Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


"Norman, my lad, all our fortunes are made," said Randal to me when we were left alone. "There will be gilt spurs and gold for every one of us, and the pick of the plunder."

"I like it not," I answered; whereon he caught me rudely by both shoulders, looking close into my face, so that the fume of the wine he had been drinking reached my nostrils.

"Is a Leslie turning recreant?" he asked in a low voice. "A pretty tale to tell in the kingdom of Fife!"

I stood still, my heart very hot with anger, and said no word, while his grip closed on me.

"Leave hold," I cried at last, and I swore an oath, may the Saints forgive me,--"I will not go!"

He loosed his grasp on me, and struck one hand hard into the other.

"That I should see this, and have to tell it!" he said, and stepping to the table, he drank like one thirsty, and then fell to pacing the chamber. He seemed to be thinking slowly, as he wiped and plucked at his beard.

"What is it that ails you?" he asked. "Look you, this onfall and stratagem of war may not miscarry. Perdition take the fool, it is safe!"

"Have I been seeking safety since you knew me?" I asked.

"Verily no, and therefore I wonder at you the more; but you have been long sick, and men's minds are changeful. Consider the thing, nom Dieu! If there be no two lights shown from the mill, we step back silently, and all is as it was; the English have thought worse of their night onfall, or the Carmelite's message was ruse de guerre. But if we see the two lights, then the hundred English are attempting the taking of the mill; the St. Denis Gate is open for their return, and we are looked for by our Armagnacs within Paris. We risk but a short tussle with some drowsy pock-puddings, and then the town is ours. The Gate is as strong to hold against an enemy from within as from without. Why, man, run to Louis de Coutes, and beg a cast suit of the Maid's; she has plenty, for she is a woman in this, that dearly she loves rich attire."

"Randal," I said, "I will go with you, and the gladdest lad in France to be going, but I will go in my own proper guise as a man- at-arms. To wear the raiment of the Blessed Maid, a man and a sinner like me, I will in nowise consent; it is neither seemly nor honourable. Take your own way, put me under arrest if you will, and spoil my fortunes, and make me a man disgraced, but I will not wear her holy raiment. It is not the deed of a gentleman, or of a Christian."

He plucked at his beard. "I am partly with you," he said. "And yet it were a great bourde to play off on the English, and most like to take them and to be told of in ballad and chronicle, like one of Wallace's onfalls. For, seeing the Pucelle, as they will deem, in our hands, they will think all safe, and welcome us open armed. O Norman, can we do nothing? Stop, will you wear another woman's short kirtle over your cuisses and taslet? She shall be no saint, I warrant you, but, for a sinner, a bonny lass and a merry. As a gentleman I deem this fair stratagem of war. If I were your own brother,--the Saints have his soul in their keeping,--I would still be of this counsel. Will you, my lad?"

He looked so sad, and yet withal so comical, that I held out my hand to him, laughing.

"Disguise me as you will," I said, "I have gone mumming as Maid Marion before now, in the Robin Hood play, at St. Andrews"; and as I spoke, I saw the tall thatched roofs of South Street, and the Priory Gates open, the budding elms above the garden wall of St. Leonard's, and all the May-day revel of a year agone pouring out into the good town.

"You speak like yourself now, bless your beardless face! Come forth," he said, taking a long pull at a tankard,--"that nothing might be wasted,"--and so we went to quarters, and Randal trudged off, soon coming back, laughing, with the red kirtle. Our men had been very busy furbishing up the red cross of St. George on their breasts, and stripping themselves of any sign of our own colours. As for my busking, never had maid such rough tire-women; but by one way or another, the apparel was accommodated, and they all said that, at a little distance of ground, the English would be finely fooled, and must deem that the Maid herself was being led to them captive.

It was now in the small hours of morning, dark, save for the glimmer of stars, here and there in a cloudy sky. Father Urquhart himself went up to the roof of the mill, to say his orisons, having with him certain faggots of pitch-wood, for lighting the beacon-fires if need were; and, as it chanced, braziers to this end stood ready on the roof, as is custom on our own Border keeps.

We Scots, a hundred in all, in English colours, with three or four as prisoners, in our own badges, fared cautiously, and with no word spoken, through dewy woods, or lurking along in dry ditches where best we might, towards the St. Denis Gate of Paris. I had never been on a night surprise or bushment before, and I marvelled how orderly the others kept, as men used to such work, whereas I went stumbling and blindlings. At length, within sight of the twinkling lights of Paris, and a hundred yards or thereby off the common way, we were halted in a little wood, and bidden to lie down; no man was so much as to whisper. Some slept, I know, for I heard their snoring, but for my part, I never was less in love with sleep. When the sky first grew grey, so that we could dimly see shapes of things, we heard a light noise of marching men on the road.

