piverley lying adjacent to it, and we enjoin you to take for your coat-of- arms a great ship. The fief of Penshurst is a sign of our royal approval of your bravery at Harfleur, the two manors are the debt we owe you for your service at Agincourt. We have ordered our chancellor to make out the deeds, and tomorrow you will receive them from him and take the oaths."
Guy knelt and kissed the hand that the king held out to him, and acknowledged the royal gift in fitting words. On the following day, after taking the oaths for his new possessions, he mounted, and the next day rode into Summerley. Here to his surprise he found the Count of Montepone, who had arrived, by way of Calais and Dover, a few days previously. He was suffering from a severe wound, and when Guy entered rose feebly from a chair by the fire, for it was now October and the weather was cold. His daughter was sitting beside him, and Lady Margaret was also in the room. Lord Eustace and Sir John Aylmer had met Guy as he dismounted below.
"So you have gone through another adventure and come out safely," the count said after Guy had greeted him. "Truly you have changed greatly since you left Paris, well-nigh three years ago. It was well that Maitre Leroux had the armour made big for you, for I see that it is now none too large. I too, you see, have been at war; but it was one in which there was small honour, though, as you see, with some risk, for it was a private duel forced upon me by one of the Armagnac knights. Up to that time my predictions had wrought me much profit and no harm. I had told Aquitaine and other lords who consulted me that disaster would happen when the French army met the English. That much I read in the stars. And though, when Henry marched north from Harfleur with so small a following, it seemed to me that victory could scarce attend him against the host of France, I went over my calculations many times and could not find that I had made an error. It was owing greatly to my predictions that the duke readily gave way when the great lords persuaded him not to risk his life in the battle.
"Others whom I had warned went to their death, in some cases because they disbelieved me, in others because they preferred death to the dishonour of drawing back. One of the latter, on the eve of the battle, confided to a hot-headed knight in his following that I had foretold his death; and instead of quarrelling with the stars, the fool seemed to think that I had controlled them, and was responsible for his lord's death. So when in Paris some months since, he publicly insulted me, and being an Italian noble as well as an astrologer, I fought him the next day. I killed him, but not before I received a wound that laid me up for months, and from which I have not yet fairly recovered. While lying in Paris I decided upon taking a step that I had for some time been meditating. I could, when Katarina left Paris with your lady, have well gone with her, with ample means to live in comfort and to furnish her with a fortune not unfitted to her rank as my daughter.
"During the past three years the reputation I gained by my success in saving the lives of several persons of rank, increased so rapidly that money has flowed into my coffers beyond all belief. There was scarcely a noble of the king's party who had not consulted me, and since Agincourt the Duke of Aquitaine and many others took no step whatever without coming to me. But I am weary of the everlasting troubles of which I can see no end, and assuredly the aspect of the stars affords no ground for hope that they will terminate for years; therefore, I have determined to leave France, and to practise my art henceforth solely for my own pleasure, I shall open negotiations with friends in Mantua, to see whether, now that twelve years have elapsed since I had to fly, matters cannot be arranged with my enemies; much can often be done when there are plenty of funds wherewith to smooth away difficulties. Still, that is in the future. My first object in coming to England was to see how my daughter was faring, and to enjoy a period of rest and quiet while my wound was healing, which it has begun to do since I came here. I doubted on my journey, which has been wholly performed in a litter, whether I should arrive here alive."
"And now, father," Katarina said, "let us hear what Sir Guy has been doing since he left; we have been all full of impatience since the news came four days ago that the Duke of Bedford had destroyed a great fleet of French, Spanish, and Genoese ships."
"Guy has had his share of fighting, at any rate," Lord Eustace said, as he entered the room while the girl was speaking, "for fifteen of our men have fallen; and, as Long Tom tells me, they had hot work of it, and gained much credit by capturing single-handed a great French ship."
"Yes, we were fortunate," Guy said, "in falling across the ship of the French admiral, Count de Valles. Our men all fought stoutly, and the archers having cleared the way for us and slain many of their crew, we captured them, and I hold the count and five French knights to ransom."
