THE TROOPS must have a rest. Two days would be allowed for this. The morning of the 14th I was writing from Joan’s dictation in a small room which she sometimes used as a private office when she wanted to get away from officials and their interruptions. Catherine Boucher came in and sat down and said:
“Joan, dear, I want you to talk to me.”
“Indeed, I am not sorry for that, but glad. What is in your mind?”
“This. I scarcely slept last night, for thinking of the dangers you are running. The Paladin told me how you made the duke stand out of the way when the cannon-balls were flying all about, and so saved his life.”
“Well, that was right, wasn’t it?”
“Right? Yes; but you stayed there yourself. Why will you do like that? It seems such a wanton risk.”
“Oh, no, it was not so. I was not in any danger.”
“How can you say that, Joan, with those deadly things flying all about you?”
Joan laughed, and tried to turn the subject, but Catherine persisted. She said:
“It was horribly dangerous, and it could not be necessary to stay in such a place. And you led an assault again. Joan, it is tempting Providence. I want you to make me a promise. I want you to promise me that you will let others lead the assaults, if there must be assaults, and that you will take better care of yourself in those dreadful battles. Will you?”
But Joan fought away from the promise and did not give it. Catherine sat troubled and discontented awhile, then she said:
“Joan, are you going to be a soldier always? These wars are so long — so long. They last forever and ever and ever.”
There was a glad flash in Joan’s eye as she cried:
“This campaign will do all the really hard work that is in front of it in the next four days. The rest of it will be gentler — oh, far less bloody. Yes, in four days France will gather another trophy like the redemption of Orleans and make her second long step toward freedom!”
Catherine started (and so did I); then she gazed long at Joan like one in a trance, murmuring “four days — four days,” as if to herself and unconsciously. Finally she asked, in a low voice that had something of awe in it:
“Joan, tell me — how is it that you know that? For you do know it, I think.”
“Yes,” said Joan, dreamily, “I know — I know. I shall strike — and strike again. And before the fourth day is finished I shall strike yet again.” She became silent. We sat wondering and still. This was for a whole minute, she looking at the floor and her lips moving but uttering nothing. Then came these words, but hardly audible: “And in a thousand years the English power in France will not rise up from that blow.”
It made my flesh creep. It was uncanny. She was in a trance again — I could see it — just as she was that day in the pastures of Domremy when she prophesied about us boys in the war and afterward did not know that she had done it. She was not conscious now; but Catherine did not know that, and so she said, in a happy voice:
“Oh, I believe it, I believe it, and I am so glad! Then you will come back and bide with us all your life long, and we will love you so, and honor you!”
A scarcely perceptible spasm flitted across Joan’s face, and the dreamy voice muttered:
“Before two years are sped I shall die a cruel death!”
I sprang forward with a warning hand up. That is why Catherine did not scream. She was going to do that — I saw it plainly. Then I whispered her to slip out of the place, and say nothing of what had happened. I said Joan was asleep — asleep and dreaming. Catherine whispered back, and said:
“Oh, I am so grateful that it is only a dream! It sounded like prophecy.” And she was gone.
Like prophecy! I knew it was prophecy; and I sat down crying, as knowing we should lose her. Soon she started, shivering slightly, and came to herself, and looked around and saw me crying there, and jumped out of her chair and ran to me all in a whirl of sympathy and compassion, and put her hand on my head, and said:
“My poor boy! What is it? Look up and tell me.”
I had to tell her a lie; I grieved to do it, but there was no other way. I picked up an old letter from my table, written by Heaven knows who, about some matter Heaven knows what, and told her I had just gotten it from Pere Fronte, and that in it it said the children’s Fairy Tree had been chopped down by some miscreant or other, and — I got no further. She snatched the letter from my hand and searched it up and down and all over, turning it this way and that, and sobbing great sobs, and the tears flowing down her cheeks, and ejaculating all the time, “Oh, cruel, cruel! how could any be so heartless? Ah, poor Arbre Fee de Bourlemont gone — and we children loved it so! Show me the place where it says it!”
And I, still lying, showed her the pretended fatal words on the pretended fatal page, and she gazed at them through her tears, and said she could see herself that they were hateful, ugly words — they “had the very look of it.”
Then we heard a strong voice down the corridor announcing:
“His majesty’s messenger — with despatches for her Excellency the Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of France!”
