Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

A MONK OF FIFE
A Romance of the Days of Jeanne D'Arc - Joan of Arc
by Andrew Lang

CHAPTER XIV
OF THE FIGHTING AT THE BRIDGE, AND OF THE
PRIZE WON BY NORMAN LESLIE FROM THE RIVER

On that night I slept soft, and woke oft, being utterly foredone. In the grey dawn I awoke, and gave a little cough, when, lo! there came a hot sweet gush into my mouth, and going to the window, I saw that I was spitting of blood, belike from my old wound. It is a strange thing that, therewith, a sickness came over me, and a cold fit as of fear, though fear I had felt none where men met in heat of arms. None the less, seeing that to-day, or never, I was to be made or marred, I spoke of the matter neither to man nor woman, but drinking a long draught of very cold water, I spat some deal more, and then it stanched, and I armed me and sat down on my bed.

My thoughts, as I waited for the first stir in the house, were not glad. Birds were singing in the garden trees; all else was quiet, as if men were not waking to slay each other and pass unconfessed to their account. There came on me a great sickness of war. Yesterday the boulevard of Les Augustins, when the fight was over, had been a shambles; white bodies that had been stripped of their armour lay here and there like sheep on a hillside, and were now smirched with dust, a thing unseemly. I put it to myself that I was engaged, if ever man was, in a righteous quarrel, fighting against cruel oppression; and I was under the protection of one sent, as I verily believed, by Heaven.

But blood runs tardy in the cold dawn; my thoughts were chilled, and I deemed, to speak sooth, that I carried my death within me, from my old wound, and, even if unhurt, could scarce escape out of that day's labour and live. I said farewell to life and the sun, in my own mind, and to Elliot, thinking of whom, with what tenderness she had nursed me, and of her mirth and pitiful heart, I could scarce forbear from weeping. Of my brother also I thought, and in death it seemed to me that we could scarcely be divided. Then my thought went back to old days of childhood at Pitcullo, old wanderings by Eden banks, old kindness and old quarrels, and I seemed to see a vision of a great tree, growing alone out of a little mound, by my father's door, where Robin and I would play "Willie Wastle in his castle," for that was our first manner of holding a siege. A man- at-arms has little to make with such fancies, and well I wot that Randal Rutherford troubled himself therewith in no manner. But now there came an iron footstep on the stairs, and the Maid's voice rang clear, and presently there arose the sound of hammers on rivets, and all the din of men saddling horses and sharpening swords, so I went forth to join my company.

Stiff and sore was I, and felt as if I could scarce raise my sword- arm; but the sight of the Maid, all gleaming in her harness, and clear of voice, and swift of deed, like St. Michael when he marshalled his angels against the enemies of heaven, drove my brooding thoughts clean out of mind. The sun shone yellow and slanting down the streets; out of the shadow of the minster came the bells, ringing for war. The armed townsfolk thronged the ways, and one man, old and ill-clad, brought to the Maid a great fish which he had caught overnight in the Loire. Our host prayed her to wait till it should be cooked, that she might breakfast well, for she had much to do. Yet she, who scarce seemed to live by earthly meat, but by the will of God, took only a sop of bread dipped in wine, and gaily leaping to her selle and gathering the reins, as a lady bound for a hunting where no fear was, she cried, "Keep the fish for supper, when I will bring back a goddon {25} prisoner to eat his part. And to-night, gentle sir, my host, I will return by the bridge!"--which, as we deemed, might in no manner be, for an arch of the bridge was broken. Thereon we all mounted, and rode down to the Burgundy gate, the women watching us, and casting flowers before the Maiden. But when we won the gate, behold, it was locked, and two ranks of men- at-arms, with lances levelled, wearing the colours of the Sieur de Gaucourt, were drawn up before it. That lord himself, in harness, but bare-headed, stood before his men, and cried, "Hereby is no passage. To-day the captains give command that no force stir from the town."

"To-day," quoth the Maid, "shall we take Les Tourelles, and to- morrow not a goddon, save prisoners and slain men, shall be within three leagues of Orleans. Gentle sir, bid open the gate, for to-day have I work to do."

