Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


About all that befell in the besieged city of Compiegne, after that wicked day of destiny when the Maid was taken, I heard for long only from the Jacobin brothers, and from one Barthelemy Barrette. He was a Picardy man, more loyal than most of his country, who had joined the Maid after the fray at Paris. Now he commanded a hundred of her company, who did not scatter after she was taken, and he was the best friend I then had.

"The burgesses are no whit dismayed," said he, coming into my chamber after the day of the Ascension, which was the second after the capture of the Maid. "They have sent a messenger to the King, and expect succour."

"They sue for grace at a graceless face," said I, in the country proverb; for my heart was hot against King Charles.

"That is to be seen," said be. "But assuredly the Duke of Burgundy is more keen about his own business."

"How fare the Burgundians?" I asked, "for, indeed, I have heard the guns speak since dawn, but none of the good fathers cares to go even on to the roof of the church tower and bring me tidings, for fear of a stray cannon-ball."

"For holy men they are wondrous chary of their lives," said Barthelemy, laughing. "Were I a monk, I would welcome death that should unfrock me, and let me go a-wandering in Paradise among these fair lady saints we see in the pictures."

"It is written, Barthelemy, that there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage."

"Faith, the more I am fain of it," said Barthelemy, "and may be I might take the wrong track, and get into the Paradise of Mahound, which, I have heard, is no ill place for a man-at-arms."

This man had no more faith than a paynim, but, none the less, was a stout carl in war.

"But that minds me," quoth he, "of the very thing I came hither to tell you. One priest there is in Compiegne who takes no keep of his life, a cordelier. What ails you, man? does your leg give a twinge?"

"Ay, a shrewd twinge enough."

"Truly, you look pale enough."

"It is gone," I said. "Tell me of that cordelier."

"Do you see this little rod?" he asked, putting in my hand a wand of dark wood, carven with the head of a strange beast in a cowl.

"I see it."

"How many notches are cut in it?"

"Five," I said. "But why spoil you your rod?"

"Five men of England or Burgundy that cordelier shot this day, from the creneaux of the boulevard where the Maid," crossing himself, "was taken. A fell man he is, strong and tall, with a long hooked nose, and as black as Sathanas."

"How comes he in arms?" I asked.

"Flavy called him in from Valenciennes, where he was about some business of his own, for there is no greater master of the culverin. And, faith, as he says, he 'has had rare sport, and will have for long.'"

"Was there an onfall of the enemy?"

"Nay, they are over wary. He shot them as they dug behind pavises. {36} For the Duke has moved his quarters to Venette, where the English lay, hard by the town. And, right in the middle of the causeway to Margny, two arrow-shots from our bridge end, he is letting build a great bastille, and digging a trench wherein men may go to and fro. The cordelier was as glad of that as a man who has stalked a covey of partridges. 'Keep my tally for me,' he said to myself; 'cut a notch for every man I slay'; and here," said Barthelemy, waving his staff, "is his first day's reckoning."

Now I well saw what chance I had of bringing that devil to justice, for who would believe so strange a tale as mine against one so serviceable in the war? Nor was D'Aulon here to speak for me, the enemy having taken him when they took the Maid. Thinking thus, I groaned, and Barthelemy, fearing that he had wearied me, said farewell, and went out.

Every evening, after sunset, he would come in, and partly cheer me, by telling how hardily our people bore them, partly break my heart with fresh tidings of that devil, Brother Thomas.

"Things go not ill, had we but hope of succour," he said. "The Duke's bastille is rising, indeed, and the Duke is building taudis {37} of oaken beams and earth, between the bastille and our boulevard. The skill is to draw nearer us, and nearer, till he can mine beneath our feet. Heard you any new noise of war this day?"

"I heard such a roar and clatter as never was in my ears, whether at Orleans or Paris."

