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 XXXI
HOW NORMAN LESLIE SAW THE MAID IN HER PRISON

On arriving in the town of Rouen, three things were my chief care, whereof the second helped me in the third. The first was to be lodged as near as I might to the castle, wherein the Maid lay, being chained (so fell was the cruelty of the English) to her bed. The next matter was to purvey me three horses of the fleetest. Here my fortune served me well, for the young esquires and pages would ever be riding races outside of the gates, they being in no fear of war, and the time till the Maid was burned hung heavy on their hands. I therefore, following the manner of the English Marchmen, thrust myself forward in these sports, and would change horses, giving money to boot, for any that outran my own. My money I spent with a very free hand, both in wagers and in feasting men-at-arms, so that I was taken to be a good fellow, and I willingly let many make their profit of me. In the end, I had three horses that, with a light rider in the saddle, could be caught by none in the whole garrison of Rouen.

Thirdly, I was most sedulous in all duty, and so won the favour of Sir Thomas Grey, the rather that he counted cousins with me, and reckoned that we were of some far-off kindred, wherein he spoke the truth. Thus, partly for our common blood, partly for that I was ever ready at call, and forward to do his will, and partly because none could carry a message swifter, or adventure further to spy out any bands of the French, he kept me close to him, and trusted me as his galloper. Nay, he gave me, on occasion, his signet, to open the town gates whensoever he would send me on any errand. Moreover, the man (noble by birth, but base by breeding) who had the chief charge and custody of the Maid, was the brother's son of Sir Thomas. He had to name John Grey, and was an esquire of the body of the English King, Henry, then a boy. This miscreant it was often my fortune to meet, at his uncle's table, and to hear his pitiless and cruel speech. Yet, making friends, as Scripture commands us, of the Mammon of unrighteousness, I set myself to win the affection of John Grey by laughing at his jests and doing him what service I might.

Once or twice I dropped to him a word of my great desire to see the famed Puzel, for the trials that had been held in open hall were now done in the dungeon, where only the bishop, the doctors of law, and the notaries might hear them. Her noble bearing, indeed, and wise answers (which were plainly put into her mouth by the Saints, for she was simple and ignorant) had gained men's hearts.

One day, they told me, an English lord had cried--"The brave lass, pity she is not English." For to the English all the rest of God's earth is as Nazareth, out of which can come no good thing. Thus none might see the Maid, and, once and again, I let fall a word in John Grey's ear concerning my desire to look on her in prison. I dared make no show of eagerness, though now the month of May had come, which was both her good and ill month. For in May she first went to Vaucouleurs and prophesied, in May she delivered Orleans, and in May she was taken at Compiegne. Wherefore I deemed, as men will, that in May she should escape her prison, or in May should die. Moreover, on the first day of March they had asked her, mocking her -

"Shalt thou be delivered?"

And she had answered -

"Ask me on this day three months, and I shall declare it to you."

The English, knowing this, made all haste to end her ere May ended, wherefore I had the more occasion for speed.

Now, on a certain day, being May the eighth, the heart of John Grey was merry within him. He had well drunk, and I had let him win of me, at the dice, that one of my three horses which most he coveted.

He then struck me in friendly fashion on the back, and cried -

"An unlucky day for thee, and for England. This very day, two years agone, that limb of the devil drove us by her sorceries from before Orleans. But to-morrow--" and he laughed grossly in his beard. "Storey, you are a good fellow, though a fool at the dice."

"Faith, I have met my master," I said. "But the lesson you gave me was worth bay Salkeld," for so I had named my horse, after a great English house on the Border who dwell at the Castle of Corby.

"I will do thee a good turn," he said. "You crave to see this Puzel, ere they put on her the high witch's cap for her hellward journey."

"I should like it not ill," I said; "it were something to tell my grandchildren, when all France is English land."

"Then you shall see her, for this is your last chance to see her whole."

"What mean you, fair sir?" I asked, while my heart gave a turn in my body, and I put out my hand to a great tankard of wine.

"To-morrow the charity of the Church hath resolved that she shall be had into the torture-chamber."

I set my lips to the tankard, and drank long, to hide my face, and for that I was nigh swooning with a passion of fear and wrath.

"Thanks to St. George," I said, "the end is nigh!"

"The end of the tankard," quoth he, looking into it, "hath already come. You drink like a man of the Land Debatable."

Yet I was in such case that, though by custom I drink little, the great draught touched not my brain, and did but give me heart.

"You might challenge at skinking that great Danish knight who was with us under Orleans, Sir Andrew Haggard was his name, and his bearings were . . . " {39}

So he was running on, for he himself had drunk more than his share, when I brought him back to my matter.

"But as touching this Puzel, how may I have my view of her, that you graciously offered me?"