"The English!" whispered he that lay next me. "Hush!" breathed Randal, and so the footsteps went by, none of us daring to stir, for fear of the rustle in the leaves.

The sound soon ceased; belike they had struck off into these very fields wherethrough we had just marched.

"Now, Robin Lindsay, climb into yonder ash-tree, and keep your eyes on the mill and the beacon-fires," said Randal.

Robin scrambled up, not easily, because of his armour, and we waited, as it seemed, for an endless time.

"What is that sound," whispered one, "so heavy and so hoarse?"

It was my own heart beating, as if it would burst my side, but I said nought, and even then Robin slid from the tree, as lightly as he might. He held up two fingers, without a word, for a sign that the beacons were lighted, and nodded.

"Down all," whispered Randal.

"Give them time, give them time."

So there we lay, as we must, but that was the hardest part of the waiting, and no sound but of the fowls and wild things arousing, and the cry of sentinels from Paris walls, came to our ears.

At length Randal said, "Up all, and onwards!"

We arose, loosened our swords in their sheaths, and so crossed to the road. We could now see Paris plainly, and were close by the farm of the Mathurins, while beyond was the level land they call "Les Porcherons," with slopes above it, and many trees.

"Now, Norman," said Randal, "when we come within clear sight of the gate, two of us shall seize you by the arms as prisoner; then we all cry 'St. George!' and set off running towards Paris. The quicker, the less time for discovery."

So, having marched orderly and speedily, while the banks of the roadway hid us, we set off to run, Randal and Robin gripping me when we were full in sight of the moat, of the drawbridge (which was down), and the gate.

Then our men all cried, "St. George for England! The witch is taken!" And so running disorderly and fast we made for the Port, while English men-at-arms might be plainly seen and heard, gazing, waving their hands, and shouting from the battlements of the two gate-towers. Down the road we ran, past certain small houses of peasants, and past a gibbet with a marauder hanging from it, just over the dry ditch.

Our feet, we three leading, with some twenty in a clump hard behind us, rang loud on the drawbridge over the dry fosse. The bridge planks quivered strangely; we were now within the gateway, when down fell the portcullis behind us, the drawbridge, creaking, flew up, a crowd of angry faces and red crosses were pressing on us, and a blow fell on my salade, making me reel. I was held in strong arms, swords shone out above me, I stumbled on a body--it was Robin Lindsay's--I heard Randal give a curse as his blade broke on a helmet, and cry, "I yield me, rescue or no rescue." Then burst forth a blast of shouts, and words of command and yells, and English curses. Cannon-shot roared overhead, and my mouth was full of sulphur smoke and dust. They were firing on those of our men who had not set foot on the drawbridge when it flew up. Soon the portcullis rose again, and the bridge fell, to let in a band of English archers, through whom our Scots were cutting their way back towards St. Denis.

Of all this I got glimpses, rather than clear sight, as the throng within the gateway reeled and shifted, crushing me sorely. Presently the English from without trooped in, laughing and cursing, welcomed by their fellows, and every man of them prying into my face, and gibing. It had been a settled plan: we were betrayed, it was over clear, and now a harsh voice behind making me turn, I saw the wolf's face of Father Thomas under his hood, and his yellow fangs.

"Ha! fair clerk, they that be no clerks themselves may yet hire clerks to work for them. How like you my brother, the Carmelite?"

Then I knew too well how this stratagem had all been laid by that devil, and my heart turned to water within me.

Randal was led away, but round me the crowd gathered in the open space, for I was haled into the greater gate tower beyond the wet fosse, and from all quarters ran soldiers, and men, women, and children of the town to mock me.

"Behold her," cried Father Thomas, climbing on a mounting-stone, as one who would preach to the people, while the soldiers that held me laughed.

"Behold this wonderful wonder of all wonders, the miraculous Maid of the Armagnacs! She boasted that, by help of the Saints, she would be the first within the city, and lo! she is the first, but she has come without her army. She is every way a miracle, mark you, for she hath a down on her chin, such as no common maidens wear; and if she would but speak a few words of counsel, methinks her tongue would sound strangely Scottish for a Lorrainer."

"Speak, speak!" shouted the throng.

"Dogs," I cried, in French, "dogs and cowards! You shall see the Maid closer before nightfall, and fly from her as you have fled before."