"That will fill your purse rarely, Guy. But let us hear more of this fighting. De Valles's ship must have been a great one, and if you took it with but your own sixty men it must have been a brilliant action."
Guy then gave a full account of the fight, and of the subsequent capture of one of the Spanish carracks with the aid of another English ship.
"If the Duke of Bedford himself came on board," Lord Eustace said, "and sent you some reinforcements, he must have thought highly of the action; indeed he cannot but have done so, or he would not have come personally on board. Did he speak to the king of it?"
"He did, and much more strongly, it seems to me, than the affair warranted, for at the banquet the day before yesterday his majesty was graciously pleased to appoint me a knight-banneret, and to bestow upon me the estates of Penshurst, adding thereto the royal manors of Stoneham and Piverley."
"A right royal gift!" Lord Eustace said, while exclamations of pleasure broke from the others.
"I congratulate you on your new honour, which you have right worthily earned. Sir John, you may well be proud of this son of yours."
"I am so, indeed," Sir John Aylmer said heartily. "I had hoped well of the lad, but had not deemed that he would mount so rapidly. Sir Richard Fulk had a fine estate, and joined now to the two manors it will be as large as those of Summerley, even with its late additions."
"I am very glad," Dame Margaret said, "that the king has apportioned you an estate so near us, for it is scarce fifteen miles to Penshurst, and it will be but a morning ride for you to come hither."
"Methinks, wife," Lord Eustace said with a smile, "we were somewhat hasty in that matter of Sir William Bailey, for had we but waited Agnes might have done better."
"She chose for herself," Dame Margaret replied with an answering smile. "I say not that in my heart I had not hoped at one time that she and Guy might have come together, for I had learnt to love him almost as if he had been my own, and would most gladly have given Agnes to him had it been your wish as well as theirs; but I have seen for some time past that it was not to be, for they were like brother and sister to each other, and neither had any thought of a still closer relation. Had it not been so I should never have favoured Sir William Bailey's suit, though indeed he is a worthy young man, and Agnes is happy with him. You have not been to your castle yet, Guy?" she asked, suddenly changing the subject.
"No, indeed, Lady Margaret, I rode straight here from London, deeming this, as methinks that I shall always deem it, my home."
"We must make up a party to ride over and see it to-morrow," Lord Eustace said. "We will start early, wife, and you and Katarina can ride with us. Charlie will of course go, and Sir John. We could make a horse-litter for the count, if he thinks he could bear the journey.
"Methinks that I had best stay quietly here," the Italian said. "I have had enough of litters for a time, and the shaking might make my wound angry again."
"Nonsense, child!" he broke off as Katarina whispered that she would stay with him; "I need no nursing now; you shall ride with the rest."
Accordingly the next day the party started early. Charlie was in high spirits; he had grown into a sturdy boy, and was delighted at the good fortune that had befallen Guy, whom he had regarded with boundless admiration since the days in Paris. Katarina was in one of her silent moods, and rode close to Lady Margaret. Long Tom, who was greatly rejoiced on hearing of the honours and estates that had been bestowed on Guy, rode with two of his comrades in the rear of the party. Penshurst was a strong castle, though scarcely equal in size to Summerley; it was, however, a more comfortable habitation, having been altered by the late owner's father, who had travelled in Italy, with a view rather to the accommodation of its inmates than its defence, and had been furnished with many articles of luxury rare in England.
"A comfortable abode truly, Guy!" his father said. "It was well enough two hundred years since, when the country was unsettled, for us to pen ourselves up within walls, but there is little need of it now in England, although in France, where factions are constantly fighting against each other, it is well that every man should hold himself secure from attack. But now that cannon are getting to so great a point of perfection, walls are only useful to repel sudden attacks, and soon crumble when cannon can be brought against them. Me thinks the time will come when walls will be given up altogether, especially in England, where the royal power is so strong that nobles can no longer war with each other."
"However, Guy," Lord Eustace said, "'tis as well at present to have walls, and strong ones; and though I say not that this place is as strong as Villeroy, it is yet strong enough to stand a siege."