Thereat Gaucourt shook his head, and from the multitude of townsfolk rose one great angry shout. They would burn the gate, they cried; they would fire the town, but they would follow the Maid and the guidance of the saints.

Thereon stones began to fly, and arbalests were bended, till the Maid turned, and, facing the throng, her banner lifted as in anger -

"Back, my good friends and people of Orleans," she said, "back and open the postern door in the great tower on the river wall. By one way or another shall I meet the English this day, nor shall might of man prevent me."

Then many ran back, and soon came the cry that the postern was opened, and thither streamed the throng. Therefore Gaucourt saw well that an onslaught would verily be made; moreover, as a man wise in war, he knew that the townsfolk, that day, would be hard to hold, and would go far. So he even yielded, not ungraciously, and sending a messenger to the Bastard and the captains, he rode forth from the Burgundy Gate by the side of the Maid. He was, indeed, little minded to miss his part of the honour; nor were the other captains more backward, for scarce had we taken boat and reached the farther bank, when we saw the banners of the Bastard and La Hire, Florent d'Illiers and Xaintrailles, Chambers and Kennedy, above the heads of the armed men who streamed forth by the gate of Burgundy. Less orderly was no fight ever begun, but the saints were of our party. It was the wise manner of the Maid to strike swift, blow upon blow, each stroke finding less resistance among the enemy, that had been used to a laggard war, for then it was the manner of captains to dally for weeks or months round a town, castle, or other keep, and the skill was to starve the enemy. But the manner of the Maid was ever to send cloud upon cloud of men to make escalade by ladders, their comrades aiding them from under cover with fire of couleuvrines and bows. Even so fought that famed Knight of Brittany, Sir Bertrand du Guesclin. But he was long dead, and whether the Maid (who honoured his memory greatly) fought as she did through his example, or by direct teaching of the saints, I know not.

If disorderly we began, the fault was soon amended; they who had beleaguered the boulevard all night were set in the rear, to rest out of shot; the fresh men were arrayed under their banners, in vineyards and under the walls of fields, so that if one company was driven back another was ready to come on, that the English might have no repose from battle.

Now, the manner of the boulevard was this: first, there was a strong palisade, and many men mustered within it; then came a wide, deep, dry fosse; then a strong wall of earth, bound in with withes and palisaded, and within it the gate of the boulevard. When that was won, and the boulevard taken, men defending it might flee across a drawbridge, over a stream, narrow and deep and swift, into Les Tourelles itself. Here they were safe from them on the side of Orleans, by reason of the broken arch of the bridge. So strong was this tower, that Monseigneur the Duc d'Alencon, visiting it later, said he could have staked his duchy on his skill to hold it for a week at least, with but few men, against all the forces in France. The captain of the English was that Glasdale who had reviled the Maid, and concerning whom she had prophesied that he should die without stroke of sword. There was no fiercer squire in England, and his men were like himself, being picked and chosen for that post; moreover their backs were at the wall, for the French and Scots once within the boulevard, it was in nowise easy for Talbot to bring the English a rescue, as was seen.

The battle began with shooting of couleuvrines at the palisade, to weaken it, and it was marvel to see how the Maid herself laid the guns, as cunningly as her own countryman, the famed Lorrainer. Now, when there was a breach in the palisade, Xaintrailles led on his company, splendid in armour, for he was a very brave young knight. We saw the pales fall with a crash, and the men go in, and heard the cry of battle; but slowly, one by one, they staggered back, some falling, some reeling wounded, and rolling their bodies out of arrow-shot. And there, in the breach, shone the back-plate of Xaintrailles, his axe falling and rising, and not one foot he budged, till the men of La Hire, with a cry, broke in to back him, and after a little space, swords fell and rose no more, but we saw the banners waving of Xaintrailles and La Hire. Soon the side of the palisade towards us was all down, as if one had swept it flat with his hand, but there stood the earthen wall of the boulevard, beyond the fosse. Then, all orderly, marched forth a band of men in the colours of Florent d'Illiers, bearing scaling-ladders, and so began the escalade, their friends backing them by shooting of arbalests from behind the remnant of the palisade. A ladder would be set against the wall, and we could see men with shields, or doors, or squares of wood on their heads to fend off stones, swarm up it, and axes flashing on the crest of the wall, and arrows flying, and smoke of guns: but the smoke cleared, and lo! the ladder was gone, and the three libbards grinned on the flag of England. So went the war, company after company staggering thinned from the fosse, and re-forming behind the cover of the vineyards; company after company marching forth, fresh and glorious, to fare as their friends had fared. And ever, with each company, went the Maid at their head, and D'Aulon, she crying that the place was theirs and now was the hour! But the day went by, till the sun turned in heaven towards evening, and no more was done. The English, in sooth, showed no fear nor faint heart; with axe, and sword, and mace, and with their very hands they smote and grappled with the climbers, and I saw a tall man, his sword being broken, strike down a French knight with his mailed fist, and drag another from a ladder and take him captive. Boldly they showed themselves on the crest, running all risk of our arrows, as our men did of theirs.

