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 XXIII
HOW ELLIOT'S JACKANAPES CAME HOME

Of our Blessed Lord Himself it is said in the Gospel of St. Matthew, "et non fecit ibi virtutes multas propter incredulitatem illorum." These words I willingly leave in the Roman tongue; for by the wisdom of Holy Church it is deemed that many mysteries should not be published abroad in the vulgar speech, lest the unlearned hear to their own confusion. But if even He, doubtless by the wisdom of His own will, did not many great works "propter incredulitatem," it is the less to be marvelled at that His Saints, through the person of the Blessed Maid, were of no avail where men utterly disbelieved. And that, where infidelity was, even she must labour in vain was shown anon, even on this very day of my escape out of Paris town. For I had scarce taken some food, and washed and armed myself, when the Maid's trumpets sounded, and she herself, armed and on horseback, despite her wound, rode into St. Denis, to devise with the gentle Duc d'Alencon. Together they came forth from the gate, and I, being in their company, heard her cry -

"By my baton, I will never go back till I take that city." {31}

These words Percival de Cagny also heard, a good knight, and maitre d'hotel of the house of Alencon. Thereon arose some dispute, D'Alencon being eager, as indeed he always was, to follow where the Maiden led, and some others holding back.

Now, as they were devising together, some for, some against, for men-at-arms not a few had fallen in the onfall, there came the sound of horses' hoofs, and lo! Messire de Montmorency, who had been of the party of the English, and with them in Paris, rode up, leading a company of fifty or sixty gentlemen of his house, to join the Maid. Thereat was great joy and new courage in all men of goodwill, seeing that, within Paris itself, so many gentlemen deemed ours the better cause and the more hopeful.

Thus there was an end of all dispute, our companies were fairly arrayed, and we were marching to revenge ourselves for the losses of yesterday, when two knights came spurring after us from St. Denis. They were the Duc de Bar, and that unhappy Charles de Bourbon, Comte de Clermont, by whose folly, or illwill, or cowardice, the Scots were betrayed and deserted at the Battle of the Herrings, where my own brother fell, as I have already told. This second time Charles de Bourbon brought evil fortune, for he came on the King's part, straitly forbidding D'Alencon and the Maid to march forward another lance's length. Whereat D'Alencon swore profane, and the Maiden, weeping, rebuked him. So, with heavy hearts, we turned, all the host of us, and went back to quarters, the Maid to pray in the chapel, and the men-at-arms to drink and speak ill of the King.

All this was on the ninth of September, a weary day to all of us, though in the evening word came that we were to march early next morning and attack Paris in another quarter, crossing the river by a bridge of boats which the Duc d'Alencon had let build to that end. After two wakeful nights I was well weary, and early laid me down to sleep, rising at dawn with high hopes. And so through the grey light we marched silently to the place appointed, but bridge there was none; for the King, having heard of the Maid's intent, had caused men to work all night long, destroying that which the gentle Duke had builded. Had the King but heard the shouts and curses of our company when they found nought but the bare piles standing, the grey water flowing, and the boats and planks vanished, he might have taken shame to himself of his lack of faith. Therefore I say it boldly, it was because of men's unbelief that the Maid at Paris wrought no great works, save that she put her body in such hazard of war as never did woman, nay, nor man, since the making of the world.

I have no heart to speak more of this shameful matter, nor of these days of anger and blasphemy. It was said and believed that her voices bade the Maid abide at St. Denis till she should take Paris town, but the King, and Charles de Bourbon, and the Archbishop of Reims refused to hearken to her. On the thirteenth day of September, after dinner, the King, with all his counsellors, rode away from St. Denis, towards Gien on the Loire. The Maiden, for her part, hung up all her harness that she had worn, save the sword of St. Catherine of Fierbois, in front of the altar of Our Lady, and the blessed relics of St. Denis in the chapel. Thereafter she rode, as needs she must, and we of her company with her, to join the King, for so he commanded.

And now was the will of the Maid and of the Duc d'Alencon broken, and broken was all that great army, whereof some were free lances out of many lands, but more were nobles of France with their men, who had served without price or pay, for love of France and of the Maid. Never again were they mustered; nay when, after some weeks passed, the gentle Duc d'Alencon prayed that he might have the Maiden with him, and burst into Normandy, where the English were strongest, by the Marches of Maine, even this grace was refused to him, by the malengin and ill-will of La Tremouille and the Archbishop of Reims. And these two fair friends met never more again, neither at fray nor feast. May she, among the Saints, so work by her prayers that the late sin and treason of the gentle Duke may be washed out and made clean, for while she lived there was no man more dear to her, nor any that followed her more stoutly in every onfall.