I KNEW she had seen the wisdom of the Tree. But when? I could not know. Doubtless before she had lately told the King to use her, for that she had but one year left to work in. It had not occurred to me at the time, but the conviction came upon me now that at that time she had already seen the Tree. It had brought her a welcome message; that was plain, otherwise she could not have been so joyous and light-hearted as she had been these latter days. The death-warning had nothing dismal about it for her; no, it was remission of exile, it was leave to come home.
Yes, she had seen the Tree. No one had taken the prophecy to heart which she made to the King; and for a good reason, no doubt; no one wanted to take it to heart; all wanted to banish it away and forget it. And all had succeeded, and would go on to the end placid and comfortable. All but me alone. I must carry my awful secret without any to help me. A heavy load, a bitter burden; and would cost me a daily heartbreak. She was to die; and so soon. I had never dreamed of that. How could I, and she so strong and fresh and young, and every day earning a new right to a peaceful and honored old age? For at that time I thought old age valuable. I do not know why, but I thought so. All young people think it, I believe, they being ignorant and full of superstitions. She had seen the Tree. All that miserable night those ancient verses went floating back and forth through my brain:
And when, in exile wand’ring, we
Shall fainting yearn for glimpse of thee,
Oh, rise upon our sight!
But at dawn the bugles and the drums burst through the dreamy hush of the morning, and it was turn out all! mount and ride. For there was red work to be done.
We marched to Meung without halting. There we carried the bridge by assault, and left a force to hold it, the rest of the army marching away next morning toward Beaugency, where the lion Talbot, the terror of the French, was in command. When we arrived at that place, the English retired into the castle and we sat down in the abandoned town.
Talbot was not at the moment present in person, for he had gone away to watch for and welcome Fastolfe and his reinforcement of five thousand men.
Joan placed her batteries and bombarded the castle till night. Then some news came: Richemont, Constable of France, this long time in disgrace with the King, largely because of the evil machinations of La Tremouille and his party, was approaching with a large body of men to offer his services to Joan — and very much she needed them, now that Fastolfe was so close by. Richemont had wanted to join us before, when we first marched on Orleans; but the foolish King, slave of those paltry advisers of his, warned him to keep his distance and refused all reconciliation with him.
I go into these details because they are important. Important because they lead up to the exhibition of a new gift in Joan’s extraordinary mental make-up — statesmanship. It is a sufficiently strange thing to find that great quality in an ignorant country-girl of seventeen and a half, but she had it.
Joan was for receiving Richemont cordially, and so was La Hire and the two young Lavals and other chiefs, but the Lieutenant-General, d’Alencon, strenuously and stubbornly opposed it. He said he had absolute orders from the King to deny and defy Richemont, and that if they were overridden he would leave the army. This would have been a heavy disaster, indeed. But Joan set herself the task of persuading him that the salvation of France took precedence of all minor things — even the commands of a sceptered ass; and she accomplished it. She persuaded him to disobey the King in the interest of the nation, and to be reconciled to Count Richemont and welcome him. That was statesmanship; and of the highest and soundest sort. Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.
In the early morning, June 17th, the scouts reported the approach of Talbot and Fastolfe with Fastolfe’s succoring force. Then the drums beat to arms; and we set forth to meet the English, leaving Richemont and his troops behind to watch the castle of Beaugency and keep its garrison at home. By and by we came in sight of the enemy. Fastolfe had tried to convince Talbot that it would be wisest to retreat and not risk a battle with Joan at this time, but distribute the new levies among the English strongholds of the Loire, thus securing them against capture; then be patient and wait — wait for more levies from Paris; let Joan exhaust her army with fruitless daily skirmishing; then at the right time fall upon her in resistless mass and annihilate her. He was a wise old experienced general, was Fastolfe. But that fierce Talbot would hear of no delay. He was in a rage over the punishment which the Maid had inflicted upon him at Orleans and since, and he swore by God and Saint George that he would have it out with her if he had to fight her all alone. So Fastolfe yielded, though he said they were now risking the loss of everything which the English had gained by so many years’ work and so many hard knocks.
The enemy had taken up a strong position, and were waiting, in order of battle, with their archers to the front and a stockade before them.
