Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


Down and down I sank, the water surging up into my nostrils and sounding in my ears; but, being in water, I was safe if it were but deep enough. Presently I struck out, and, with a stroke or two, came to the surface. But no sooner did my head show above, and I draw a deep breath or twain, looking for my enemy, than an arbalest bolt cleft the water with a clipping sound, missing me but narrowly. I had but time to see that there was a tumult on the bridge, and swords out (the Scots, as I afterwards heard, knocking up the arbalests that the French soldiers levelled at me). Then I dived again, and swam under water, making towards the right and the castle rock, which ran sheer down to the moat. This course I chose because I had often noted, from the drawbridge, a jutting buttress of rock, behind which, at least, I should be out of arrow-shot. My craft was to give myself all the semblance of a drowning man, throwing up my arms, when I rose to see whereabout I was and to take breath, as men toss their limbs who cannot swim. On the second time of rising thus, I saw myself close to the jut of rock. My next dive took me behind it, and I let down my feet, close under the side of this natural buttress, to look around, being myself now concealed from the sight of those who were on the bridge.

To my surprise I touched bottom, for I had deemed that the water was very deep thereby. Next I found that I was standing on a step of hewn stone, and that a concealed staircase, cut in the rock, goes down, in that place, to the very bottom of the moat; for what purpose I know not, but so it is. {11} I climbed up the steps, shook myself, and wrung the water out of my hair, looking about the while for any sign of my enemy, who had blasphemed against my country and the Maiden. But there was nothing to see on the water save my own cloth cap floating. On the other side of the fosse, howbeit, men were launching a pleasure-boat, which lay by a stair at the foot of the further wall of the fosse. The sight of them made me glad to creep further up the steps that rounded a sharp corner, till I came as far as an iron wicket-gate, which seemed to cut off my retreat. There I stopped, deeming that the wicket must be locked. The men were now rowing the boat into the middle of the water, so, without expecting to find the gate open, I tried the handle. It turned, to my no little amazement; the gate swang lightly aside, as if its hinges had been newly oiled, and I followed the stair-case, creeping up the slimy steps in the half-dark. Up and round I went, till I was wellnigh giddy, and then I tripped and reeled so that my body struck against a heavy ironed door. Under my weight it yielded gently, and I stumbled across the threshold of a room that smelled strangely sweet and was very warm, being full of the sun, and the heat of a great fire.

"Is that you, Robin of my heart?" said a girl's voice in French; and, before I could move, a pair of arms were round my neck. Back she leaped, finding me all wet, and not the man she looked for; and there we both stood, in a surprise that prevented either of us from speaking.

She was a pretty lass, with brown hair and bright red cheeks, and was dressed all in white, being, indeed, one of the laundresses of the castle; and this warm room, fragrant with lavender, whereinto I had stumbled, was part of the castle laundry. A mighty fire was burning, and all the tables were covered with piles and flat baskets of white linen, sweet with scented herbs.

Back the maid stepped towards the door, keeping her eyes on mine; and, as she did not scream, I deemed that none were within hearing: wherein I was wrong, and she had another reason for holding her peace.

"Save me, gentle maid, if you may," I cried at last, falling on my knees, just where I stood: "I am a luckless man, and stand in much peril of my life."

"In sooth you do," she said, "if Robert Lindsay of the Scottish Archers finds you here. He loves not that another should take his place at a tryst."

"Maiden," I said, beginning to understand why the gate was unlocked, and wherefore it went so smooth on its hinges, "I fear I have slain a man, one of the King's archers. We wrestled together on the draw- bridge, and the palisade breaking, we fell into the moat, whence I clomb by the hidden stairs."

"One of the archers!" cried she, as pale as a lily, and catching at her side with her hand. "Was he a Scot?"

"No, maid, but I am; and I pray you hide me, or show me how to escape from this castle with my life, and that speedily."

"Come hither!" she said, drawing me through a door into a small, square, empty room that jutted out above the moat. "The other maids are at their dinner," she went on, "and I all alone--the season being Lent, and I under penance, and thinking of no danger."

For which reason, I doubt not, namely that the others had gone forth, she had made her tryst at this hour with Robin Lindsay. But he, if he was, as she said, one of the Scottish archers that guarded the gate, was busy enough belike with the tumult on the bridge, or in seeking for the body of mine enemy.

"How to get you forth I know not," she said, "seeing that from yonder room you pass into the kitchen and thence into the guard- room, and thence again by a passage in the wall behind the great hall, and so forth to the court, and through the gate, and thereby there is no escape: for see you the soldiers must, and will avenge their comrade."

Hearing this speech, I seemed to behold myself swinging by a tow from a tree branch, a death not beseeming one of gentle blood. Up and down I looked, in vain, and then I turned to the window, thinking that, as better was not to be, I might dive thence into the moat, and take my chance of escape by the stairs on the further side. But the window was heavily barred. Yet again, if I went forth by the door, and lurked on the postern stair, there was Robin Lindsay's dirk to reckon with, when he came, a laggard, to his love- tryst.

"Stop! I have it," said the girl; and flying into the laundry, she returned with a great bundle of white women's gear and a gown of linen, and a woman's white coif, such as she herself wore.

In less time than a man would deem possible, she had my wet hair, that I wore about my shoulders, as our student's manner was, tucked up under the cap, and the clean white smock over my wet clothes, and belted neatly about my middle.

"A pretty wench you make, I swear by St. Valentine," cried she, falling back to look at me, and then coming forward to pin up something about my coif, with her white fingers.

I reckoned it no harm to offer her a sisterly kiss.