"And well you might! This convent is in the very line of the fire. They have four great bombards placed, every one of them with a devilish Netherland name of its own. There is Houpembiere,--that means the beer-barrel, I take it,--and La Rouge Bombarde, and Remeswalle and Quincequin, every one shooting stone balls thirty inches in girth. The houses on the bridge are a heap of stones, the mills are battered down, and we must grind our meal in the city, in a cellar, for what I can tell. Nom Dieu! when they take the boulevard we lose the river, and if once they bar our gates to the east, whence shall viands come?"

"Is there no good tidings from the messenger?"

"The King answers ever like a drawer in a tavern, 'Anon, anon, sir!' He will come himself presently, always presently, with all his host."

"He will never come," I said. "He is a . . . "

"He is my King," said Barthelemy. "Curse your own King of Scots, if you will. Scots, by the blood of Iscariot, traitors are they; well, I crave your pardon, I spake in haste and anger. Know you Nichole Cammet?"

"I have heard of the man," I said. "A town's messenger, is he not?"

"The same. But a week agone, Cammet was sent on a swift horse to Chateau Thierry. The good town craved of Pothon de Xaintrailles, who commands there, to send them what saltpetre he could spare for making gunpowder. The saltpetre came in this day by the Pierrefonds Gate, and Cammet with it, but on another horse, a jade."

"Well, and what have the Scots to do with that?"

"No more than this. A parcel of them, routiers and brigands, have crept into an old castle on the road, and hold it for their own hands. Thence they sallied forth after Cammet, and so chased him that his horse fell down dead under him in the gateway of Chateau Thierry."

"They would be men of the Land Debatable," I cried: "Elliots and Armstrongs, they never do a better deed, being corrupted by dwelling nigh our enemies of England. Fain would I pay for that horse; see here," and I took forth my purse from under my pillow, "take that to the attournes, and say a Scot atones for what Scots have done."

"Norman, I take back my word; I crave your pardon, and I am shamed to have spoken so to a sick man of his own countryfolk. But for your purse, I am ill at carrying purses; I have no skill in that art, and the dice draw me when I hear the rattle of them. But look at the cordelier's tally: four men to-day, three yesterday; faith, he thins them!"

Indeed, to shorten a long story, by the end of Barthelemy's count there were two hundred and thirty-nine notches on the rod. That he kept a true score (till he stinted and reckoned no more), I know, having proof from the other side. For twelve years thereafter, I falling into discourse with Messire Georges Chastellain, an esquire of the Duke of Burgundy, and a maker both of verse and prose, he told me the same tale to a man, three hundred men. And I make no doubt but that he has written it in his book of the praise of his prince, and of these wars, to witness if I lie.

Consider, then, what hope I had of being listened to by Flavy, or by the attournes (or, as we say, bailies), of the good town, if, being recovered from my broken limbs, I brought my witness to their ears.

None the less, the enemy battered at us every day with their engines, destroying, as Barthelemy had said, the houses on the bridge, and the mills, so that they could no longer grind the corn.

And now came the Earls of Huntingdon and Arundel, with two thousand Englishmen, while to us appeared no succour. So at length, being smitten by balls from above, and ruined by mines dug under earth from below, our company that held the boulevard at the bridge end were surprised in the night, and some were taken, some drowned in the river Oise. Wherefore was great sorrow and fear, the more for that the Duke of Burgundy let build a bridge of wood from Venette, to come and go across Oise, whereby we were now assailed on both hands, for hitherto we had been free to come and go on the landward side, and through all the forest of Pierrefonds. We had but one gate unbeleaguered, the Chapel Gate, leading to Choisy and the north-east. Now were we straitened for provender, notably for fresh meat, and men were driven, as in a city beleaguered, to eat the flesh of dead horses, and even of rats and dogs, whereof I have partaken, and it is ill food.

None the less we endured, despite the murmuring of the commons, so strong are men's hearts; moreover, all France lay staked on this one cast of the dice, no less than at Orleans in the year before.

