Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


Certain Scots that found me, weak and bleeding, by the riverside, were sent by the Maid, in hopes that I had saved Glasdale, whereas it was the accursed cordelier I had won from the water. What they did with him I knew not then, but me they laid on a litter, and so bore me to a boat, wherein they were ferrying our wounded men across to Orleans. The Maid herself, as she had foretold, returned by way of the bridge, that was all bright with moving torches, as our groaning company were rowed across the black water to a quay. Thence I was carried in a litter to our lodgings, and so got to bed, a physician doing what he might for me. A noisy night we passed, for I verily believe that no man slept, but all, after service held in the Church of St. Aignan, went revelling and drinking from house to house, and singing through the streets, as folk saved from utter destruction.

With daybreak fell a short silence; short or long, it seemed brief to me, who was now asleep at last, and I was rueful enough when a sound aroused me, and I found the Maid herself standing by my bedside, with one in the shadow behind her. The chamber was all darkling, lit only by a thread of light that came through the closed shutters of wood, and fell on her pale face. She was clad in a light jaseran of mail, because of her wound, and was plainly eager to be gone and about her business, that is, to meet the English in open field.

"Leslie, my friend," she said, in her sweet voice, "there were many brave men in the fight yesterday, but, in God's name, none did a braver deed than thou! Nay, speak not," she said, as I opened my lips to thank her, "for the leech that tended thee last night forbids it, on peril of thy very life. So I have brought thee here a sheet of fair paper, and a pen and horn of ink, that thou, being a clerk, mayst write what thou hast to say. Alas! such converse is not for me, who know not A from his brother B. But the saints who helped thee have rewarded thee beyond all expectation. Thou didst not save that unhappy Glacidas, whom God in His mercy forgive! but thou hast taken a goodlier prize--this holy man, that had been prisoner in the hands of the English."

Here she stood a little aside, and the thread of light shone on the fell face of Brother Thomas, lowering beneath his hood.

Then I would have spoken, leech or no leech, to denounce him, for the Maid had no memory of his face, and knew him not for the false friar taken at St. Loup. But she laid her mailed finger gently on my lips.

"Silence! Thou art my man-at-arms and must obey thy captain. This worthy friar hath been long in the holy company of the blessed Colette, and hath promised to bring me acquainted with that daughter of God. Ay, and he hath given to me, unworthy as I am, a kerchief which has touched her wonder-working hands. Almost I believe that it will heal thee by miracle, if the saints are pleased to grant it."

Herewith she drew a kerchief across my lips, and I began, being most eager to instruct her innocence as to this accursed man -

"Lady--" but alas! no miracle was wrought for a sinner like me. Howbeit I am inclined to believe that the kerchief was no saintly thing, and had never come near the body of the blessed Colette, but rather was a gift from one of the cordelier's light-o'-loves. Assuredly it was stained red with blood from my lungs ere I could utter two words.

The Maid stanched the blood, saying -

"Did I not bid thee to be silent? The saints forgive my lack of faith, whereby this blessed thing has failed to heal thee! And now I must be gone, to face the English in the field, if they dare to meet us, which, methinks, they will not do, but rather withdraw as speedily as they may. So now I leave thee with this holy man to be thy nurse-tender, and thou canst write to him concerning thy needs, for doubtless he is a clerk. Farewell!"

With that she was gone, and this was the last I saw of her for many a day.

Never have I known such a horror of fear as fell on me now, helpless and dumb, a sheep given over to the slaughter, in that dark chamber, which was wondrous lown, {26} alone with my deadly foe.

Never had any man more cause for dread, for I was weak, and to resist him was death. I was speechless, and could utter no voice that the people in the house might hear. As for mine enemy, he had always loathed and scorned me; he had a long account of vengeance to settle with me; and if--which was not to be thought of--he was minded to spare one that had saved his life, yet, for his own safety, he dared not. He had beguiled the Maid with his false tongue, and his face, not seen by her in the taking of St. Loup, she knew not. But he knew that I would disclose all the truth so soon as the Maid returned, wherefore he was bound to destroy me, which he would assuredly do with every mockery, cruelty, and torture of body and mind. Merely to think of him when he was absent was wont to make my flesh creep, so entirely evil beyond the nature of sinful mankind was this monster, and so set on working all kinds of mischief with greediness. Whether he had suffered some grievous wrong in his youth, which he spent his life in avenging on all folk, or whether, as I deem likely, he was the actual emissary of Satan, as the Maid was of the saints, I know not, and, as I lay there, had no wits left to consider of it. Only I knew that no more unavailing victim than I was ever so utterly in the power of a foe so deadly and terrible.

The Maid had gone, and all hope had gone with her. For a time that seemed unending mine enemy neither spoke nor moved, standing still in the chink of light, a devil where an angel had been.