Night was coming on. A messenger came from the English with a rude defiance and an offer of battle. But Joan’s dignity was not ruffled, her bearing was not discomposed. She said to the herald:
“Go back and say it is too late to meet to-night; but to-morrow, please God and our Lady, we will come to close quarters.”
The night fell dark and rainy. It was that sort of light steady rain which falls so softly and brings to one’s spirit such serenity and peace. About ten o’clock D’Alencon, the Bastard of Orleans, La Hire, Pothon of Saintrailles, and two or three other generals came to our headquarters tent, and sat down to discuss matters with Joan. Some thought it was a pity that Joan had declined battle, some thought not. Then Pothon asked her why she had declined it. She said:
“There was more than one reason. These English are ours — they cannot get away from us. Wherefore there is no need to take risks, as at other times. The day was far spent. It is good to have much time and the fair light of day when one’s force is in a weakened state — nine hundred of us yonder keeping the bridge of Meung under the Marshal de Rais, fifteen hundred with the Constable of France keeping the bridge and watching the castle of Beaugency.”
“I grieve for this decision, Excellency, but it cannot be helped. And the case will be the same the morrow, as to that.”
Joan was walking up and down just then. She laughed her affectionate, comrady laugh, and stopping before that old war-tiger she put her small hand above his head and touched one of his plumes, saying:
“Now tell me, wise man, which feather is it that I touch?”
“In sooth, Excellency, that I cannot.”
“Name of God, Bastard, Bastard! you cannot tell me this small thing, yet are bold to name a large one — telling us what is in the stomach of the unborn morrow: that we shall not have those men. Now it is my thought that they will be with us.”
That made a stir. All wanted to know why she thought that. But La Hire took the word and said:
“Let be. If she thinks it, that is enough. It will happen.”
Then Pothon of Santrailles said:
“There were other reasons for declining battle, according to the saying of your Excellency?”
“Yes. One was that we being weak and the day far gone, the battle might not be decisive. When it is fought it must be decisive. And it shall be.”
“God grant it, and amen. There were still other reasons?”
“One other — yes.” She hesitated a moment, then said: “This was not the day. To-morrow is the day. It is so written.”
They were going to assail her with eager questionings, but she put up her hand and prevented them. Then she said:
“It will be the most noble and beneficent victory that God has vouchsafed for France at any time. I pray you question me not as to whence or how I know this thing, but be content that it is so.”
There was pleasure in every face, and conviction and high confidence. A murmur of conversation broke out, but that was interrupted by a messenger from the outposts who brought news — namely, that for an hour there had been stir and movement in the English camp of a sort unusual at such a time and with a resting army, he said. Spies had been sent under cover of the rain and darkness to inquire into it. They had just come back and reported that large bodies of men had been dimly made out who were slipping stealthily away in the direction of Meung.
The generals were very much surprised, as any might tell from their faces.
“It is a retreat,” said Joan.
“It has that look,” said D’Alencon.
“It certainly has,” observed the Bastard and La Hire.
“It was not to be expected,” said Louis de Bourbon, “but one can divine the purpose of it.”
“Yes,” responded Joan. “Talbot has reflected. His rash brain has cooled. He thinks to take the bridge of Meung and escape to the other side of the river. He knows that this leaves his garrison of Beaugency at the mercy of fortune, to escape our hands if it can; but there is no other course if he would avoid this battle, and that he also knows. But he shall not get the bridge. We will see to that.”
“Yes,” said D’Alencon, “we must follow him, and take care of that matter. What of Beaugency?”
“Leave Beaugency to me, gentle duke; I will have it in two hours, and at no cost of blood.”
“It is true, Excellency. You will but need to deliver this news there and receive the surrender.”
“Yes. And I will be with you at Meung with the dawn, fetching the Constable and his fifteen hundred; and when Talbot knows that Beaugency has fallen it will have an effect upon him.”
“By the mass, yes!” cried La Hire. “He will join his Meung garrison to his army and break for Paris. Then we shall have our bridge force with us again, along with our Beaugency watchers, and be stronger for our great day’s work by four-and-twenty hundred able soldiers, as was here promised within the hour. Verily this Englishman is doing our errands for us and saving us much blood and trouble. Orders, Excellency — give us orders!”
