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

Cover for Monk of Fife by Andrew Lang

CHAPTER XX
CONCERNING THE MAID AND THE BIRDS

We rode northwards, first through lands that I had travelled in before to Orleans, and so into a country then strange to me, passing by way of Lagny, with intent to go to Senlis, where we deemed the King lay. The whole region being near Paris, and close under the English power, was rich and peaceful of aspect, the corn being already reaped, and standing in sheaves about the fields, whether to feed Englishmen or Frenchmen, none could tell. For the land was in a kind of hush, in expectancy and fear, no man knowing how things should fall out at Paris. Natheless the Prior of Lagny, within that very week wherein we came, had gone to St. Denis, and yielded his good town into the hands of the Duc d'Alencon for the King. And the fair Duke had sent thither Messire Ambrose de Lore, a very good knight, with Messire Jehan Foucault, and many men-at-arms.

To Messire Ambrose we were brought, that we might give and take his news. I remember well that I dropped out of the saddle at the door of his lodgings, and could scarce stand on my legs, so weary was I with the long and swift riding. Never had I ridden so far, and so fast, fresh horses standing saddled and bridled for Thomas Scott and me at every stage, but the beast which I had hired I sent back from the first stage to mine host of the "Hanging Sword." Not without labour I climbed the stairs to the chamber of Messire Ambrose, who bade us sit down, and called for wine to be given us, whereof Thomas Scott drank well, but I dared take none, lest my legs should wholly refuse their office.

When Thomas had told how all the country lay at the King's peace, and how our purpose was to ride to the King at Senlis, the knight bade us rather make what haste we might to St. Denis. "For there, by to-morrow or next day, the King is like to be, and the assault will be delivered on Paris, come of it what will."

With this he bade us good speed, but, to guess from his countenance, was in no high hopes. And, at supper, whereto we had the company of certain of his men-at-arms, I could well perceive that they were not in the best heart. For now we heard how the Maid, being sorrowful for the long delays, had bidden the Duc d'Alencon ride forth with her from Compiegne "to see Paris closer than yet she had seen it." The Duc d'Alencon, who in late days has so strangely forgotten the loyalty of his youth, was then fain to march with her, for they two were the closest friends that might be. Therefore they had passed by way of Senlis, where they were joined by some force of men-at- arms, and so, on the third day's march, they came to St. Denis, where they were now lying. Here it is that the kings of France have been buried for these eight hundred years, in the great Abbey.

"Nom Dieu!" said one of those who spoke with us. "You might deem that our King is nowise pressed to see the place where his forefathers lie. For D'Alencon is riding, now and again, to Senlis, to rouse the King, and make him march to St. Denis, with the army, that the assault may be given. But if they were bidding him to his own funeral, instead of to a gentle passage of arms, he could not make more excuses. There are skirmishes under Paris walls, and at the gates, day by day, and the Maid rides here and there, considering of the best place for the onslaught. But the King tarries, and without him and the army they can venture on no great valiance. Nevertheless, come he must, if they bring him bound in a cart. Wherefore, if you want your part in what is toward, you do well to make no long tarrying here."

I was of the same mind, and as the King was shortly to be looked for at St. Denis, we rode thither early next morning, with what speed we might. On our left, like a cloud, was the smoke of Paris, making me understand what a great city it was, much greater than Orleans. Before us, far away, were the tall towers of the chapel of St. Denis, to be our guide! We heard, also, the noise of ordnance being fired, and therefore made the greater haste, and we so rode that, about six hours after noon, on the Eve of the Nativity of our Blessed Lady, we reached the gates of the town. Here we found great press of folk, men coming and going, some carrying the wounded, for there had been a skirmish that day, at one of the Paris gates, whence came the sound of cannon and culverins, and we had won little advantage.

At the gates of St. Denis we asked where the quarters of the Scots men-at-arms might be, and were told in the chapel, whither we needed no guide. But, as we went up the street, we saw women leaning forth from the windows, laughing with the men-at-arms, and beckoning to them, and by the tavern doors many were sitting drinking, with girls beside them, and others were playing dice, and many an oath we heard, and foul words, as is customary in a camp. Verily I saw well that this was not the army of men clean confessed and of holy life who had followed the Maid from Blois to Orleans. In place of priests, here were harlots, and, for hymns, ribald songs, for men had flocked in from every quarter; soldiers of the robber companies, Bretons, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, all talking in their own speech, rude, foul, and disorderly. So we took our way, as best we knight, through the press, hearing oaths enough if our horses trod over near any man, and seeing daggers drawn.

It was a pleasure to come out on the great parvise, where the red, white, and green of our Scots were the commonest colours, and where the air was less foul and noisome than in the narrow wynds. High above us the great towers of the abbey shone red and golden in the light of the sinking sun, while beneath all was brown, dusk, and dim with smoke. On these towers I could gladly have looked long, and not wearied. For they are all carven with the holy company of the martyrs and saints, like the Angels whom Jacob saw ascending by the ladder into heaven; even so that blessed company seemed to scale upwards from the filth of the street, and the darkness, and the din, right on towards the golden heights of the City of God. And beneath them lie the sacred bones of all the kings of France, from the days of St. Dagobert even to our own time, all laid there to rest where no man shall disturb them, till the Angels' Trumpet calls, and the Day of Judgment is at hand. Verily it is a solemn place for a Christian man to think on, and I was gazing thereupon, as in a dream, when one plucked my sleeve, and turning, I saw Randal Rutherford, all his teeth showing in a grin.

