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 XXIV
HOW THE MAID HEARD ILL TIDINGS FROM HER VOICES,
AND OF THE SILENCE OF THE BIRDS

Eastertide came at last, and that early, Easter Day falling on March the twenty-seventh. Our King kept his Paques at Sully with great festival, but his deadly foe, the Duke of Burgundy, lay at the town of Peronne. So soon as Eastertide was over, the Duke drew all the force he had to Montdidier, a town which lies some eight leagues to the north and west of Compiegne. Hence he so wrought that he made a pact with the captain of the French in Gournay, a town some four leagues north and west of Compiegne, whereby the garrison there promised to lie idle, and make no onslaught against them of Burgundy, unless the King brought them a rescue. Therefore the Duke went back to Noyon on the Oise, some eight leagues north and east of Compiegne, while his captain, Jean de Luxembourg, led half his army west, towards Beauvais. There he took the castle of Provenlieu, an old castle, and ruinous, that the English had repaired and held. And there he hanged certain English, who were used to pillage all the country about Montdidier. Thence Jean de Luxembourg came back to the Duke, at Noyon, and took and razed Choisy, which was held for France.

Now all these marchings, and takings of towns, were designed to one end, namely, that the Duke might have free passage over the river Oise, so that his men and his victual might safely come and go from the east. For, manifestly, it was his purpose to besiege and take the good town of Compiegne, which lies on the river Oise some fifteen leagues north and east of Paris. This town had come in, and yielded to the Maid, some weeks before the onfall of Paris, and it was especially dear to her, for the people had sworn that they would all die, and see their wives and children dead, rather than yield to England or Burgundy. Moreover, whosoever held Compiegne was like, in no long time, to be master of Paris. But as now Guillaume de Flavy commanded in Compiegne for the King, a very good knight and skilled captain, but a man who robbed and ravished wheresoever he had power. His brother, Louis de Flavy, also joined him after Choisy fell, as I have told.

All this I have written that men may clearly know how the Maid came by her end. For, so soon as Eastertide was over, and the truce ended, she made no tarrying, nor even said farewell to the King, who might have held her back, but drew out all her company, and rode northward, whither she knew that battle was to be. Her mind was to take some strong place on the Oise, as Pont l'Eveque, near Noyon, that she might cut off them of Burgundy from all the country eastward of Oise, and so put them out of the power to besiege Compiegne, and might destroy all their host at Montdidier and in the Beauvais country. For the Maid was not only the first of captains in leading a desperate onslaught, but also (by miracle, for otherwise it might not be) she best knew how to devise deep schemes and subtle stratagem of war.

Setting forth, therefore, early in April, on the fifteenth day of the month she came to Melun, a town some seven leagues south of Paris, that had lately yielded to the King. Bidding me walk with her, she went afoot about the walls, considering what they lacked of strength, and how they might best be repaired, and bidding me write down all in a little book. Now we two, and no other, were walking by the dry fosse of Melun, the day being very fair and warm for that season, the flowers blossoming, and the birds singing so sweet and loud as never I heard them before or since that day.

The Maid stood still to listen, holding up her hand to me for silence, when, lo! in one moment, in the midst of merry music, the birds hushed suddenly.

As I marvelled, for there was not a cloud in the sky, nor a breath of cold wind, I beheld the Maid standing as I had seen her stand in the farmyard of the mill by St. Denis. Her head was bare, and her face was white as snow. So she stood while one might count a hundred, and if ever any could say that he had seen the Maid under fear, it was now. As I watched and wondered, she fell on her knees, like one in prayer, and with her eyes set and straining, and with clasped hands, she said these words--"Tell me of that day, and that hour, or grant me, of your grace, that in the same hour I may die."

Then she was silent for short space, and then, having drawn herself upon her knees for three paces or four, she very reverently bowed down, and kissed the ground.

Thereafter she arose, and beholding me wan, I doubt not, she gently laid her hand upon my shoulder, and, smiling most sweetly, she said -

"I know not what thou hast seen or heard, but promise, on thine honour, that thou wilt speak no word to any man, save in confession only, while I bear arms for France."

Then humbly, and with tears, I vowed as she had bidden me, whereto she only said -

"Come, we loiter, and I have much to do, for the day is short."

But whether the birds sang again, or stinted, I know not, for I marked it not.

But she set herself, as before, to consider the walls and the fosses, bidding me write down in my little book what things were needful. Nor was her countenance altered in any fashion, nor was her wit less clear; but when we had seen all that was to be looked to, she bade me call the chief men of the town to her house, after vespers, and herself went into the Church of St. Michael to pray.

Though I pondered much on this strange matter, which I laid up in my heart, I never knew what, belike, the import was, till nigh a year thereafter, at Rouen.

But there one told me how the Maid, before her judges, had said that, at Melun, by the fosse, her Saints had told her how she should be made prisoner before the feast of St. John. And she had prayed them to warn her of that hour, or in that hour might she die, but they bade her endure all things patiently, and with a willing mind. At that coming, then, of the Saints, I was present, though, being a sinful man, I knew not that the Holy Ones were there. But the birds knew, and stinted in their singing.

Now that the Maid, knowing by inspiration her hour to be even at the doors, and wotting well what the end of her captivity was like to be, yet had the heart to put herself in jeopardy day by day, this I deem the most valiant deed ever done by man or woman since the making of the world. For scarce even Wallace wight would have stood to his standard had he known, by teaching of them who cannot lie, what end awaited him beyond all hope. Nay, he would have betaken him to France, as once he did in time of less danger.

Now, I pray you, consider who she was that showed this courage and high heart. She was but the daughter of a manant, a girl of eighteen years of age. Remember, then, what manner of creature such a girl is of her nature; how weak and fearful; how she is discomfited and abashed by the company of even one gentleman or lady of noble birth; how ignorant she is of war; how fond to sport and play with wenches of her own degree; how easily set on fire of love; and how eager to be in the society of young men amorous. Pondering all these things in your hearts, judge ye whether this Maid, the bravest leader in breach, the wisest captain, having foreknowledge of things hidden and of things to come, the most courteous lady who ever with knights sat in hall, not knowing carnal love, nor bodily fear, was aught but a thing miraculous, and a sister of the Saints.



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