There was silence, and I heard the Maid's iron tread pass down the creaking wooden stairs, and soon I heard the sound of singing birds, for my window looked out on the garden.

The steps ceased, and then there was a low grating laughter in the dark room, as if the devil laughed.

Brother Thomas moved stealthily to the door, and thrust in the wooden bolt. Then he sat him heavily down on my bed, and put his fiend's face close to mine, his eyes stabbing into my eyes. But I bit my lip, and stared right back into his yellow wolf's eyes, that shone like flames of the pit with evil and cruel thoughts.

So I lay, with that yellow light on me; and strength came strangely to me, and I prayed that, since die I must, I might at least gladden him with no sign of fear. When he found that he could not daunton me, he laughed again.

"Our chick of Pitcullo has picked up a spirit in the wars," he said; and turning his back on me, he leaned his face on his hand, and so sat thinking.

The birds of May sang in the garden; there was a faint shining of silver and green, from the apple-boughs and buds without, in the little chamber; and the hooded back of the cordelier was before me on my bed, like the shape of Death beside the Sick Man, in a picture. Now I did not even pray, I waited.

Doubtless he knew that no cruel thing which the devil could devise was more cruel than this suspense.

Then he turned about and faced me, grinning like a dog.

"These are good words," said he, "in that foolish old book they read to the faithful in the churches, 'Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord.' Ay, it is even too sweet a morsel for us poor Christian men, such as the lowly Brother Thomas of the Order of St. Francis. Nevertheless, I am minded to put my teeth in it"; and he bared his yellow dog's fangs at me, smiling like a hungry hound. "My sick brother," he went on, "both as one that has some science of leech- craft and as thy ghostly counsellor, it is my duty to warn thee that thou art now very near thine end. Nay, let me feel thy pulse"; and seizing my left wrist, he grasped it lightly in his iron fingers. "Now, ere I administer to thee thy due, as a Christian man, let me hear thy parting confession. But, alas! as the blessed Maid too truly warned thee, thou must not open thy poor lips in speech. There is death in a word! Write, then, write the story of thy sinful life, that I may give thee absolution."

So saying, he opened the shutter, and carefully set the paper and inkhorn before me, putting the pen in my fingers.

"Now, write what I shall tell thee"; and here he so pressed and wrung my wrist that his fingers entered into my living flesh with a fiery pang. I writhed, but I did not cry.


"I, Norman Leslie of Pitcullo--" and, to escape that agony, I wrote as he bade me.

"--being now in the article of death--"

And I wrote.

"--do attest on my hope of salvation--" And I wrote.

"--and do especially desire Madame Jeanne, La Pucelle, and all Frenchmen and Scots loyal to our Sovereign Lord the Dauphin, to accept my witness, that Brother Thomas, of the Order of St. Francis, called Noiroufle while of the world, has been most falsely and treacherously accused by me--"

I wrote, but I wrote not his false words, putting my own in their place--"has been most truly and righteously accused by me--"

"--of divers deeds of black treason, and dealing with our enemies of England, against our Lord the Dauphin, and the Maid, the Sister of the Saints, and of this I heartily repent me,--"

But I wrote, "All which I maintain--"

"--as may God pardon my sins, on the faith of a sinful and dying man."

"Now sign thy name, and that of thy worshipful cabbage-garden and dunghill in filthy Scotland." So I signed, "Norman Leslie, the younger, of Pitcullo," and added the place, Orleans, with the date of day and year of our Lord, namely, May the eighth, fourteen hundred and twenty-nine.

"A very laudable confession," quoth Brother Thomas; "would that all the sinners whom I have absolved, as I am about to absolve thee, had cleansed and purged their sinful souls as freely. And now, my brother, read aloud to me this scroll; nay, methinks it is ill for thy health to speak or read. A sad matter is this, for, in faith, I have forgotten my clergy myself, and thou mayst have beguiled me by inditing other matter than I have put into thy lying mouth. Still, where the safety of a soul is concerned, a few hours more or less of this vain, perishable life weigh but as dust in the balance."

Here he took from about his hairy neck a heavy Italian crucifix of black wood, whereon was a figure of our Lord, wrought in white enamel, with golden nails, and a golden crown of thorns.

"Now read," he whispered, heaving up the crucifix above me. And as he lifted it, a bright blade, strong, narrow, and sharp, leaped out from beneath the feet of our Lord, and glittered within an inch of my throat. An emblem of this false friar it was, the outside of whom was as that of a holy man, while within he was a murdering sword.

"Read!" he whispered again, pricking my throat with the dagger's point.

Then I read aloud, and as I read I was half choked with my blood, and now and then was stopped; but still he cried -

"Read, and if one word is wrong, thine absolution shall come all the swifter."

So I read, and, may I be forgiven if I sinned in deceiving one so vile! I uttered not what I had written, but what he had bidden me to write.