"My men change guard at curfew," he said; "five come out and five go in, and I shall bid them seek you here at your lodgings. So now, farewell, and your revenge with the dice you shall have when so you will."

"Nay, pardon me one moment: when relieve you the guard that enters at curfew?"

"An hour after point of day. But, now I bethink me, you scarce will care to pass all the night in the Puzel's company. Hast thou paper or parchment?"

I set paper and ink before him, who said -

"Nay, write yourself; I am no great clerk, yet I can sign and seal."

Therewith, at his wording, I set down an order to the Castle porter to let me forth as early in the night as I would. This pass he signed with his name, and sealed with his ring, bearing his arms.

"So I wish you joy of this tryst and bonne fortune," he said, and departed.

I had two hours before me ere curfew rang, and the time was more than I needed. Therefore I went first to the Church of St. Ouen, which is very great and fair, and there clean confessed me, and made my orisons that, if it were God's will, this enterprise might turn to His honour, and to the salvation of the Maid. And pitifully I besought Madame St. Catherine of Fierbois, that as she had delivered me, a sinner, she would deliver the Sister of the Saints.

Next I went back to my lodgings, and there bade the hostler to have my two best steeds saddled and bridled in stall, by point of day, for a council was being held that night in the Castle, and I and another of Sir Thomas's company might be sent early with a message to the Bishop of Avranches. This holy man, as then, was a cause of trouble and delay to the Regent and Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, because he was just, and fell not in with their treasons.

Next I clad myself in double raiment, doublet above doublet, and hose over hose, my doublets bearing the red cross of St. George. Over all I threw a great mantle, falling to the feet, as if I feared the night chills. Thereafter I made a fair copy of my own writing in the pass given to me by John Grey, and copied his signature also, and feigned his seal with a seal of clay, for it might chance that two passes proved better than one. Then I put in a little wallet hanging to my girdle the signet of Sir Thomas Grey, and the pass given to me by John Grey, also an ink-horn with pen and paper, and in my hand, secretly, I held that phial which I had bought of the apothecary in Tours. All my gold and jewels I hid about my body; I sharpened my sword and dagger, and then had no more to do but wait till curfew rang.

This was the weariest part of all; for what, I thought, if John Grey had forgotten his promise, the wine being about his wits. Therefore I walked hither and thither in my chamber, in much misdoubt; but at the chime of curfew I heard rude voices below, and a heavy step on the stairs. It was a man-at-arms of the basest sort, who, lurching with his shoulder against my door, came in, and said that he and his fellows waited my pleasure. Thereon I showed him the best countenance, and bade my host fill a pannier with meat and cakes and wine, to pass the hours in the prison merrily. I myself ran down into the host's cellar, and was very busy in tasting wine, for I would have the best. And in making my choice, while the host stooped over a cask to draw a fresh tankard, I poured all the drugs of my phial into a large pewter vessel with a lid, filled it with wine, and, tasting it, swore it would serve my turn. This flagon, such as we call a 'tappit hen' in my country, but far greater, I bore with me up the cellar stairs, and gave it to one of the guard, bidding him spill not a drop, or he should go thirsty.

The lourdaud, that was their captain, carried the pannier, and, laughing, we crossed the street and the moat, giving the word "Bedford." To the porter I showed my pass, telling him that, though I was loath to disturb him, I counted not to watch all night in the cell, wherefore I gave him a gold piece for the trouble he might have in letting me go forth at an hour untimely. Herewith he was well content, and so, passing the word to the sentinel at each post, we entered.

And now, indeed, my heart beat so that my body seemed to shake with hope and fear as I walked. At the door of the chamber wherein the Maid lay we met her guards coming forth, who cried roughly, bidding her good even, and to think well of what waited her, meaning the torments. They tumbled down the stairs laughing, while we went in, and I last. It was a dark vaulted chamber with one window near the roof, narrow and heavily barred. In the recess by the window was a brazier burning, and casting as much shadow as light by reason of the smoke. Here also was a rude table, stained with foul circles of pot-rims, and there were five or six stools. On a weighty oaken bed lay one in man's raiment, black in hue, her face downwards, and her arms spread over her neck. It could scarce be that she slept, but she lay like one dead, only shuddering when the lourdaud, the captain of the guard, smote her on the shoulder, asking, in English, how she did?

"Here she is, sir, surly as ever, and poor company for Christian men. See you how cunningly all her limbs are gyved, and chained to the iron bolts of the bed? What would my lady Jeanne give me for this little master-key?"

Here he showed a slender key, hung on a steel chain about his neck.

"Never a saint of the three, Michael, Margaret, and Catherine, can take this from me; nay, nor the devils who wear their forms."

"Have you seen this fair company of hers?" I whispered in English, crossing myself.

"No more than she saw the white lady that goes with that other witch, Catherine of La Rochelle. But, sir, she is sullen; it is her manner. With your good leave, shall we sup?"