Guy spent an hour with the steward, who had been in charge of the castle since the death of Sir Richard Fulk, and who had the day before heard from a royal messenger that Sir Guy had been appointed lord of the estates. The new owner learned from him much about the extent of the feu, the number of tenants, the strength that he would be called upon to furnish in case of war, and the terms on which the vassals held their tenure.
"Your force will be well-nigh doubled," the steward said in conclusion, "since you tell me that the manors of Stoneham and Piverley have also fallen to you."
"'Tis a fair country," Guy said as the talk ended, "and one could wish for no better. I shall return to Summerley to-day, but next Monday I will come over here and take possession, and you can bid the tenants, and those also of the two manors, to come hither and meet me at two o'clock."
"Well, daughter," the Count of Montepone said to Katarina as she was sitting by his couch in the evening, "so you think that Penshurst is a comfortable abode?"
"Yes, father, the rooms are brighter and lighter than these and the walls are all hung with arras and furnished far more comfortably."
"Wouldst thou like to be its mistress, child?"
A bright flush of colour flooded the girl's face.
"Dost mean it, father?" she asked in a voice hardly above a whisper.
"Why not, child? You have seen much of this brave young knight, whom, methinks, any maiden might fall in love with. Art thou not more sensible to his merits than was Mistress Agnes?"
"He saved my life, father."
"That did he, child, and at no small risk to his own: Then do I understand that such a marriage would be to your liking?"
"Yes, father," she said frankly, "but I know not that it would be to Sir Guy's."
"That is for me to find out," he said. "I asked Lady Margaret a few days ago what she thought of the young knight's inclinations, and she told me that she thought indeed he had a great liking for you, but that in truth you were so wayward that you gave him but little chance of showing it."
"How could I let him see that I cared for him, father, when I knew not for certain that he thought aught of me, and moreover, I could not guess what your intentions for me might be."
"I should not have sent you where you would often be in his company, Katarina, unless I had thought the matter over deeply. It was easy to foresee that after the service he had rendered you you would think well of him, and that, thrown together as you would be, it was like enough that you should come to love each other. I had cast your horoscope and his and found that you would both be married about the same time, though I could not say that it would be to each other. I saw enough of him during that time in Paris to see that he was not only brave, but prudent and discreet. I saw, too, from his affection to his mistress, that he would be loyal and honest in all he undertook, that it was likely that he would rise to honour, and that above all I could assuredly trust your happiness to him. He was but a youth and you a girl, but he was bordering upon manhood and you upon womanhood. I marked his manner with his lady's daughter and saw that she would be no rival to you. Had it been otherwise I should have yielded to your prayers, and have kept you with me in France. Matters have turned out according to my expectation. I can give you a dowry that any English noble would think an ample one with his bride; and though Guy is now himself well endowed he will doubtless not object to such an addition as may enable him, if need be, to place in the field a following as large as that which many of the great nobles are bound to furnish to their sovereign. I will speak to him on the subject to-morrow, Katarina."
Accordingly, the next morning at breakfast the count told Guy that there was a matter on which he wished to consult him, and the young knight remained behind when the other members of the family left the room to carry out their avocations.
"Hast thought of a mistress for your new castle, Sir Guy?" the count began abruptly.
Guy started at the sudden question, and did not reply at once.
"I have thought of one, Count," he said; "but although, so for, all that you told me long ago in Paris has come true, and fortune has favoured me wonderfully, in this respect she has not been kind, for the lady cares not for me, and I would not take a wife who came not to me willingly."
"How know you that she cares not for you?" the count asked.
"Because I have eyes and ears, Count. She thinks me but a boy, and a somewhat ill-mannered one. She mocks me when I try to talk to her, shuns being left alone with me, and in all ways shows that she has no inclination towards me, but very much the contrary."
"Have you asked her straightforwardly?" the count inquired with a smile.
"No, I should only be laughed at for my pains, and it would take more courage than is required to capture a great French ship for me to put the matter to her."
"I fancy, Sir Guy, that you are not greatly versed in female ways. A woman defends herself like a beleaguered fortress. She makes sorties and attacks, she endeavours to hide her weakness by her bravados, and when she replies most disdainfully to a summons to capitulate, is perhaps on the eve of surrender. To come to the point, then, are you speaking of my daughter?"