Somewhat we were kept in heart by tidings otherwise bitter. For word came that the Maid, being in ward at Beaurevoir, a strong place of Jean de Luxembourg, had leaped in the night from the top of the tower, and had, next morning, been taken up all unhurt, as by, miracle, but astounded and bereft of her senses. For this there was much sorrow, but would to God that He had taken her to Himself in that hour!

Nevertheless, when she was come to herself again, she declared, by inspiration of the Saints, that Compiegne should be delivered before the season of Martinmas. Whence I, for one, drew great comfort, nor ever again despaired, and many were filled with courage when this tidings came to our ears, hoping for some miracle, as at Orleans.

Now, too, God began to take pity upon us; for, on August the fifteenth, the eighty-fifth day of the siege, came news to the Duke of Burgundy that Philip, Duke of Brabant, was dead, and he must go to make sure of that great heritage. The Duke having departed, the English Earls had far less heart for the leaguer; I know not well wherefore, but now, at least, was seen the truth of that proverb concerning the "eye of the master." The bastille, too, which our enemies had made to prevent us from going out by our Pierrefonds Gate on the landward side, was negligently built, and of no great strength. All this gave us some heart, so much that my hosts, the good Jacobins, and the holy sisters of the Convent of St. John, stripped the lead from their roofs, and bestowed it on the town, for munition of war. And when I was in case to walk upon the walls, and above the river, I might see men and boys diving in the water and searching for English cannon-balls, which we shot back at the English.

It chanced, one day, that I was sitting and sunning myself in the warm September weather, on a settle in a secure place hard by the Chapel Gate. With me was Barthelemy Barrette, for it was the day of Our Lady's Feast, that very day whereon we had failed before Paris last year, and there was truce for the sacred season. We fell to devising of what had befallen that day year, and without thought I told Barthelemy of my escape from prison, and so, little by little, I opened my heart to him concerning Brother Thomas and all his treasons.

Never was man more astounded than Barthelemy; and he bade me swear by the Blessed Trinity that all this tale was true.

"Mayhap you were fevered," he said, "when you lay in the casement seat, and saw the Maid taken by device of the cordelier."

"I was no more fevered than I am now, and I swear, by what oath you will, and by the bones of St. Andrew, which these sinful hands have handled, that Flavy's face was set the other way when that cry came, 'Down portcullis, up drawbridge, close gates!' And now that I have told you the very truth, what should I do?"

"Brother Thomas should burn for this," quoth Barthelemy; "but not while the siege endures. He carries too many English lives in his munition-box. Nor can you slay him in single combat, or at unawares, for the man is a priest. Nor would Flavy, who knows you not, listen to such a story."

So there he sat, frowning, and plucking at his beard. "I have it," he said; "D'Aulon is no further off than Beaulieu, where Jean de Luxembourg holds him till he pays his ransom. When the siege is raised, if ever we are to have succour, then purchase safe-conduct to D'Aulon, take his testimony, and bring it to Flavy."

As he spoke, some stir in the still air made me look up, and suddenly throw my body aside; and it was well, for a sword swept down from the low parapet above our heads, and smote into the back of that settle whereon we were sitting.

Ere I well knew what had chanced, Barthelemy was on his feet, his whinger flew from his hand, and he, leaping up on to the parapet, was following after him who smote at me.

In the same moment a loud grating voice cried--"The Maid shall burn, and not the man," and a flash of light went past me, the whinger flying over my head and clipping into the water of the moat below."

Rising as I best might, but heedfully, I spied over the parapet, and there was Barthelemy coming back, his naked sword in his hand.

"The devil turned a sharp corner and vanished," he said. "And now where are we? We have a worse foe within than all the men of Burgundy without. There goes the devil's tally!" he cried, and threw the little carven rod far from him into the moat, where it fell and floated.

"No man saw this that could bear witness; most are in church, where you and I should have been," I said.

Then we looked on each other with blank faces.

"My post is far from his, and my harness is good," said Barthelemy; "but for you, beware!" Thenceforth, if I saw any cowl of a cordelier as I walked, I even turned and went the other way.

