Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


Belike I had dropped asleep, outwearied with what had befallen me, mind and body, but I started up suddenly at the sound of a dagger- hilt smitten against the main door of the house, and a voice crying, "Open, in the name of the Dauphin." They had come in quest of me, and when I heard them, it was as if a hand had given my heart a squeeze, and for a moment my breath seemed to be stopped. This past, I heard the old serving-woman fumbling with the bolts, and peering from behind the curtain of my casement, I saw that the ways were dark, and the narrow street was lit up with flaring torches, the lights wavering in the wind. I stepped to the wide ingle, thinking to creep into the secret hiding-hole. But to what avail? It might have served my turn if my escape alive from the moat had only been guessed, but now my master must have told all the story, and the men-at-arms must be assured that I was within. Thinking thus, I stood at pause, when a whisper came, as if from within the ingle -

"Unbar the door, and hide not."

It must be Elliot's voice, speaking through some tube contrived in the ingle of the dwelling-room below or otherwise. Glad at heart to think that she took thought of me, I unbarred the door, and threw myself into a chair before the fire, trying to look like one unconcerned. The bolts were now drawn below; I heard voices, rather Scots than French, to my sense. Then the step of one man climbed up the stair, heavily, and with the tap of a staff keeping tune to it. It was my master. His face was pale, and falling into a chair, he wiped the sweat from his brow. "Unhappy man that I am!" he said, "I have lost my apprentice."

I gulped something down in my throat ere I could say, "Then it is death?"

"Nay," he said, and smiled. "But gliff for gliff, {16} you put a fear on me this day, and now we are even."

"Yet I scarce need a cup of wine for my recovery, master," I said, filling him a beaker from the flagon on the table, which he drained gladly, being sore wearied, so steep was the way to the castle, and hard for a lame man. My heart was as light as a leaf on a tree, and the bitterness of shameful death seemed gone by.

"I have lost my prentice another way," he said, setting down the cup on the table. "I had much a do to see Kennedy, for he was at the dice with other lords. At length, deeming there was no time to waste, I sent in the bonny Book of Hours, praying him to hear me for a moment on a weighty matter. That brought him to my side; he leaped at the book like a trout at a fly, and took me to his own chamber. There I told him your story. When it came to the wench in the King's laundry, and Robin Lindsay, and you clad in girl's gear, and kissed in the guard-room, he struck hand on thigh and laughed aloud.

Then I deemed your cause as good as three parts won, and he could not hold in, but led me to a chamber where were many lords, dicing and drinking: Tremouille, Ogilvie, the Bishop of Orleans--that holy man, who has come to ask for aid from the King,--La Hire, Xaintrailles, and I know not whom. There I must tell all the chronicle again; and some said this, and some that, and Tremouille mocks, that the Maid uttered her prophecy to no other end but to make you fulfil it, and slay her enemy for the sake of her "beaux yeux." The others would hear nothing of this, and, indeed, though I am no gull, I wot that Tremouille is wrong here, and over cunning; he trusts neither man nor woman. Howsoever it be, he went with the story to the King, who is keen to hear any new thing. And, to be short, the end of it is this: that you have your free pardon, on these terms, namely, that you have two score of masses said for the dead man, and yourself take service under Sir Hugh Kennedy, that the King may not lose a man-at-arms."

Never, sure, came gladder tidings to any man than these to me. An hour ago the rope seemed tight about my neck; one day past, and I was but a prentice to the mean craft of painting and limning, arts good for a monk, or a manant, but, save for pleasure, not to be melled or meddled with by a man of gentle blood. And now I was to wear arms, and that in the best of causes, under the best of captains, one of my own country--a lord in Ayrshire.

"Ay, even so," my master said, marking the joy in my face, "you are right glad to leave us--a lass and a lameter. {17} Well, well, such is youth, and eld is soon forgotten."

I fell on my knees at his feet, and kissed his hands, and I believe that I wept.

"Sir," I said, "you have been to me as a father, and more than it has been my fortune to find my own father. Never would I leave you with my will, and for the gentle demoiselle, your daughter--" But here I stinted, since in sooth I knew not well what words to say.

"Ay, we shall both miss you betimes; but courage, man! After all, this new life beseems you best, and, mark me, a lass thinks none the worse of a lad because he wears not the prentice's hodden grey, but a Scots archer's green, white, and red, and Charles for badge on breast and sleeve, and a sword by his side. And as for the bonny Book of Hours--"Master," I said with shame, "was that my ransom?"

"Kennedy would have come near my price, and strove to make me take the gold. But what is bred in the bone will out; I am a gentleman born, not a huckster, and the book I gave him freely. May it profit the good knight in his devotions! But now, come, they are weary waiting for us; the hour waxes late, and Elliot, I trow, is long abed. You must begone to the castle."