This was my own desire, so putting the pannier on the table, I carved the meat with my dagger, and poured out the wine in cups, and they fell to, being hungry, as Englishmen are at all times. They roared over their meat, eating like wolves and drinking like fishes, and one would sing a lewd song, and the others strike in with the over-word, but drinking was their main avail.

"This is better stuff," says the lourdaud, "than our English ale. Faith, 'tis strong, my lads! Wake up, Jenkin; wake up, Hal," and then he roared a snatch, but stopped, looking drowsily about him.

O brothers in Christ, who hear this tale, remember ye that, for now four months and more, the cleanest soul in Christenty, and the chastest lady, and of manners the noblest, had endured this company by night and by day!

"Nay, wake up," I cried; "ye are dull revellers; what say ye to the dice?"

Therewith I set out my tablier and the dice. Then I filled up the cup afresh, pretending to drink, and laid on the foul table a great shining heap of gold. Their dull eyes shone like the metal when I said -

"Myself will be judge and umpire; play ye, honest fellows, for I crave no gains from you. Only, a cup for luck!"

They camped at the table, all the five of them, and some while their greed kept them wakeful, and they called the mains, but their drought kept them drinking. And, one by one, their heads fell heavy on the table, or they sprawled on their stools, and so sank on to the floor, so potent were the poppy and mandragora of the leech in Tours.

At last they were all sound on sleep, one man's hand yet clutching a pile of my gold that now and again would slip forth and jingle on the stone floor.

Now all this time she had never stirred, but lay as she had lain, her face downwards, her arms above her neck.

Stealthily I took the chain and the key from about the neck of the sleeping lourdaud, and then drew near her on tiptoe.

I listened, and, from her breathing, I believe that she slept, as extreme labour and weariness and sorrow do sometimes bring their own remede.

Then a thought came into my mind, how I should best awake her, and stooping, I said in her ear -

"Fille De!"

Instantly she turned about, and, sitting up, folded her hands as one in prayer, deeming, belike, that she was aroused by the voices of her Saints. I kneeled down beside the bed, and whispered--"Madame, Jeanne, look on my face!"

She gazed on me, and now I saw her brave face, weary and thin and white, and, greater than of old, the great grey eyes.

"I said once," came her sweet voice, "that thou alone shouldst stand by me when all had forsaken me. Fair Saints, do I dream but a dream?"

"Nay, Madame," I said, "thou wakest and dost not dream. One has sent me who loves thee, even my lady Elliot; and now listen, for the time is short. See, here I have the master-key, and when I have unlocked thy bonds . . . "

"Thou hast not slain these men?" she asked. "That were deadly sin."

"Nay, they do but sleep, and will waken belike ere the fresh guard comes, wherefore we must make haste."

"When I have freed thee, do on thy body, above thy raiment, this doublet of mine, for it carries the cross of England, and, I being of little stature, you may well pass for me. Moreover, this cloak and its hood, which I wore when I came in, will cover thee. Then, when thou goest forth give the word "Bedford" to the sentinels; and, to the porter in the gate, show this written pass of John Grey's. He knows it already, having seen it this night. Next, when thou art without the castle, fare to the hostelry called "The Rose and Apple," which is nearest the castle gate, and so straight into the stable, where stand two steeds, saddled and bridled. Choose the black, he is the swifter. If the hostler be awake, he expects me, and will take thee for me; mount, with no word, and ride to the eastern port. There show to the gate ward this signet of Sir Thomas Grey, and he will up with portcullis and down with drawbridge, for he has often done no less for me and that signet.

"Then, Madame, ride for Louviers, and you shall break your fast with the Bastard and La Hire." Her white face changed to red, like the morning light, as on that day at Orleans, before she took Les Tourelles.

Then the flush faded, and she grew ashen pale, while she said -

"But thou, how shalt thou get forth?"

"Madame," I said, "fear not for me. I will follow after thee, and shame the sleepy porter to believe that he has dreamed a dream. And I have written this other pass, on seeing which he will needs credit me, being adrowse, and, moreover, I will pay him well. And I shall be at the stable as soon almost as thou, and I have told the hostler that belike I shall ride with a friend, carrying a message to the Bishop of Avranches. For I have beguiled the English to believe me of their party, as Madame Judith wrought to the tyrant Holofernes."

"Nay," she answered simply, "this may not be. Even if the porter were to be bought or beguiled, thou couldst not pass the sentinels. It may not be."

"The sentinels, belike, are sleeping, or wellnigh sleeping, and I have a dagger. O Madame! for the sake of the fortune of France, and the honour of the King"--for this, I knew, was my surest hope-- "delay not, nor reck at all of me. I have but one life, and it is thine freely."

"They will burn thee, or slay thee with other torments."