"'Tis lucky Robin Lindsay is late," cried she, laughing, "though even were he here, he could scarce find fault that one maid should kiss another. Now," she said, snatching up a flat crate full of linen, "carry these, the King's shirts, and sorely patched they are, on your head; march straight through the kitchen, then through the guard-room, and then by the door on the left into the long passage, and so into the court, and begone; they will but take you for a newly come blanchisseuse. Only speak as little as may be, for your speech may betray you." She kissed me very kindly on both cheeks, for she was as frank a lass as ever I met, and a merry. Then, leading me to the door of the inner room, she pushed it open, the savoury reek of the kitchen pouring in.

"Make good speed, Margot!" she cried aloud after me, so that all could hear; and I walked straight up the King's kitchen, full as it was of men and boys, breaking salads, spitting fowls, basting meat (though it was Lent, but doubtless the King had a dispensation for his health's sake), watching pots, tasting dishes, and all in a great bustle and clamour. The basket of linen shading my face, I felt the more emboldened, though my legs, verily, trembled under me as I walked. Through the room I went, none regarding me, and so into the guard-room, but truly this was another matter. Some soldiers were dicing at a table, some drinking, some brawling over the matter of the late tumult, but all stopped and looked at me.

"A new face, and, by St. Andrew, a fair one!" said a voice in the accent of my own country.

"But she has mighty big feet; belike she is a countrywoman of thine," quoth a French archer; and my heart sank within me as the other cast a tankard at his head.

"Come, my lass," cried another, a Scot, with a dice-box in his hand, catching at my robe as I passed, "kiss me and give me luck," and, striking up my basket of linen, so that the wares were all scattered on the floor, he drew me on to his knee, and gave me a smack that reeked sorely of garlic. Never came man nearer getting a sore buffet, yet I held my hand. Then, making his cast with the dice, he swore roundly, when he saw that he had thrown deuces.

"Lucky in love, unlucky in gaming. Lug out your losings," said his adversary with a laugh; and the man left hold of my waist and began fumbling in his pouch. Straightway, being free, I cast myself on the floor to pick up the linen, and hide my face, which so burned that it must have seemed as red as the most modest maid might have deemed seemly.

"Leave the wench alone; she is new come, I warrant, and has no liking for your wantonness," said a kind voice; and, glancing up, I saw that he who spoke was one of the gentlemen who had ridden with the Maiden from Vaucouleurs. Bertrand de Poulengy was his name; belike he was waiting while the King and the nobles devised with the Maiden privately in the great hall.

He stooped and helped me to pick up my linen, as courteously as if I had been a princess of the blood; and, because he was a gentleman, I suppose, and a stranger, the archers did not meddle with him, save to break certain soldiers' jests, making me glad that I was other than I appeared.

"Come," he said, "my lass, I will be your escort; it seems that Fortune has chosen me for a champion of dames."

With these words he led the way forth, and through a long passage lit from above, which came out into the court at the stairs of the great hall.

Down these stairs the Maiden herself was going, her face held high and a glad look in her eyes, her conference with the King being ended. Poulengy joined her; they said some words which I did not hear, for I deemed that it became me to walk forward after thanking him by a look, and bending my head, for I dared not trust my foreign tongue.

Before I reached the gateway they had joined me, which I was glad of, fearing more insolence from the soldiers. But these men held their peace, looking grave, and even affrighted, being of them who had heard the prophecy of the Maiden and seen its fulfilment.

"Have ye found the body of that man?" said Poulengy to a sergeant- at-arms.

"Nay, sir, we deem that his armour weighed him down, for he never rose once, though that Scot's head was seen thrice and no more. Belike they are good, peaceful friends at the bottom of the fosse together."

"Of what man speak you?" asked the Maiden of Poulengy.

"Of him that blasphemed as we went by an hour ago. Wrestling with a Scot on some quarrel, they broke the palisade, and--lo! there are joiners already mending it. 'Tis old and frail. The gentle Dauphin is over poor to keep the furnishings of his castle as a king should do."

The Maiden grew wan as sun-dried grass in summer when she heard this story told. Crossing herself, she said -

"Alas! I warned him, but he died unconfessed. I will do what I may to have Masses said for the repose of his soul, poor man: and he so young!"

With that she wept, for she wept readily, even for a less thing than such a death as was that archer's.

We had now crossed the drawbridge, whereat my heart beat more lightly, and the Maiden told Poulengy that she would go to the house where she lodged, near the castle.

"And thence," she said, "I must fare into the town, for I have promised to visit a damsel of my friends, one Heliote Poulvoir, if I may find my way thither. Know you, gentle damsel," she said to me, "where she abides? Or perchance you can lead me thither, if it lies on your way."

"I was even going thither, Pucelle," I said, mincing in my speech; whereat she laughed, for of her nature she was merry.

"Scots are Heliote and her father, and a Scot are not you also, damsel? your speech betrays you," she said; "you all cling close together, you Scots, as beseems you well, being strangers in this sweet land of France"; and her face lighted up as she spoke the name she loved, and my heart worshipped her with reverence.

"Farewell," she cried to Poulengy, smiling graciously, and bowing with such a courtesy as a queen might show, for I noted it myself, as did all men, that this peasant girl had the manners of the Court, being schooled, as I deem, by the greatest of ladies, her friends St. Margaret and St. Catherine.

Then, with an archer, who had ridden beside her from Vaucouleurs, following after her as he ever did, the Maiden and I began to go down the steep way that led to the town. Little she spoke, and all my thought was to enter the house before Elliot could spy me in my strange disguise.


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