I was of no avail against this wolf, whom all men praised, so serviceable was he to the town.

Once an arbalest bolt struck my staff from my hand as I walked, and I was fain to take shelter of a corner, yet saw not whence the shot came.

Once a great stone fell from a turret, and broke into dust at my feet, and it is not my mind that a cannon-ball had loosened it.

Thus my life went by in dread and watchfulness. No more bitter penance may man dree than was mine, to be near this devil, and have no power to avenge my deadly quarrel. There were many heavy hearts in the town; for, once it was taken, what man could deem his life safe, or what woman her honour? But though they lay down and rose up in fear, and were devoured by desire of revenge, theirs was no such thirst as mine.

So the days went on, and darkened towards the promised season of Martinmas, but there dawned no light of hope. Now, on the Wednesday before All Saints, I had clambered up into the tower of the Church of the Jacobins, on the north-east of the city, whence there was a prospect far and wide. With me were only two of the youngest of the fathers. I looked down into the great forest of Pierrefonds, and up and down Oise, and beheld the army of our enemies moving in divers ways. The banners of the English and their long array were crossing the Duke of Burgundy's new bridge of wood, that he had builded from Venette, and with them the men of Jean de Luxembourg trooped towards Royaulieu. On the crest of their bastille, over against our Pierrefonds Gate, matches were lighted and men were watching in double guard, and the same on the other side of the water, at the Gate Margny. Plainly our foes expected a rescue sent to us of Compiegne by our party. But the forest, five hundred yards from our wall, lay silent and peaceable, a sea of brown and yellow leaves.

Then, while the English and Burgundian men-at-arms, that had marched south and east, were drawn up in order of battle away to the right between wood and water, behold, trumpets sounded, faint enough, being far off. Then there was a glitter of the pale sun on long lines of lance-points, under the banners of French captains, issuing out from the forest, over against the enemy. We who stood on the tower gazed long at these two armies, which were marshalled orderly, with no more than a bowshot and a half between them, and every moment we looked to see them charge upon each other with the lance. Much we prayed to the Saints, for now all our hope was on this one cast. They of Burgundy and of England dismounted from their horses, for the English ever fight best on foot, and they deemed that the knights of France would ride in upon them, and fall beneath the English bows, as at Azincour and Crecy. We, too, looked for nought else; but the French array never stirred, though here and there a knight would gallop forth to do a valiance. Seldom has man seen a stranger sight in war, for the English and Burgundians could not charge, being heavy-armed men on foot, and the French would not move against them, we knew not wherefore.

All this spectacle lay far off, to the south, and we could not be satisfied with wondering at it nor turn away our eyes, when, on the left, a trumpet rang out joyously. Then, all of us wheeling round as one man, we saw the most blessed sight, whereto our backs had been turned; for, into the Chapel Gate--that is, far to the left of the Pierrefonds Gate on the north-east--were streaming cattle, sheep and kine, pricked on and hastened by a company of a hundred men-at- arms. They had come by forest paths from Choisy way, and anon all our guns on the boulevard of the Pierrefonds Gate burst forth at once against the English bastille over against it. Now this bastille, as I have said, had never been strongly builded, and, in some sort, was not wholly finished.

After one great volley of guns against the bastille, we, looking down into our boulevard of the Pierrefonds Gate, saw the portcullis raised, the drawbridge lowered, and a great array of men-at-arms carrying ladders rush out, and charge upon the bastille. Then, through the smoke and fire, they strove to scale the works, and for the space of half an hour all was roar of guns; but at length our men came back, leaving many slain, and the running libbards grinned on the flag of England.

I might endure no longer, but, clambering down the tower stairs as best I might, for I was still lame, I limped to my lodgings at the Jacobins, did on my harness, and, taking a horse from the stable, I mounted and rode to the Pierrefonds Gate. For Brother Thomas and his murderous ways I had now no care at all.