"Said I not so?" asked Brother Thomas.

"A miracle, a miracle, the Maid hath a Scots tongue in her head."

Therewith stones began to fall, but the father, holding up his hand, bade the multitude refrain.

"Harm her not, good brethren, for to-morrow this Maid shall be tried by the ordeal of fire if that be the will of our governors. Then shall we see if she can work miracles or not," and so he went on gibing, while they grinned horribly upon me. Never saw I so many vile faces of the basest people come together, from their filthy dens in Paris. But as my eyes ran over them with loathing, I beheld a face I knew; the face of that violer woman who had been in our company before we came to Chinon, and lo! perched on her shoulder, chained with a chain fastened round her wrist, was Elliot's jackanapes! To see the poor beast that my lady loved in such ill company, seemed as if it would break my heart, and my head fell on my breast.

"Ye mark, brethren and sisters, she likes not the name of the ordeal by fire," cried Brother Thomas, whereon I lifted my face again to defy him, and I saw the violer woman bend her brows, and place her finger, as it were by peradventure, on her lips; wherefore I was silent, only gazing on that devil, but then rang out a trumpet-note, blowing the call to arms, and from afar came an answering call, from the quarter of St. Denis.

"Carry him, or her, or whatever the spy is, into the outer gate tower," said a Captain; "put him in fetters and manacles; lock the door and leave him; and then to quarters. And you, friar, hold your gibing tongue; lad or lass, he has borne him bravely."

Six men-at-arms he chose out to do his bidding; and while the gates were cleared of the throng, and trumpets were sounding, and church bells were rung backwards, for an alarm, I was dragged, with many a kick and blow, over the drawbridge, up the stairs of the tower, and so was thrown into a strong room beneath the battlements. There they put me in bonds, gave me of their courtesy a jug of water and a loaf of black bread by me, and then, taking my dagger, my sword, and all that was in my pouch, they left me with curses.

"You shall hear how the onfall goes, belike," they said, "and to- morrow shall be your judgment."

With that the door grated and rang, the key was turned in the lock, and their iron tread sounded on the stone stairs, going upwards. The room was high, narrow, and lit by a barred and stanchioned window, far above my reach, even if I had been unbound. I shame to say it, but I rolled over on my face and wept. This was the end of my hopes and proud heart. That they would burn me, despite their threats I scarce believed, for I had in nowise offended Holy Church, or in matters of the Faith, and only for such heretics, or wicked dealers in art-magic, is lawfully ordained the death by fire. But here was I prisoner, all that I had won at Orleans would do little more than pay my own ransom; from the end of my risk and travail I was now further away than ever.

So I mused, weeping for very rage, but then came a heavy rolling sound overhead, as of moving wheeled pieces of ordnance. Thereon (so near is Hope to us in our despair) I plucked up some heart. Ere nightfall, Paris might be in the hands of the King, and all might be well. The roar and rebound of cannon overhead told me that the fighting had begun, and now I prayed with all my heart, that the Maid, as ever, might again be victorious. So I lay there, listening, and heard the great artillery bellow, and the roar of guns in answer, the shouting of men, and clang of church bells. Now and again the walls of the tower rang with the shock of a cannon- ball, once an arrow flew through the casement and shattered itself on the wall above my head. I scarce know why, but I dragged me to the place where it fell, and, put the arrow-point in my bosom. Smoke of wood and pitch darkened the light; they had come, then, to close quarters. But once more rang the rattle of guns; the whizzing rush of stones, the smiting with axe or sword on wooden barrier and steel harness, the cries of war, "Mont joye St. Denis!" "St. George for England!" and slogans too, I heard, as "Bellenden," "A Home! a Home!" and then I knew the Scots were there, fighting in the front. But alas, how different was the day when first I heard our own battle-cries under Orleans walls! Then I had my life and my sword in my hands, to spend and to strike; but now I lay a lonely prisoner, helpless and all but hopeless; yet even so I clashed my chains and shouted, when I heard the slogan.

Thus with noise and smoke, and trumpets blowing the charge or the recall, and our pipes shrieking the pibroch high above the din, with dust floating and plaster dropping from the walls of my cell till I was wellnigh stifled, the day wore on, nor could I tell, in anywise, how the battle went. The main onslaught, I knew, was not on the gate behind the tower in which I lay, though that tower also was smitten of cannon-balls.

At length, well past mid-day, as I deemed by the light, came a hush, and then a thicker smoke, and taste of burning pitch-wood, and a roar as if all Paris had been blown into mid-air, so that my tower shook, while heavy beams fell crashing to earth.