"I am, Sir Count," Guy said frankly. "I love her, but she loves me not, and there is an end of it. 'Tis easy to understand that, beautiful as she is, she should not give a thought to me who, at the best, can only claim to be a stout man-at-arms; as for my present promotion, I know that it goes for nothing in her eyes."
"It may be as you say, Sir Guy; but tell me, as a soldier, before you gave up the siege of a fortress and retired would you not summon it to surrender?"
"I should do so," Guy replied with a smile.
"Then it had better be so in this case, Sir Guy. You say that you would willingly marry my daughter. I would as willingly give her to you. The difficulty then lies with the maiden herself, and it is but fair to you both that you should yourself manfully ask her decision in the matter."
He went out of the room, and returned in a minute leading Katarina. "Sir Guy has a question to ask you, daughter," he said; "I pray you to answer him frankly." He then led her to a seat, placed her there and left the room.
Guy felt a greater inclination to escape by another door than he had ever felt to fly in the hour of danger, but after a pause he said:
"I will put the question, Katarina, since your father would have me do it, though I know well enough beforehand what the answer will be. I desire above all things to have you for a wife, and would give you a true and loyal affection were you willing that it should be so, but I feel only too well that you do not think of me as I do of you. Still, as it is your father's wish that I should take your answer from your lips, and as, above all things, I would leave it in your hands without any constraint from him, I ask you whether you love me as one should love another before plighting her faith to him?"
"Why do you say that you know what my answer will be, Guy? Would you have had me show that I was ready to drop like a ripe peach into your mouth before you opened it? Why should I not love you? Did you not save my life? Were you not kind and good to me even in the days when I was more like a boy than a girl? Have you not since with my humours? I will answer your question as frankly as my father bade me." She rose now. "Take my hand, Guy, for it is yours. I love and honour you, and could wish for no better or happier lot than to be your wife. Had you asked me six months ago I should have said the same, save that I could not have given you my hand until I had my father's consent."
During the next month Guy spent most of his time at Penshurst getting everything in readiness for its mistress. Lord Eustace advanced him the monies that he was to receive for the ransoms of Count de Valles and the five knights, and the week before the wedding he went up with the Count of Montepone to London, and under his advice bought many rich hangings and pieces of rare furniture to beautify the private apartments. The count laid out a still larger sum of money on Eastern carpets and other luxuries, as well as on dresses and other matters for his daughter. On jewels he spent nothing, having already, he said, "a sufficient store for the wife of a royal duke."
On his return Guy called upon the king at his palace at Winchester, and Henry declared that he himself would ride to Summerley to be present at the wedding.
"You stood by me," he said, "in the day of battle, it is but right that I should stand by you on your wedding-day. Her father will, of course, give her away, and it is right that he should do so, seeing that she is no ward of mine; but I will be your best man. I will bring with me but a small train, for I would not inconvenience the Baron of Summerley and his wife, and I will not sleep at the castle; though I do not say that I will not stay to tread a measure with your fair bride."
Two days later a train of waggons was seen approaching Summerley; they. were escorted by a body of men-at-arms with two officers of the king. Lord Eustace, in some surprise, rode out to meet them, and was informed that the king had ordered them to pitch a camp near the castle for himself and his knights, and that he intended to tarry there for the night. As soon as the waggons were unloaded the attendants and men-at-arms set to work, and in a short time the royal tent and six smaller ones were erected and fitted with their furniture. Other tents were put up a short distance away for the grooms and attendants. This greatly relieved Lady Margaret, for she had wondered where she could bestow the king and his knights if, at the last moment, he determined to sleep there.
For the next three days the castle was alive with preparations. Oxen and swine were slaughtered, vast quantities of game, geese, and poultry were brought in, two stags from the royal preserves at Winchester were sent over by the king, and the rivers for miles round were netted for fish. At ten o'clock Guy rode in with fifty mounted men, the tenants of Penshurst, Stoneham, and Piverley, and these and all the tenants of Summerley rode out under Lord Eustace and Guy to meet the king. They had gone but a mile when he and his train rode up. He had with him the Earl of Dorset and five of the nobles who had fought at Agincourt and were all personally acquainted with Guy. The church at Summerley was a large one, but it was crowded as it had never been before. The king and his nobles stood on one side of the altar, while Lord Eustace, his wife, Agnes, and Charlie were on the other. Guy's tenants occupied the front seats, while the rest of the church was filled by the tenants of Summerley, their wives and daughters, and the retainers of the castle, among them Long Tom, with his pretty wife beside him. When everything was in order the Count of Montepone entered the church with his daughter, followed by the six prettiest maidens on the Summerley estate.