Now concerning the times that came after this shameful treason at Paris, I have no joy to write. The King's counsellors, as their manner was, ever hankered after a peace with Burgundy, and they stretched the false truce that was to have ended at Christmas to Easter Day, "pacem clamantes quo non fuit pax." For there was no truce with the English, who took St. Denis again, and made booty of the arms which the Maid had dedicated to Our Lady. On our part La Hire and Xaintrailles plundered, for their own hand, the lands of the Duke of Burgundy, and indeed on every side there was no fair fighting, such as the Maid loved, but a war of wastry, the peasants pillaged, and the poor held to ransom. For her part, she spent her days in prayer for the poor and the oppressed, whom she had come to deliver, and who now were in worse case than before, the English harrying certain of the good towns that had yielded to King Charles.

Now her voices ever bade the Maid go back to the Isle of France, and assail Paris, where lay no English garrison, and the Armagnacs were stirring as much as they might. But Paris, being at this time under the government of the Duke of Burgundy, was forsooth within the truce. The King's counsellors, therefore, setting their wisdom against that of the Saints, bade the Maid go against the towns of St. Pierre le Moustier and La Charite, then held by the English on the Loire. This was in November, when days were short, and the weather bitter cold. The Council was held at Mehun sur Yevre, and forthwith the Maid, glad to be doing, rode to Bourges, where she mustered her men, and so marched to St. Pierre le Moustier, a small town, but a strong, with fosses, towers, and high walls.

There we lay some two days or three, plying the town with our artillery, and freezing in the winter nights. At length, having made somewhat of a breach, the Maid gave the word for the assault, and herself leading, with her banner in hand, we went at it with what force we might. But twice and thrice we were driven back from the fosse, and to be plain, our men were fled under cover, and only the Maid stood within arrow-shot of the wall, with a few of her household, of whom I was one, for I could not go back while she held her ground. The arrows and bolts from the town rained and whistled about us, and in faith I wished myself other where. Yet she stood, waving her banner, and crying, "Tirez en avant, ils sont e nous," as was her way in every onfall. Seeing her thus in jeopardy, her maitre d'hotel, D'Aulon, though himself wounded in the heel so that he might not set foot to ground, mounted a horse, and riding up, asked her "why she abode there alone, and did not give ground like the others?"

At this the Maid lifted her helmet from her head, and so, uncovered, her face like marble for whiteness, and her eyes shining like steel, made answer -

"I am not alone; with me there are of mine fifty thousand! Hence I will not give back one step till I have taken the town."

Then I wotted well that, sinful man as I am, I was in the company of the hosts of Heaven, though I saw them not. Great heart this knowledge gave me and others, and the Maid crying, in a loud voice, "Aux fagots, tout le monde!" the very runaways heard her and came back with planks and faggots, and so, filling up the fosse and passing over, we ran into the breach, smiting and slaying, and the town was taken.

For my own part, I was so favoured that two knights yielded them my prisoners (I being the only man of gentle birth among those who beset them in a narrow wynd), and with their ransoms I deemed myself wealthy enough, as well I might. So now I could look to win my heart's desire, if no ill fortune befell. But little good fortune came in our way. From La Charite, which was beset in the last days of November, we had perforce to give back, for the King sent us no munitions of war, and for lack of more powder and ball we might not make any breach in the walls of that town. And so, by reason of the hard winter, and the slackness of the King, and the false truce, we fought no more, at that season, but went, trailing after the Court, from castle to castle.

Many feasts were held, and much honour was done to the Maid, as by gifts of coat armour, and the ennobling of all her kith and kin, but these things she regarded not, nor did she ever bear on her shield the sword supporting the crown, between the lilies of France.

If these were ill days for the Maid, I shame to confess that they were merry days with me. There are worse places than a king's court, when a man is young, and light of heart, full of hope, and with money in his purse. I looked that we should take the field again in the spring; and having gained some gold, and even some good words, as one not backward where sword-strokes were going, I know not what dreams I had of high renown, ay, and the Constable's staff to end withal. For many a poor Scot has come to great place in France and Germany, who began with no better fortune than a mind to put his body in peril. Moreover, the winning of Elliot herself for my wife seemed now a thing almost within my reach. Therefore, as I say, I kept a merry Yule at Jargeau, going bravely clad, and dancing all night long with the merriest. Only the wan face of the Maid (that in time of war had been so gallant and glad) came between me and my pleasures. Not that she was wilfully and wantonly sad, yet now and again we could mark in her face the great and loving pity that possessed her for France. Now I would be half angered with her, but again far more wroth with myself, who could thus lightly think of that passion of hers. But when she might she was ever at her prayers, or in company of children, or seeking out such as were poor and needy, to whom she was abundantly lavish of her gifts, so that, wheresoever the Court went, the people blessed her.

In these months I had tidings of Elliot now and again; and as occasion served I wrote to her, with messages of my love, and with a gift, as of a ring or a jewel. But concerning the manner of my escape from Paris I had told Elliot nothing for this cause. My desire was, when soonest I had an occasion, to surprise her with the gift of her jackanapes anew, knowing well that nothing could make her greater joy, save my own coming, or a victory of the Maid. The little creature had been my comrade wheresoever we went, as at Sully, Gien, and Bourges, only I took him not to the leaguers of St. Pierre le Moustier and La Charite, but left him with a fair lady of the Court. He had waxed fat again, for as meagre as he was when he came to me in prison, and he was full of new tricks, warming himself at the great fire in hall, like a man.