Again came a hush, and then one voice, clear as a clarion call, even the voice of the Maid, "Tirez en avant, en avant!" How my blood thrilled at the sound of it!

It must be now, I thought, or never, but the guns only roared the louder, the din grew fierce and fiercer, till I heard a mighty roar, the English shouting aloud as one man for joy, for so their manner is. Thrice they shouted, and my heart sank within me. Had they slain the Maid? I knew not, but for torment of soul there is scarce any greater than so to lie, bound and alone, seeing nought, but guessing at what is befalling.

After these shouts it was easy to know that the fighting waned, and was less fierce. The day, moreover, turned to thunder, and waxed lowering and of a stifling heat. Yet my worst fears were ended, for I heard, now and again, the clear voice of the Maid, bidding her men "fight on, for all was theirs." But the voice was weaker now, and other than it had been. So the day darkened, only once and again a shot was fired, and in the dusk the shouts of the English told me over clearly that for to-day our chance and hope were lost. Then the darkness grew deeper, and a star shone through my casement, and feet went up and down upon the stairs, but no man came near me. Below there was some faint cackle of mirth and laughter, and at last the silence fell.

Once more came a swift step on the stairs, as of one stumbling up in haste. The key rattled in the wards, a yellow light shone in, a man-at-arms entered; he held a torch to my face, looked to my bonds, and then gave me a kick, while one cried from below, "Come on, Dickon, your meat is cooling!" So he turned and went out, the door clanging behind him, and the key rattling in the wards.

In pain and fierce wrath I gnawed my black bread, drank some of the water, and at last I bethought me of that which should have been first in the thoughts of a Christian man, and I prayed.

Remembering the story of Michael Hamilton, which I have already told, and other noble and virtuous miracles of Madame St. Catherine of Fierbois, I commanded me to her, that, by God's grace, she would be pleased to release me from bonds and prison. And I promised that, if she would so favour me, I would go on pilgrimage to her chapel of Fierbois. I looked that my chains should now fall from my limbs, but, finding no such matter, and being very weary (for all the last night I had slept none), I fell on slumber and forgot my sorrow.

Belike I had not lain long in that blessed land where trouble seldom comes when I was wakened, as it were, by a tugging at my clothes. I sat up, but the room was dark, save for a faint light in the casement, high overhead, and I thought I had dreamed. Howbeit, as I lay down again, heavy at heart, my clothes were again twitched, and now I remembered what I had heard, but never believed, concerning "lutins" or "brownies," as we call them, which, being spirits invisible, and reckoned to have no part in our salvation, are wont in certain houses to sport with men. Curious rather than affrighted, I sat up once more, and looked around, when I saw two bright spots of light in the dark. Then deeming that, for some reason unknown to me, the prison door had been opened while I slept, and a cat let in, I stretched out my hands towards the lights, thence came a sharp, faint cry, and something soft and furry leaped on to my breast, stroking me with little hands.

It was Elliot's jackanapes, very meagre, as I could feel, and all his ribs standing out, but he made much of me, fondling me after his manner; and indeed, for my lady's sake, I kissed him, wondering much how he came there. Then he put something into my hands, almost as if he had been a Christian, for it was a wise beast and a kind. Even then there shone into my memory the thought of how my lady had prayed for her little friend when he was stolen (which I had thought strange, and scarcely warranted by our Faith), and with that, hope wakened within me. My eyes being now more accustomed to the darkness, I saw that the thing which the jackanapes gave me was a little wallet, for he had been taught to fetch and carry, and never was such a marvel at climbing. But as I was caressing him, I found a string about his neck, to which there seemed to be no end. Now, at length, I comprehended what was toward, and pulling gently at the string, I found, after some time, that it was attached to something heavy, on the outside of the casement. Therefore I set about drawing in string from above, and more string, and more, and then appeared a knot and a splice, and the end of a thick rope. So I drew and drew, till it stopped, and I could see a stout bar across the stanchions of the casement. Thereon I ceased drawing, and opening the little wallet, I found two files, one very fine, the other of sturdier fashion.