Now came the Scots, under Kennedy. A gallant sight it was to see them advance, shoulder to shoulder--Scots of the Marches and the Lennox, Fife, Argyll, and the Isles, all gentlemen born.

"Come on!" cried Randal Rutherford. "Come on, men of the Marches, Scots of the Forest, Elliots, Rutherfords, Armstrongs, and deem that, wheresoever a Southron slinks behind a stone, there is Carlisle wall!"

The Rough Clan roared "Bellenden!" the Buchanans cried "Clare Innis," a rag of a hairy Highlander from the Lennox blew a wild skirl on the war-pipes, and hearing the Border slogan shouted in a strange country, nom Dieu! my blood burned, as that of any Scotsman would. Contrary to the Maid's desire, for she had noted that I was wan and weary, and had commanded me to bide in cover, I cried "A Leslie! a Leslie!" and went forward with my own folk, sword in hand and buckler lifted.

Beside good Randal Rutherford I ran, and we both leaped together into the ditch. There was a forest of ladders set against the wall, and I had my foot on a rung, when the Maid ran up and cried, "Nom Dieu! what make you here? Let me lead my Scots"; and so, pennon and axe in her left hand, she lightly leaped on the ladder, and arrows ringing on her mail, and a great stone glancing harmless from her salade, she so climbed that my lady's face on the pennon above her looked down into the English keep.

But, even then, I saw a face at an archere, an ill face and fell, the wolf's eyes of Brother Thomas glancing along the stock of an arbalest.

"Gardez-vous, Pucelle, gardez-vous!" I cried in her ear, for I was next her on the ladder; but a bolt whistled and smote her full, and reeling, she fell into my arms.

I turned my back to guard her, and felt a bolt strike my back-piece; then we were in the fosse, and all the Scots that might be were between her and harm. Swiftly they bore her out of the fray, into a little green vineyard, where was a soft grassy ditch. But the English so cried their hurrah, that it was marvel, and our men gave back in fear; and had not the Bastard come up with a fresh company, verify we might well have been swept into the Loire.

Some while I remained with Rutherford, Kennedy, and many others, for what could we avail to help the Maid? and to run has an ill look, and gives great heart to an enemy. Moreover, that saying of the Maid came into my mind, that she should be smitten of a bolt, but not unto death. So I even abode by the fosse, and having found an arbalest, my desire was to win a chance of slaying Brother Thomas, wherefore I kept my eyes on that archere whence he had shot. But no arbalest was pointed thence, and the fight flagged. On both sides men were weary, and they took some meat as they might, no ladders being now set on the wall.

Then I deemed it no harm to slip back to the vineyard where the Maid lay, and there I met the good Father Pasquerel, that was her confessor. He told me that now she was quiet, either praying or asleep, for he had left her as still as a babe in its cradle, her page watching her. The bolt had sped by a rivet of her breast- piece, clean through her breast hard below the shoulder, and it stood a hand-breadth out beyond. Then she had wept and trembled, seeing her own blood; but presently, with such might and courage as was marvel, she had dragged out the bolt with her own hands. Then they had laid on the wound cotton steeped with olive oil, for she would not abide that they should steep the bolt with weapon salve and charm the hurt with a song, as the soldiers desired. Then she had confessed herself to Pasquerel, and so had lain down among the grass and the flowers. But it was Pasquerel's desire to let ferry her across secretly to Orleans. This was an ill hearing for me, yet it was put about in the army that the Maid had but taken a slight scratch, and again would lead us on, a thing which I well deemed to be impossible. So the day waxed late, and few onslaughts were made, and these with no great heart, the English standing on the walls and openly mocking us.