"In truth, Sir Guy," the king whispered as the bride and her father came up the aisle, "your taste is as good in love as your arms are strong in war, for my eyes never fell on a fairer maid."
After the ceremony there was a great banquet in the hall, while all the tenants, with their wives and families, sat down to long tables spread in the court-yard. After the meal was over and the tables removed, the king and the party in the banqueting-hall went out on the steps and were received with tremendous cheering. Guy first returned thanks for himself and his bride for the welcome that they had given him, and then, to the delight of the people, the king stepped forward.
"Good people," he said, "among whom there are, I know, some who fought stoutly with us at Agincourt, you do well to shout loudly at the marriage of this brave young knight, who was brought up among you, and who has won by his valour great credit, and our royal favour. Methinks that he has won, also, a prize in his eyes even greater than the honours that we have bestowed upon him, and I doubt not that, should occasion occur, he will win yet higher honours in our service."
A great shout of "God bless the king!" went up from the assembly. Then the party returned to the hall, while casks of wine were broached in the court-yard. As Lord Eustace had sent for a party of musicians from Winchester, first some stately dances were performed in the hall, as many as could find room being allowed to come into it to witness them. The king danced the first measure with Katarina, the Earl of Dorset led out Lady Margaret, and Guy danced with Lady Agnes, while the other nobles found partners among the ladies who had come in from the neighbourhood. After a few dances the party adjourned to the court-yard, where games of various kinds, dancing and feasting were kept up until a late hour, when the king and his companions retired to their tents. At an early hour next morning the king and his retinue rode back to Winchester.
Until he signed the marriage contract before going to the church, Guy was altogether ignorant of the dowry that Katarina was to bring, and was astonished at the very large sum of money, besides the long list of jewels, entered in it.
"She will have as much more at my death," the count said quietly; "there is no one else who has the slightest claim upon me."
Consequently, in the course of the wars with France, Guy was able to put a contingent of men-at-arms and archers, far beyond the force his feudal obligations required, in the field. Long Tom was, at his own request, allowed by his lord to exchange his small holding for a larger one at Penshurst, and always led Guy's archers in the wars.
Sir John Aylmer remained at Summerley, refusing Guy's pressing invitation to take up his abode at Penshurst. "No, lad," he said; "Lord Eustace and I have been friends and companions for many years, and Lady Margaret has been very dear to me from her childhood. Both would miss me sorely did I leave them, the more so as Agnes is now away. Moreover, it is best that you and your fair wife should be together also for a time. 'Tis best in all respects. You are but two hours' easy riding from Summerley, and I shall often be over to see you."
Four years after his marriage the king promoted Guy to the rank of Baron of Penshurst, and about the same time the Count of Montepone, who had been for some months in Italy, finding that his enemies at Mantua were still so strong that he was unable to obtain a reversal of the decree of banishment that had been passed against him, returned to Penshurst.
"I have had more than enough of wandering, and would fain settle down here, Guy, if you will give me a chamber for myself, and one for my instruments. I shall need them but little henceforth, but they have become a part of myself and, though no longer for gain, I love to watch the stars, and to ponder on their lessons; and when you ride to the wars I shall be company for Katarina, who has long been used to my society alone, and I promise you that I will no longer employ her as my messenger."
Once established at Penshurst the count employed much of his time in beautifying the castle, spending money freely in adding to the private apartments, and decorating and furnishing them in the Italian style, until they became the wonder and admiration of all who visited them. In time he took upon himself much of the education of Katarina's children, and throughout a long life Guy never ceased to bless the day when he and Dame Margaret were in danger of their lives at the hands of the White Hoods of Paris.