In the stairs, and about the door, some ten of Sir Hugh's men were waiting, all countrymen of my own, and the noise they made and their speech were pleasant to me. They gave me welcome with shouts and laughter, and clasped my hands: "for him that called us wine-sacks, you have given him water to his wine, and the frog for his butler," they said, making a jest of life and death. But my own heart for the nonce was heavy enough again, I longing to take farewell of Elliot, which might not be, nor might she face that wild company. Howbeit, thinking it good to have a friend at court, I made occasion to put in the hand of the old serving-woman all of such small coins as I had won in my life servile, deeming myself well quit of such ill-gotten gear. And thereafter, with great mirth and noise, they set forth to climb the hill towards the castle, where I was led, through many a windy passage, to the chamber of Sir Hugh Kennedy. There were torches lit, and the knight, a broad-shouldered, fair- haired man, with a stern, flushed face, was turning over and gazing at his new Book of Hours, like a child busy with a fresh toy. He laid the book down when we entered, and the senior of the two archers who accompanied me told him that I was he who had been summoned.

"Your name?" he asked; and I gave it.

"You are of gentle blood?" And I answering "Yes," he replied, "Then see that you are ready to shed it for the King. Your life that was justly forfeit, is now, by his Royal mercy, returned to you, to be spent in his service. Rutherford and Douglas, go take him to quarters, and see that to-morrow he is clad as beseems a man of my command. Now good night to you--but stay! You, Norman Leslie, you will have quarrels on your hand. Wait not for them, but go to meet them, if they are with the French men-at-arms, and in quarrel see that you be swift and deadly. For the townsfolk, no brawling, marauding, or haling about of honest wenches. Here we are strangers, and my men must be respected."

He bowed his head: his words had been curt, no grace or kindness had he shown me of countenance. I felt in my heart that to him I was but a pawn in the game of battle. Now I seemed as far off as ever I was from my foolish dream of winning my spurs; nay, perchance never had I sunk lower in my own conceit. Till this hour I had been, as it were, the hinge on which my share of the world turned, and now I was no more than a wheel in the carriage of a couleuvrine, an unconsidered cog in the machine of war. I was to be lost in a multitude, every one as good as myself, or better; and when I had thought of taking service, I had not foreseen the manner of it and the nature of the soldier's trade. My head, that I had carried high, somewhat drooped, as I saluted, imitating my companions, and we wheeled forth of the room.

"Hugh has taken the pride out of you, lad, or my name is not Randal Rutherford," said the Border man who had guided me. "Faith, he has a keen tongue and a short way with him, but there are worse commanders. And now you must to your quarters, for the hour is late and the guard-room shut."

He led me to our common sleeping-place, where, among many snoring men-at-arms in a great bare hall, a pallet was laid for me, and my flesh crept as I remembered how this was the couch of him whom I had slain. Howbeit, being well weary, despite the strangeness of the place, after brief orisons I slept sound till a trumpet called us in the morning.

Concerning the strangeness of this waking, to me who had been gently nurtured, and the rough life, and profane words which I must hear (not, indeed, that they had been wholly banished from our wild days at St. Andrews), it is needless that I should tell. Seeing that I was come among rude neighbours, I even made shift to fall back, in semblance, on such manners as I had used among the students before I left Scotland, though many perils, and the fear wherein I stood of Brother Thomas, and the company of the maid Elliot, had caused me half to forget my swaggering ways. So, may God forgive me! I swore roundly; I made as if I deemed lightly of that Frenchman's death, and, in brief, I so bore me that, ere noon (when I behoved to go into Chinon with Randal Rutherford, and there provide me with the rich apparel of our company), I had three good quarrels on my hand.

First, there was the man-at-arms who had kissed me in the guard- room. He, in a "bourde" and mockery, making pretence that he would repeat his insult, got that which was owing him, and with interest, for indeed he could see out of neither of his squint eyes when I had dealt with him. And for this cause perforce, if he needed more proof of my manhood than the weight of my fist, he must tarry for the demonstration which he desired.

Then there was Robin Lindsay, and at his wrath I make no marvel, for the tale of how he came late to tryst, and at second-hand (with many such rude and wanton additions as soldiers use to make), was noised abroad all over the castle. His quarrel was no matter for fisticuffs; so, being attired in helmet, vambrace rerebrace, gauntlets, and greaves out of the armoury, where many such suits were stored, I met him in a certain quiet court behind the castle, where quarrels were usually voided. And now my practice of the sword at home and the lessons of our smith came handily to my need. After much clashing of steel and smiting out of sparks, I chanced, by an art known to me, to strike his sword out of his hand. Then, having him at an avail, I threw down my own blade, and so plainly told him the plain truth, and how to his mistress I owed my life, which I would rather lose now at his hand than hear her honour blamed, that he forgave me, and we embraced as friends. Neither was this jest anew cast up against either of us, men fearing to laugh, as we say, with the wrong side of their mouths.