They asked how it went with the Maid, and whether she would not fain be at home among her kine, or in the greasy kitchen? We would cry back, and for my own part I bade them seek the kitchen as pock- puddings and belly-gods, and that I cried in their own tongue, while they, to my great amaze, called me "prentice boy" and "jackanapes." Herein I saw the craft and devilish enmity of Brother Thomas, and well I guessed that he had gotten sight of me; but his face I saw not.

Ill names break no bones, and arrows from under cover wrought slight scathe; so one last charge the Bastard commanded, and led himself, and a sore tussle there was that time on the wall-crest, one or two of our men leaping into the fort, whence they came back no more.

Now it was eight hours of the evening, the sky grey, the men out- worn and out of all heart, and the captains were gathered in council. Of this I conceived the worst hope, for after a counsel men seldom fight. So I watched the fort right sullenly, and the town of Orleans looking black against a red, lowering sky in the west. Some concourse of townsfolk I saw on the bridge, beside the broken arch, and by the Boulevard Belle Croix; but I deemed that they had only come to see the fray as near as might be. Others were busy under the river wall with a great black boat, belike to ferry over the horses from our side.

All seemed ended, and I misdoubted that we would scarce charge again so briskly in the morning, nay, we might well have to guard our own gates.

As I sat thus, pondering by the vineyard ditch, the Maid stood by me suddenly. Her helmet was off, her face deadly white, her eyes like two stars.

"Bring me my horse," she said, so sternly that I crushed the answer on my lips, and the prayer that she would risk herself no more.

Her horse, that had been cropping the grass near him happily enough, I found, and brought to her, and so, with some ado, she mounted and rode at a foot's pace to the little crowd of captains.

"Maiden, ma mie," said the Bastard. "Glad I am to see you able to mount. We have taken counsel to withdraw for this night. Martin," he said to his trumpeter, "sound the recall."

"I pray you, sir," she said very humbly, "grant me but a little while"; and so saying, she withdrew alone from the throng of men into the vineyard.

What passed therein I know not and no man knows; but in a quarter of an hour's space she came forth, like another woman, her face bright and smiling, her cheeks like the dawn, and so beautiful that we marvelled on her with reverence, as if we had seen an angel.

"The place is ours!" she cried again, and spurred towards the fosse. Thence her banner had never gone back, for D'Aulon held it there, to be a terror to the English. Even at that moment he had given it to a certain Basque, a very brave man, for he himself was out-worn with its weight. And he had challenged the Basque to do a vaillance, or boastful deed of arms, as yesterday I and the Spaniard had done. So D'Aulon leaped into the fosse, his shield up, defying the English; but the Basque did not follow, for the Maid, seeing her banner in the hands of a man whom she knew not, laid hold of it, crying, "Ha, mon estandart! mon estandart!"

There, as they struggled for it, the Basque being minded to follow D'Aulon to the wall foot, the banner wildly waved, and all men saw it, and rallied, and flocked amain to the rescue.

"Charge!" cried the Maid. "Forward, French and Scots; the place is yours, when once my banner fringe touches the wall!"

With that word the wind blew out the banner fringe, and so suddenly that, though I saw the matter, I scarce knew how it was done, the whole host swarmed up and on, ladders, lifted, and so furiously went they, that they won the wall crest and leaped within the fort. Then the more part of the English, adread, as I think, at the sight of the Maid whom they had deemed slain, fled madly over the drawbridge into Les Tourelles.