Verily then I blessed the violer woman, who at great peril of her own life, and by such witty device as doubtless Madame St. Catherine put into her heart, had sent the jackanapes up from below, and put me in the way of safety. I wasted no time, but began filing, not at the thick circlet on my wrist, but at a link of the chain whereto it was made fast. And such was the temper of the file, that soon I got the stouter weapon into the cut, and snapped the link; and so with the others, working long hours, and often looking fearfully for the first glimmer of dawn. This had not come in, when I was now free of bonds, but there was yet the casement to be scaled. With all my strength I dragged and jerked at the rope, whereby I meant to climb, lest the stanchions should be rusted through, and unable to bear my weight, but they stood the strain bravely. Then I cast off my woman's kirtle, and took from my pouch the arrow-point, and therewith scratched hastily on the plastered wall, in great letters: "Norman Leslie of Pitcullo leaves his malison on the English."

Next I bound the jackanapes within the bosom of my doublet, with a piece of the cord whereto the rope had been knotted, for I could not leave the little beast to die the death of a traitor, and bring suspicion, moreover, on the poor violer woman. Then, commanding myself to the Saints, and especially thanking Madame St. Catherine, I began to climb, hauling myself up by the rope, whereon I had made knots to this end; nor was the climbing more difficult than to scale a branchless beech trunk for a bird's nest, which, like other boys, I had often done. So behold me, at last, with my legs hanging in free air, seated on the sill of the casement. Happily, of the three iron stanchions, though together they bore my weight, one was loose in the lower socket, for lack of lead, and this one I displaced easily enough, and so passed through. Then I put the wooden bar at the rope's end, within the room, behind the two other stanchions, considering that they, by themselves, would bear my weight, but if not, rather choosing to trust my soul to the Saints than my body to the English.

The deep below me was very terrible to look upon, and the casement being above the dry ditch, I had no water to break my fall, if fall I must. Howbeit, I hardened my heart, and turning my face to the wall, holding first the wooden bar, and then shifting my grasp to the rope, I let myself down, clinging to the rope with my legs, and at first not a little helped by the knots I had made to climb to the casement. When I had passed these, methought my hands were on fire; nevertheless, I slid down slowly and with caution, till my feet touched ground.

I was now in the dry ditch, above my head creaked and swung the dead body of the hanged marauder, but he did no whit affray me. I ran, stooping, along the bed of the dry ditch, for many yards, stumbling over the bodies of men slain in yesterday's fight, and then, creeping out, I found a hollow way between two slopes, and thence crawled into a wood, where I lay some little space hidden by the boughs. The smell of trees and grass and the keen air were like wine to me; I cooled my bleeding hands in the deep dew; and presently, in the dawn, I was stealing towards St. Denis, taking such cover of ditches and hedges as we had sought in our unhappy march of yesterday. And I so sped, by favour of the Saints, that I fell in with no marauders; but reaching the windmill right early, at first trumpet-call, I was hailed by our sentinels for the only man that had won in and out of Paris, and had carried off, moreover, a prisoner, the jackanapes. To see me, scarred, with manacles on my wrists and gyves on my ankles, weaponless, with an ape on my shoulder, was such a sight as the Scots Guard had never beheld before, and carrying me to the smith's, they first knocked off my irons, and gave me wine, ere they either asked me for my tale, or told me their own, which was a heartbreak to bear.

For no man could unfold the manner of that which had come to pass, if, at least, there were not strong treason at the root of all. For our part of the onfall, the English had made but a feigned attack on the mill, wherefore the bale-fires were lit, to our undoing. This was the ruse de guerre of the accursed cordelier, Brother Thomas. For the rest, the Maid had led on a band to attack the gate St. Honore, with Gaucourt in her company, a knight that had no great love either of her or of a desperate onslaught. But D'Alencon, whom she loved as a brother, was commanded to take another band, and wait behind a butte or knowe, out of danger of arrow-shot. The Maid had stormed all day at her gate, had taken the boulevard without, and burst open and burned the outer port, and crossed the dry ditch. But when she had led up her men, now few, over the slope and to the edge of the wet fosse, behold no faggots and bundles of wood were brought up, whereby, as is manner of war, to fill up the fosse, and so cross over. As she then stood under the wall, shouting for faggots and scaling-ladders, her standard-bearer was shot to death, and she was sorely wounded by an arbalest bolt. Natheless she lay by the wall, still crying on her men, but nought was ready that should have been, many were slain by shafts and cannon-shot, and in the dusk, she weeping and crying still that the place was theirs to take, D'Alencon carried her off by main force, set her on her horse, and so brought her back to St. Denis.

Now, my mind was, and is to this day, that there was treason here, and a black stain on the chivalry of France, to let a girl go so far, and not to follow her. But of us Scots many were slain, and more wounded, while Robin Lindsay died in Paris gate, and Randal Rutherford lay a prisoner in English hands.


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