After this friendly bout at point and edge, Robin and Randal Rutherford, being off duty, must needs carry me to the Tennis Court, where Tremouille and the King were playing two young lords, and that for such a stake as would have helped to arm a hundred men for the aid of Orleans. It was pretty to see the ball fly about basted from the walls, and the players bounding and striking; and, little as I understood the game, so eager was I over the sport, that a gentleman within the "dedans" touched me twice on the shoulder before I was aware of him.

"I would have a word with you, sir, if your grace can spare me the leisure."

"May it not be spoken here?" I asked, for I was sorry to lose the spectacle of the tennis, which was new to me, and is a pastime wherein France beats the world. Pity it is that many players should so curse and blaspheme God and His saints!

"My business," replied the stranger, "is of a kind that will hardly endure waiting."

With that I rose and followed him out into the open courtyard, much marvelling what might be toward.

"You are that young gentleman," said my man, "for a gentleman I take you to be, from your aspect and common report, who yesterday were the death of Gilles de Puiseux?"

"Sir, to my sorrow, and not by my will, I am he, and but now I was going forth to have certain masses said for his soul's welfare": which was true, Randal Rutherford having filled my purse against pay-day.

"I thank you, sir, for your courtesy, and perchance may have occasion to do the like gentle service for you. Gilles de Puiseux was of my blood and kin; he has none other to take up his feud for him in this place, and now your quickness of comprehension will tell you that the business wherewith I permit myself to break your leisure will brook no tarrying. Let me say that I take it not upon me to defend the words of my cousin, who insulted a woman, and, as I believe, a messenger from the blessed Saints that love France."

I looked at him in some amazement. He was a young man of about my own years, delicately and richly clad in furs, silks, and velvets, a great gold chain hanging in loops about his neck, a gold brooch with an ancient Roman medal in his cap. But the most notable thing in him was his thick golden hair, whence La Hire had named him "Capdorat," because he was so blond, and right keen in war, and hardy beyond others. And here he was challenging me, who stood before him in a prentice's hodden grey!

"Sir," I said, "I could wish you a better quarrel, but not more courtesy. Many a gentleman seeing me such as I am, would bid me send, ere he crossed swords with me, to my own country for my bor- brief, {18} which I came away in too great haste to carry with me. Nay, I was but now to set forth and buy me a sword and other accoutrements; natheless, from the armoury here they may equip me with sword and body armour."

"Of body-armour take no thought," he answered, "for this quarrel is of a kind that must needs be voided in our smocks"; he meaning that it was "e outrance," till one of us fell.

Verily, now I saw that this was not to be a matter of striking sparks from steel, as Robin and I had done, but of life and death.

"I shall be the more speedily at your service," I made answer; and as I spoke Randal and Robin came forth from the "dedans," the sport being over. They joined me, and I told them in few words my new business, my adversary tarrying, cap in hand, till I had spoken, and then proclaiming himself Aymar de Puiseux, a gentleman of Dauphine, as indeed my friends knew.

"I shall wait on you, with your leave, at the isle in the river, where it is of custom, opposite the booths of the gold-workers," quoth he, "about the hour of noon"; and so, saluting us, he went, as he said, to provide himself with friends.

"Blood of Judas!" quoth Robin, who swore terribly in his speech, "you have your hands full, young Norman. He is but now crept out of the rank of pages, but when the French and English pages fought a valliance of late, under Orleans, none won more praise than he, who was captain of the French party."

"He played a good sword?" I asked.

"He threw a good stone! Man, it was a stone bicker, and they had lids of baskets for targes."

"And he challenges me to the field," I said hotly, "By St. Andrew! I will cuff his ears and send him back to the other boys."

"Norman, my lad, when were you in a stone bicker last?" quoth Randal; and I hung my head, for it was not yet six months gone since the sailors and we students were stoning each other in North Street.

"Yet he does play a very good sword, and is cunning of fence, for your comfort," said Randal. So I hummed the old lilt of the Leslies, whence, they say, comes our name -

Between the less lea and the mair,
He slew the knight and left him there; -

for I deemed it well to show a good face. Moreover, I had some conceit of myself as a swordsman, and Randal was laughing like a foolbody at my countenance.

"Faith, you will make a spoon or spoil a horn, and--let me have my laugh out--you bid well for an archer," said Randal; and Robin counselling me to play the same prank on the French lad's sword as late I had done on his own, they took each of them an arm of mine, and so we swaggered down the steep ways into Chinon.