"Welcome," he cried. "You have made good speed, and the beginning of a fray is better than the end of a feast. And, by St. Boswell, to-morrow we shall have it, lad! The King came in to-day--late is better than never--and to-morrow we go with the Maid, to give these pock-puddings a taste of Scottish steel."

"And the Maid, where is she, Randal?"

"She lodges beyond the Paris gate, at the windmill, wherefrom she drove the English some days agone."

"Wherefore not in the town?" I asked.

"Mayhap because she likes to be near her work, and would that all were of her mind. And mayhap she loves not the sight of the wenches whom she was wont to drive from the camp, above all now that she has broken the Holy Sword of Fierbois, smiting a lass with the flat of the blade."

"I like not the omen," said I.

"Freits follow them that freits fear," said Randal, in our country speech. "And the Maid is none of these. 'Well it was,' said she, 'that I trusted not my life to a blade that breaks so easily,' and, in the next skirmish, she took a Burgundian with her own hands, and now wears his sword, which is a good cut and thrust piece. But come," he cried, "if needs you must see the Maid, you have but to walk to the Paris gate, and so to the windmill hard by. And your horse I will stable with our own, and for quarters, we living Scots men-at-arms fare as well as the dead kings of France, for to-night we lie in the chapel."

I dismounted, and he gave me an embrace, and, holding me at arms'- length, laughed -

"You never were a tall man, Norman, but you look sound, and whole, and tough for your inches, like a Highlandman's dirk. Now be off on your errand, and when it is done, look for me yonder at the sign of 'The Crane,'" pointing across the parvise to a tavern, "for I keep a word to tell in your lug that few wot of, and that it will joy you to hear. To-morrow, lad, we go in foremost."

And so, smiling, he took my horse and went his way, whistling, "Hey, tuttie, tattie!"

Verily his was the gladdest face I had seen, and his words put some heart into me, whereas, of the rest save our own Scots, I liked neither what I saw, nor what I heard.

I had but to walk down the street, through elbowing throngs of grooms, pages, men-at-arms, and archers, till I found the Paris Gate, whence the windmill was plain to behold. It was such an old place as we see in Northern France, plain, strong, with red walls which the yellow mosses stain, and with high grey roofs. The Maid's banner, with the Holy Dove, and the Sacred Name, drooped above the gateway, and beside the door, on the mounting-stone, sat the boy, Louis des Coutes, her page. He was a lad of fifteen years, merry enough of his nature, and always went gaily clad, and wearing his yellow hair long. But now he sat thoughtful on the mounting-stone, cutting at a bit of wood with his dagger.

"So you have come to take your part," he said, when we had saluted each the other. "Faith, I hope you bring good luck with you, and more joy to my mistress, for we need all that you can bring."

"Why, what ails all of you?" I asked. "I have seen never a hopeful face, save that of one of my own countrymen. You are not afraid of a crack on your curly pate, are you?"

"Curly or not, my head knows better than to knock itself against Paris walls. They are thick, and high, and the windows of every house on the wall are piled with stones, to drop upon us. And I know not well why, but things go ill with us. I never saw Her," and he nodded towards the open gateway, "so out of comfort. When there is fighting toward, she is like herself, and she is the first to rise and the last to lie down. But, in all our waiting here, she has passed many an hour praying in the chapel, where the dead kings lie, yet her face is not glad when she comes forth. It was wont to shine strangely, when she had been praying, at the chapel in Couldray, while we were at Chinon. But now it is otherwise. Moreover, we saw Paris very close to-day, and there were over many red crosses of St. George upon the walls. And to-morrow is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, no day for bloodshed."

"Faint heart!" said I (and, indeed, after the assault on Paris, Louis des Coutes went back, and rode no more with the maid). "The better the day, the better the deed! May I go within?"

"I will go with you," he said, "for she said that you would come, and bade me bring you to her."

We entered the gateway together, and before us lay the square of the farm, strewn with litter, and from within the byre we heard the milk ring in the pails, for the women were milking the cows. And there we both stood astonished, for we saw the Maid as never yet I had seen her. She was bareheaded, but wore the rest of her harness, holding in her hand a measure of corn. All the fowls of the air seemed to be about her, expecting their meat. But she was not throwing the grain among them, for she stood as still as a graven image, and, wonderful to tell, a dove was perched on her shoulder, and a mavis was nestling in her breast, while many birds flew round her, chiefly doves with burnished plumage, flitting as it were lovingly, and softly brushing her now and again with their wings. Many a time had I heard it said that, while she was yet a child, the wild birds would come and nestle in the bosom of the Maid, but I had never believed the tale. Yet now I saw this thing with mine own eyes, a fair sight and a marvellous, so beautiful she looked, with head unhelmeted, and the wild fowl and tame flitting about her and above her, the doves crooning sweetly in their soft voices. Then her lips moved, and she spoke -

"Tres doulx Dieu, en l'onneur de vostre saincte passion, je vous requier, se vous me aimes, que vous me revelez ce que je doy faire demain pour vostre gloire!"

So she fell silent again, and to me it seemed that I must not any longer look upon that holy mystery, so, crossing myself, I laid my hand on the shoulder of the page, and we went silently from the place.

"Have you ever seen it in this manner?" I whispered, when we were again without the farmyard.

"Never," said he, trembling, "though once I saw a stranger thing."

"And what may that have been?"

"Nay, I spoke of it to her, and she made me swear that I never would reveal it to living soul, save in confession. But she is not as other women."

What he had in his mind I know not, but I bade him good even, and went back into the town, where lights were beginning to show in the casements. In the space within the gates were many carts gathered, full of faggots wherewith to choke up the fosse under Paris, and tables to throw above the faggots, and so cross over to the assault.



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