Never, sure, saw any man such a sight. Our boulevard was full, not only of men-at-arms, but of all who could carry clubs, burgesses armed, old men, boys, yea, women and children, some with rusty swords, some with carpenters' axes, some bearing cudgels, some with hammers, spits, and knives, all clamouring for the portcullis to rise and let them forth. Their faces were lean and fierce, their eyes were like eyes of wolves, for now, they cried, was the hour, and the prophecy of the Maid should be fulfilled! Verily, though she lay in bonds, her spirit was with us on that day!

But still our portcullis was down, and the long tail of angry people stretched inwards, from the inner mouth of the boulevard, along the street, surging like a swollen loch against its barrier.

On the crest of the boulevard was Flavy, baton in hand, looking forth across field and forest, watching for I knew not what, while still the people clamoured to be let go. But he stood like the statue of a man-at-arms, and from the bastille of the Burgundians the arrows rained around him, who always watched, and was still. Now the guards of the gate had hard work to keep the angry people back, who leaped and tore at the men-at-arms arrayed in front of them, and yelled for eagerness to issue forth and fight.

Suddenly, on the crest of the boulevard, Flavy threw up his arm and gave one cry -


Then he roared to draw up portcullis and open gates; the men-at-arms charged forth, the multitude trampled over each other to be first in field, I was swept on and along with them through the gate, and over the drawbridge, like a straw on a wave, and, lo! a little on our left was the banner of Pothon de Xaintrailles, his foremost men dismounting, the rearguard just riding out from the forest. The two bands joined, we from Compiegne, the four hundred of Xaintrailles from the wood, and, like two swollen streams that meet, we raced towards the bastille, under a rain of arrows and balls. Nothing could stay us: a boy fell by my side with an arrow thrilling in his breast, but his brother never once looked round. I knew not that I could run, but run I did, though not so fast as many, and before I reached the bastille our ladders were up, and the throng was clambering, falling, rising again, and flowing furiously into the fort. The townsfolk had no thought but to slay and slay; five or six would be at the throat of one Burgundian man-at-arms; hammers and axes were breaking up armour, knives were scratching and searching for a crevice; women, lifting great stone balls, would stagger up to dash them on the heads of the fallen. Of the whole garrison, one-half, a hundred and sixty men-at-arms, were put to the sword. Only Pothon de Xaintrailles, and the gentlemen with him, as knowing the manner of war, saved and held to ransom certain knights, as Messire Jacques de Brimeu, the Seigneur de Crepy, and others; while, for my own part, seeing a knight assailed by a knot of clubmen, I struck in on his part, for gentle blood must ever aid gentle blood, and so, not without shrewd blows on my salade, I took to ransom Messire Collart de Bertancourt.

Thereafter, very late, and in the twilight of October the twenty- fifth, we turned back to Compiegne, leaving the enemies' bastille in a flame behind us, while in front were blazing the bonfires of the people of the good town. And, in Compiegne, we heard how the English and the main army of Burgundians had turned, late in the day, and crossed by the Duke of Burgundy's bridge, leaving men to keep guard there. So our victory was great, and wise had been the prudence of the French captains, subtlety being the mother of victory; for, without a blow struck, they had kept Jean de Luxembourg, and the Earls of Huntingdon and Arundel, waiting idle all day, while their great bastille was taken by Xaintrailles and the townsfolk, and food was brought into Compiegne. Thus for the second time I passed a night of joy in a beleaguered town, for there was music in every street, the churches full of people praising God for this great deliverance, men and maids dancing around bonfires, yet good watch was kept at the gates and on the towers. Next day we expected battle, but our spies brought in tidings that Burgundians and English had decamped in the dawn, their men deserting. That day was not less joyful than the night had been; for at Royaulieu, in the abbey where Jean de Luxembourg had lain, the townsfolk found all manner of meat, and of wine great plenty, so right good cheer we made, for it cost us nothing.


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