First I would go to the tailor and the cordwainer, and be fitted for my new splendours as an archer of the guard.

They both laughed at me again, for, said they very cheerfully, "You may never live to wear these fine feathers."

But Randal making the reflection that, if I fell, there would be none to pay the shopmaster, they both shouted with delight in the street, so that passers-by turned and marvelled at them. Clearly I saw that to go to fight a duel is one thing, and to go and look on is another, and much more gay, for my heart had no desire of all this merriment. Rather would I have recommended my case to the saints, and chiefly to St. Andrew, for whose cause and honour I was about to put my life in jeopardy. But shame, and the fear of seeming fearful, drove me to jest with the others--such risks of dying unconfessed are run by sinful men!

Howbeit, they helped me to choose cloth of the best colour and fashion, laughing the more because I, being short of stature and slim, the tailor, if I fell, might well find none among the archers to purchase that for which, belike, I should have no need.

"We must even enlist the Pucelle in our guard, for she might wear this apparel," quoth Randal.

Thus boisterously they bore themselves, but more gravely at the swordsmith's, where we picked out a good cut-and-thrust blade, well balanced, that came readily to my hand. Then, I with sword at side, like a gentleman, we made to the river, passing my master's booth, where I looked wistfully at the windows for a blink of Elliot, but saw none that I knew, only, from an open casement, the little jackanapes mopped and mowed at me in friendly fashion. Hard by the booth was a little pier, and we took boat, and so landed on the island, where were waiting for us my adversary and two other gentlemen. Having saluted each other, we passed to a smooth grassy spot, surrounded on all sides by tall poplar trees. Here in places daffodils were dancing in the wind; but otherwhere the sward was much trampled down, and in two or three spots were black patches that wellnigh turned my courage, for I was not yet used to the sight of men's blood, here often shed for little cause.

The friends of us twain adversaries, for enemies we could scarce be called, chose out a smooth spot with a fair light, the sun being veiled, and when we had stripped to our smocks, we drew and fell to work. He was very quick and light in his movements, bounding nimbly to this side or that, but I, using a hanging guard, in our common Scots manner, did somewhat perplex him, to whom the fashion was new. One or two scratches we dealt each other, but, for all that, I could see we were well matched, and neither closed, as men rarely do in such a combat, till they are wroth with hurts and their blood warm. Now I gashed his thigh, but not deeply, and with that, as I deemed, his temper fired, for he made a full sweep at my leg above the knee. This I have always reckoned a fool's stroke, as leaving the upper part of the body unguarded, and avoiding with my right leg, I drove down with all my force at his head. But, even as I struck, came a flash and the sudden deadness of a deep wound, for he had but feinted, and then, avoiding me so that I touched him not, he drove his point into my breast. Between the force of my own blow and this stab I fell forward on my face, and thence rolled over on my back, catching at my breast with my hands, as though to stop the blood, but, in sooth, not well knowing what I did.

He had thrown down his sword, and now was kneeling by my side.

"I take you to witness," he said, "that this has befallen to my great sorrow, and had I been where this gentleman was yesterday, and heard my cousin blaspheme, I would myself have drawn on him, but--" And here, as I later heard, he fainted from loss of blood, my sword having cut a great vein; and I likewise lost sense and knowledge. Nor did I know more till they lifted me and laid me on a litter of poplar boughs, having stanched my wound as best they might. In the boat, as they ferried us across the river, I believe that I fainted again; and so, "between home and hell," as the saying is, I lay on my litter and was carried along the street beside the water. Folk gathered around us as we went. I heard their voices as in a dream, when lo! there sounded a voice that I knew right well, for Elliot was asking of the people "who was hurt?" At this hearing I hove myself up on my elbow, beckoning with my other hand; and I opened my mouth to speak, but, in place of words, came only a wave of blood that sickened me, and I seemed to be dreaming, in my bed, of Elliot and her jackanapes; and then feet were trampling, and at length I was laid down, and so seemed to fall most blessedly asleep, with a little hand in mine, and rarely peaceful and happy in my heart, though wherefore I knew not. After many days of tossing on the waves of the world, it was as if I had been brought into the haven where I would be. Of what was passing I knew or I remember nothing. Later I heard that a good priest had been brought to my bedside, and perchance there was made some such confession as the Church, in her mercy, accepts from sinful men in such case as mine. But I had no thought of life or death, purgatory or paradise; only, if paradise be rest among those we love, such rest for an unknown while, and such sense of blissful companionship, were mine. But whether it was well to pass through and beyond this scarce sensible joy, or whether that peace will ever again be mine and unending, I leave with humility to them in whose hands are Christian souls.


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