Now in the middle of the month of January, in the year of Grace fourteen hundred and thirty, the Maid told us of her household that she would journey to Orleans, to abide for some space with certain ladies of her friends, namely, Madame de St. Mesmin and Madame de Mouchy, who loved her dearly. To the most of us she gave holiday, to see our own friends. The Maid knew surely that in France my friends were few, and well she guessed whither I was bound. Therefore she sent for me, and bidding me carry her love to Elliot, she put into my hands a gift to her friend. It was a ring of silver-gilt, fashioned like that which her own father and mother had given her. At this ring she had a custom of looking often, so that the English conceived it to be an unholy talisman, though it bore the Name that is above all names. That ring I now wear in my bosom. So, saying farewell, with many kind words on her part, I rode towards Tours, where Elliot and her father as then dwelt, in that same house where I had been with them to be healed of my malady, after the leaguer of Orleans. To Tours I rode, telling them not of my coming, and carrying the jackanapes well wrapped up in furs of the best. The weather was frosty, and folk were sliding on the ice of the flooded fields near Tours when I came within sight of the great Minster. The roads rang hard; on the smooth ice the low sun was making paths of gold, and I sang as I rode. Putting up my horse at the sign of the "Hanging Sword," I took the ape under my great furred surcoat, and stole like a thief through the alleys, towards my master's house. The night was falling, and all the casement of the great chamber was glowing with the colour and light of a leaping fire within. There came a sound of music too, as one touched the virginals to a tune of my own country. My heart was beating for joy, as it had beaten in the bushment outside Paris town.

I opened the outer door secretly, for I knew the trick of it, and I saw from the thin thread of light on the wall of the passage that the chamber door was a little ajar. The jackanapes was now fretting and struggling within my surcoat, so, opening the coat, I put him down by the chamber door. He gave a little scratch, as was his custom, for he was a very mannerly little beast, and the sound of the virginals ceased. Then, pushing the door with his little hands, he ran in, with a kind of cry of joy.

"In Our Lady's name, what is this?" came the voice of Elliot. "My dear, dear little friend, what make you here?"

Then I could withhold myself no longer, but entered, and my lady ran to me, the jackanapes clinging about her neck with his arms. But mine were round her too, and what words we said, and what cheer we made each the other, I may not write, commending me to all true lovers, whose hearts shall tell them that whereof I am silent. Much was I rebuked for that I did not write to warn them of my coming, which was yet the more joyful that they were not warned. And then the good woman, Elliot's kinswoman, must be called (though in sooth not at the very first), and then a great fire must be lit in my old chamber; and next my master came in, from a tavern where he had been devising with some Scots of his friends; and all the while the jackanapes kept such a merry coil, and played so many of his tricks, and got so many kisses from his mistress, that it was marvel. But of all that had befallen me in the wars, and of how the Maiden did (concerning which Elliot had questioned me first of all), I would tell them little till supper was brought.

And then, indeed, out came all my tale, and they heard of what had been my fortune in Paris, and how the jackanapes had delivered me from durance, whereon never, surely, was any beast of his kind so caressed since our father Adam gave all the creatures their names. But as touching the Maid, I told how she had borne herself at St. Pierre le Moustier, and of all the honours that had been granted to her, and I bade them be of good heart and hope, for that her banner would be on the wind in spring, after Easter Day. All the good news that might be truly told I did tell, as how La Hire had taken Louviers town, and harried the English up to the very gates of Rouen. And I gave to Elliot the ring which the Maid had sent to her, fashioned like that she herself wore, but of silver gilt, whereas the Maid's was of base metal, and it bore the Holy Names MARI. IHS. Thereon Elliot kissed it humbly, and avowed herself to be, that night, the gladdest damsel in all France.

"For I have gotten you, mon ami, and my little friend that I had lost, beyond all hope, and I have a kind word and a token from Her, la fille de Dieu," whereat her speech faltered, and her eyes swam in tears. But some trick of her jackanapes brought back her mirth, and so the hours passed, as happy as any in my life. Truly the memory of these things tells me how glad this world might be, wherein God has placed us, were it not troubled by the inordinate desires of men. In my master's house of Tours, then, my days of holiday went merrily by, save for one matter, and that of the utmost moment. For my master would in no manner permit me to wed his daughter while this war endured; and Elliot herself, blushing like any rose, told me that, while the Maid had need of me, with the Maid I must abide at my duty, and that she herself had no mind for happiness while her friend was yet labouring in the cause of France. Howbeit, I delivered me of my vow, by pilgrimage to the chapel in Fierbois. {32}



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