"I, Norman Leslie of Pitcullo, being now in the article of death, do attest on my hope of salvation, and do especially desire Madame Jeanne, La Pucelle, and all Frenchmen and Scots loyal to our Sovereign Lord the Dauphin, to accept my witness that Brother Thomas, of the Order of St. Francis, called Noiroufle while of the world, has been most falsely and treacherously accused by me of divers deeds of black treason, and dealing with our enemies of England, against our Lord the Dauphin, and the Maid, the Sister of the Saints, and of this I heartily repent me, as may God pardon my sins, on the faith of a sinful and dying man. Signed, at Orleans, Norman Leslie, the younger, of Pitcullo, this eighth of May, in the year of our Lord fourteen hundred and twenty-nine."

When I had ended, he took away his blasphemous dagger-point from my throat.

"Very clerkly read," he spake, "and all runs smooth; methinks myself had been no poor scribe, were I but a clerk. Hadst thou written other matter, to betray my innocence, thou couldst not remember what I said, even word for word," he added gleefully. "Now I might strangle thee slowly"; and he set his fingers about my throat, I being too weak to do more than clutch at his hand, with a grasp like a babe's. "But that leaves black finger-marks, another kind of witness than thine in my favour. Or I might give thee the blade of this blessed crucifix; yet dagger wounds are like lips and have a voice, and blood cries from the ground, says Holy Writ. Pardon my tardiness, my poor brother, but this demands deep thought, and holy offices must not be hurried unseemly." He sat now with his back to me, his hand still on my throat, so deep in thought that he heard not, as did my sharpened ears, a door shut softly, and foot-falls echoing in the house below. If I could only cry aloud! but he would stifle me ere the cry reached my throat!

"This will serve," he said. "Thou wilt have died of thy malady, and I will go softly forth, and with hushed voice will tell how the brave young Scot passed quietly to the saints. Yet, after all, I know not. Thou hast been sent by Heaven to my aid; clearly thou art an instrument of God to succour the unworthy Brother Thomas. Once and twice thou hast been a boat to carry me on my way, and to save my useful life. A third time thou mightst well be serviceable, not by thy will, alas! but by God's, my poor brother"; and he mockingly caressed my face with his abhorred hand. "Still, this must even serve, though I would fain find for thee a more bitter way to death"; and he gently and carefully drew the pillow from beneath my head. "This leaves no marks and tells no tales, and permits no dying cry."

He was looking at me, the pillow in his hands, his gesture that of a tender nurse, when a light tap sounded on the door. He paused, then came a louder knock, one pushed, and knocked again.

"Open, in the name of the Dauphin!" came a voice I knew well, the voice of D'Aulon.

"The rope of Judas strangle thee!" said Brother Thomas, dropping the pillow and turning to the casement. But it was heavily barred with stanchions of iron, as the manner is, and thereby he might not flee.

Then came fiercer knocking with a dagger hilt, and the cry, "Open, in the name of the Dauphin, or we burst the door!"

Brother Thomas hastily closed the wooden shutter, to darken the chamber as much as might be. "Gently, gently," he said. "Disturb not my penitent, who is newly shrived, and about to pass"; and so speaking, he withdrew the bolt.

D'Aulon strode in, dagger in hand, followed by the physician.

"What make you here with doors barred, false priest?" he said, laying his hand on the frock of Noiroufle.

"And what make you here, fair squire, with arms in a sick man's chamber, and loud words to disturb the dying? And wherefore callest thou me "false priest"? But an hour agone, the blessed Maid herself brought me hither, to comfort and absolve her follower, to tend him, if he lived and, if he must die, to give him his dues as a Christian man. And the door was bolted that the penitent might be private with his confessor, for he has a heavy weight to unburden his sinful soul withal."

"Ay, the Maid sent thee, not knowing who thou wert, the traitor friar taken at St. Loup, and thou hast a tongue that beguiled her simplicity. But one that knew thee saw thy wolfs face in her company, and told me, and I told the Maid, who sent me straightway back from the gate, that justice might be done on thee. Thou art he whom this Scot charged with treason, and would have slain for a spy, some nights agone."

Brother Thomas cast up his eyes to heaven.

"Forgive us our trespasses," said he, "as we forgive them that trespass against us. Verily and indeed I am that poor friar who tends the wounded, and verify I am he against whom this young Scot, as, I fear, is the manner of all his benighted people, brought a slanderous accusation falsely. All the more reason was there that I should hear his last confession, and forgive him freely, as may I also be forgiven."

"Thou liest in thy throat," said D'Aulon. "This is a brave man-at- arms, and a loyal."