Then standing on the wall crest, whither I had climbed, I beheld strange sights. First, through the dimness of the dusk, I saw a man armed, walking as does a rope-dancer, balancing himself with his spear, across the empty air, for so it seemed, above the broken arch of the bridge. This appeared, in very sooth, to be a miracle; but, gazing longer, I saw that a great beam had been laid by them of Orleans to span the gap, and now other beams were being set, and many men, bearing torches, were following that good knight, Nicole Giresme, who first showed the way over such a bridge of dread. So now were the English in Les Tourelles between two fires.

Another strange sight I saw, for in that swift and narrow stream which the drawbridge spanned whereby the English fled was moored a great black barge, its stem and stern showing on either side of the bridge. Boats were being swiftly pulled forth from it into the stream, and as I gazed, there leaped up through the dark one long tongue of fire. Then I saw the skill of it, namely, to burn down the drawbridge, and so cut the English off from all succour. Fed with pitch and pine the flame soared lustily, and now it shone between the planks of the drawbridge. On the stone platform of the boulevard, wherein the drawbridge was laid, stood a few English, and above them shone the axe of a tall squire, Glasdale, as it fell on shield and helm of the French. Others held us at bay with long lances, and never saw I any knight do his devoir more fiercely than he who had reviled the Maid. For on his head lay all the blame of the taking of the boulevard. To rear of him rang the shouts of them of Orleans, who had crossed the broken arch by the beam; but he never turned about, and our men reeled back before him. Then there shone behind him the flames from the blazing barge; and so, black against that blaze, he smote and slew, not knowing that the drawbridge began to burn.

On this the Maid ran forth, and cried to him -

"Rends-toi, rends-toi! Yield thee, Glacidas; yield thee, for I stand in much sorrow for thy soul's sake."

Then, falling on her knees, her face shining transfigured in that fierce light, she prayed him thus -

"Ah! Glacidas, thou didst call me ribaulde, but I have sorrow for thy soul. Ah! yield thee, yield thee to ransom"; and the tears ran down her cheeks, as if a saint were praying for a soul in peril.

Not one word spoke Glasdale: he neither saw nor heard. But the levelled spears at his side flew up, a flame caught his crest, making a plume of fire, and with a curse he cast his axe among the throng, and the man who stood in front of it got his death. Glasdale turned about as he threw; he leaped upon the burning drawbridge, where the last of his men were huddled in flight, and lo! beneath his feet it crashed; down he plunged through smoke and flame, and the stream below surged up as bridge and flying men went under in one ruin.

The Maid gave a cry that rang above the roar of fire and water.

"Saints! will no man save him?" she shrieked, looking all around her on the faces of the French.

A mad thought leaped up in my mind.

"Unharness me!" I cried; and one who stood by me undid the clasps of my light jaseran. I saw a head unhelmeted, I saw a hand that clutched at a floating beam. I thought of the Maid's desire, and of the ransom of so great a squire as Glasdale, and then I threw my hands up to dive, and leaped head foremost into the water.

Deep down I plunged, and swam far under water, to avoid a stroke from floating timber, and then I rose and glanced up-stream. All the air was fiercely lit with the blaze of the burning barge; a hand and arm would rise, and fall ere I could seize it. A hand was thrown up before me, the glinting fingers gripping at empty air. I caught the hand, swimming strongly with the current, for so the man could not clutch at me, and if a drowning man can be held apart, it is no great skill to save him. In this art I was not unlearned, and once had even saved two men from a wrecked barque in the long surf of St. Andrews Bay. Save for a blow from some great floating timber, I deemed that I had little to fear; nay, now I felt sure of the Maid's praise and of a rich ransom.

A horn of bank with alder bushes ran out into the stream, a smooth eddy or backwater curling within. I caught a bough of alder, and, though nigh carried down by the drowning man's weight, I found bottom, yet hardly, and drew my man within the back-water. He lay like a log, his face in the stream. Pushing him before me, I rounded the horn, and, with much ado, dragged him up to a sloping gravelly beach, where I got his head on dry land, his legs being still in the water. I turned him over and looked eagerly. Lo! it was no Glasdale, but the drowned face of Brother Thomas!

Then something seemed to break in my breast; blood gushed from my mouth, and I fell on the sand and gravel. Footsteps I heard of men running to us. I lifted my hand faintly and waved it, and then I felt a hand on my face.



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