"Not so," I said; "I shall not be taken alive."

"That were deadly sin," she answered. "I shall not go and leave thee to die for me. Then were my honour lost, and I could not endure to live. Entreat me not, for I will not go forth, as now. Nay more, I tell thee as I have told my judges, that which the Saints have spoken to me. 'Bear this thy martyrdom gently,' they say, 'tu t'en viendras en royaume du Paradis.' Moreover, this I know, that I am to be delivered with great victory!"

Here she clasped her hands, looking upwards, and her face was as the face of an angel.

"Fair victory it were to leave thee in my place, and so make liars of my brethren of Paradise."

Then, alas! I knew that I was of no more avail to move her; yet one last art I tried.

"Madame," I said, "I have prayed you in the name of the fortune of France, and the honour of the King, which is tarnished for ever if you escape not."

"I shall be delivered," she answered.

"I pray you in the dear name of your lady mother, Madame du Lys."

"I shall be delivered," she said, "and with great victory!"

"Now I pray thee in my own name, and in that of thy first friend, my lady. She has made a vow to give her virginity to Heaven unless either thou art set free, or she have tidings from thee that thou willest her to wed me, without whom I have no desire to live, but far rather this very night to perish. For I am clean confessed, within these six hours, knowing that I was like to be in some jeopardy."

"Then," she said, smiling sweetly, and signing that I should take her hand--"Then live, Norman Leslie, for this is to me an easy thing and a joyous. Thou art a clerk, hast thou wherewithal to write?"

"Yes, Madame, here in my wallet."

"Then write as I tell thee:-

"JHESU MARIA"

"'I, Jehanne la Pucelle, send from prison here in Rouen my tidings of love to Elliot Hume, my first friend among women, and bid her, for my sake, wed him who loves her, Norman Leslie of Pitcullo, my faithful servant, praying that all happiness may go with them. In witness whereto, my hand being guided to write, I set my name, Jehanne la Pucelle, this ninth day of May, in the year Fourteen hundred and thirty-one.'

"So guide my hand," she said, taking the pen from my fingers; and thus guided, while my tears fell on her hand, she wrote JEHANNE LA PUCELLE.

"Now," quoth she, smiling as of old, "we must seal this missive. Cut off one lock of my hair with your dagger, for my last gift to my first friend, and make the seal all orderly."

I did as she bade, and, bringing a lighted stick from the brazier, I melted wax. Then, when it was smooth, she laid on it two hairs from the little sundered lock (as was sometimes her custom), and bade me seal with my own signet, and put the brief in my wallet.

"Now, all is done," she said.

"Nay, nay," I said, "to die for thee is more to me than to live in love. Ah, nay, go forth, I beseech thee!"

"With victory shall I go forth, and now I lay my last commands on the last of all my servants. If in aught I have ever offended thee, in word or deed, forgive me!"

I could but bow my head, for I was weeping, though her eyes were dry.

"And so, farewell," she said -

"As thou art leal and true, begone; it is my order, and make no tarrying. To-morrow I have much to do, and needs must I sleep while these men are quiet. Say to thy lady that I love her dearly, and bid her hope, as I also hope. Farewell!"

She moved her thin hand, which I kissed, kneeling.

Again she said "Farewell," and turned her back on me as if she would sleep.

Then I hung the chain and key again on the neck of the lourdaud; I put some of the fallen coins in the men's pouches, but bestowed the dice and tablier in my wallet. I opened the door, and went forth, not looking back; and so from the castle, showing my pass, and giving the porter another coin. Then I went home, in the sweet dawn of May, and casting myself on my bed, I wept bitterly, for to-day she should be tormented.

Of the rest I have no mind to tell (though they had not the heart to torture the Maid), for it puts me out of charity with a people who have a name to be Christians, and it is my desire, if I may, to forgive all men before I die.

At Rouen I endured to abide, even until the day of unjust doom, and my reason was that I ever hoped for some miracle, even as her Saints had promised. But it was their will that she should be made perfect through suffering, and being set free through the gate of fire, should win her victory over unfaith and mortal fear. Wherefore I stood afar off at the end, seeing nothing of what befell; yet I clearly heard, as did all men there, the last word of her sweet voice, and the cry of JHESUS!

Then I passed through the streets where men and women, and the very English, were weeping, and, saddling my swiftest horse, I rode to the east port. When the gate had closed behind me, I turned, and, lifting my hand, I tore the cross of St. George from my doublet.

"Dogs!" I cried, "ye have burned a Saint! A curse on cruel English and coward French! St Andrew for Scotland!" The shafts and bolts hailed past me as I wheeled about; there was mounting of steeds, and a clatter of hoofs behind me, but the sound died away ere I rode into Louviers.

There I told them the tale which was their shame, and so betook me to Tours, and to my lady.



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