"Would that thou wert not beguiled, fair sir, for I have no pleasure in the sin of any man. But, if thou wilt believe him rather than me, even keep thy belief, and read this written confession of his falsehood. Of free will, with his own hand, my penitent hereby absolves me from all his slanders. As Holy Church enjoins, in the grace of repentance he also makes restitution of what he had stolen, namely, all my wealth in this world, the good name of a poor and lowly follower of the blessed Francis. Here is the scroll."

With these words, uttered in a voice of sorrowing and humble honesty, the friar stretched out the written sheet of paper to D'Aulon.

"Had I been a false traitor," he said, "would not her brethren of heaven have warned the blessed Maid against me? And I have also a written safe-conduct from the holy sister Colette."

Then I knew that he had fallen into my trap, and, weak as I was, I could have laughed to think of his face, when the words I had written came out in place of the words he had bidden me write. For a clerk hath great power beyond the simple and unlettered of the world, be they as cunning even as Brother Thomas.

"Nom Dieu! this is another story," said D'Aulon, turning the paper about in his hands and looking doubtfully at me. But I smiled upon him, whereby he was the more perplexed. "The ink is hardly dry, and in some places has run and puddled, so that, poor clerk as I am, I can make little of it"; and he pored on it in a perplexed sort. "Tush, it is beyond my clerkhood," he said at last. "You, Messire Saint-Mesmin,"--turning to the physician--"must interpret this."

"Willingly, fair sir," said the physician, moving round to the shutter, which he opened, while the cordelier's eyes glittered, for now there was one man less between him and the half-open door. I nodded to D'Aulon that he should shut it, but he marked me not, being wholly in amaze at the written scroll of my confession.

The physician himself was no great clerk, and he read the paper slowly, stumbling over the words, as it were, while Brother Thomas, clasping his crucifix to his breast, listened in triumph as he heard what he himself had bidden me write.

"I, Norman Leslie, of--of Peet--What name is this? Peet--I cannot utter it."

"Passez outre," quoth D'Aulon.

"I, Norman Leslie, being now in the article of death"--here the leech glanced at me, shaking his head mournfully--"do attest on my hope of salvation, and do especially desire Madame Jeanne La Pucelle, and all Frenchmen and Scots loyal to our Sovereign Lord the Dauphin, to accept my witness that Brother Thomas, of the Order of St. Francis, called Noiroufle while of the world, has been most truly and righteously accused by me of divers deeds of black treason."

At these words the cordelier's hand leaped up from his breast, his crucifix dagger glittered bright, he tore his frock from D'Aulon's grip, leaving a rag of it in his hand, and smote, aiming at the squire where the gorget joins the vambrace. Though he missed by an inch, yet so terrible was the blow that D'Aulon reeled against the wall, while the broken blade jingled on the stone floor. Then the frock of the friar whisked through the open door of the chamber; we heard the stairs cleared in two leaps, and D'Aulon, recovering his feet, rushed after the false priest. But he was in heavy armour, the cordelier's bare legs were doubtless the nimbler, and the physician, crossing himself, could only gape and stare on the paper in his hand. As he gazed with his mouth open his eyes fell on me, white as my sheets, that were dabbled with the blood from my mouth.

"Nom Dieu!" he stammered, "Nom Dieu! here is business more to my mind and my trade than chasing after mad cordeliers that stab with crucifixes!"

Then, coming to my side, he brought water, bathed my face, and did what his art might do for a man in such deadly extremity as was mine. In which care he was still busy when D'Aulon returned, panting, having sent a dozen of townsfolk to hunt the friar, who had made good his flight over garden walls, and was now skulking none knew where. D'Aulon would fain have asked me concerning the mystery of the confession in which Brother Thomas had placed his hope so unhappily, but the physician forbade him to inquire, or me to answer, saying that it was more than my life was worth. But on D'Aulon's battered armour there was no deeper dint than that dealt by the murderous crucifix.

Thus this second time did Brother Thomas make his way out of our hands, the devil aiding him, as always; for it seemed that ropes could not bind or water drown him.

But, for my part, I lay long in another bout of sore fever, sick here at Orleans, where I was very kindly entreated by the people of the house, and notably by the daughter thereof, a fair maid and gentle. To her care the Maid had commanded me when she left Orleans, the English refusing battle, as later I heard, and withdrawing to Jargeau and Paris. But of the rejoicings in Orleans I knew little or nothing, and had no great desire for news, or meat, or drink, but only for sleep and peace, as is the wont of sick men. Now as touches sickness and fever, I have written more than sufficient, as Heaven knows I have had cause enow. A luckless life was mine, save for the love of Elliot; danger and wounds, and malady and escape, where hope seemed lost, were and were yet to be my portion, since I sailed forth out of Eden-mouth. And so hard pressed of sickness was I, that not even my outwitting of Brother Thomas was a cause of comfort to me, though to this day I cannot think of it without some mirthful triumph.


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