“They are simple. Let the men rest three hours longer. At one o’clock the advance-guard will march, under our command, with Pothon of Saintrailles as second; the second division will follow at two under the Lieutenant-General. Keep well in the rear of the enemy, and see to it that you avoid an engagement. I will ride under guard to Beaugency and make so quick work there that I and the Constable of France will join you before dawn with his men.”
She kept her word. Her guard mounted and we rode off through the puttering rain, taking with us a captured English officer to confirm Joan’s news. We soon covered the journey and summoned the castle. Richard Guetin, Talbot’s lieutenant, being convinced that he and his five hundred men were left helpless, conceded that it would be useless to try to hold out. He could not expect easy terms, yet Joan granted them nevertheless. His garrison could keep their horses and arms, and carry away property to the value of a silver mark per man. They could go whither they pleased, but must not take arms against France again under ten days.
Before dawn we were with our army again, and with us the Constable and nearly all his men, for we left only a small garrison in Beaugency castle. We heard the dull booming of cannon to the front, and knew that Talbot was beginning his attack on the bridge. But some time before it was yet light the sound ceased and we heard it no more.
Guetin had sent a messenger through our lines under a safe-conduct given by Joan, to tell Talbot of the surrender. Of course this poursuivant had arrived ahead of us. Talbot had held it wisdom to turn now and retreat upon Paris. When daylight came he had disappeared; and with him Lord Scales and the garrison of Meung.
What a harvest of English strongholds we had reaped in those three days! — strongholds which had defied France with quite cool confidence and plenty of it until we came.
WHEN THE morning broke at last on that forever memorable 18th of June, there was no enemy discoverable anywhere, as I have said. But that did not trouble me. I knew we should find him, and that we should strike him; strike him the promised blow — the one from which the English power in France would not rise up in a thousand years, as Joan had said in her trance.
The enemy had plunged into the wide plains of La Beauce — a roadless waste covered with bushes, with here and there bodies of forest trees — a region where an army would be hidden from view in a very little while. We found the trail in the soft wet earth and followed it. It indicated an orderly march; no confusion, no panic.
But we had to be cautious. In such a piece of country we could walk into an ambush without any trouble. Therefore Joan sent bodies of cavalry ahead under La Hire, Pothon, and other captains, to feel the way. Some of the other officers began to show uneasiness; this sort of hide-and-go-seek business troubled them and made their confidence a little shaky. Joan divined their state of mind and cried out impetuously:
“Name of God, what would you? We must smite these English, and we will. They shall not escape us. Though they were hung to the clouds we would get them!”
By and by we were nearing Patay; it was about a league away. Now at this time our reconnaissance, feeling its way in the bush, frightened a deer, and it went bounding away and was out of sight in a moment. Then hardly a minute later a dull great shout went up in the distance toward Patay. It was the English soldiery. They had been shut up in a garrison so long on moldy food that they could not keep their delight to themselves when this fine fresh meat came springing into their midst. Poor creature, it had wrought damage to a nation which loved it well. For the French knew where the English were now, whereas the English had no suspicion of where the French were.
La Hire halted where he was, and sent back the tidings. Joan was radiant with joy. The Duke d’Alencon said to her:
“Very well, we have found them; shall we fight them?”
“Have you good spurs, prince?”
“Why? Will they make us run away?”
“Nenni, en nom de Dieu! These English are ours — they are lost. They will fly. Who overtakes them will need good spurs. Forward — close up!”
By the time we had come up with La Hire the English had discovered our presence. Talbot’s force was marching in three bodies. First his advance-guard; then his artillery; then his battle-corps a good way in the rear. He was now out of the bush and in a fair open country. He at once posted his artillery, his advance-guard, and five hundred picked archers along some hedges where the French would be obliged to pass, and hoped to hold this position till his battle-corps could come up. Sir John Fastolfe urged the battle-corps into a gallop. Joan saw her opportunity and ordered La Hire to advance — which La Hire promptly did, launching his wild riders like a storm-wind, his customary fashion.
The duke and the Bastard wanted to follow, but Joan said:
“Not yet — wait.”
So they waited — impatiently, and fidgeting in their saddles. But she was ready — gazing straight before her, measuring, weighing, calculating — by shades, minutes, fractions of minutes, seconds — with all her great soul present, in eye, and set of head, and noble pose of body — but patient, steady, master of herself — master of herself and of the situation.
And yonder, receding, receding, plumes lifting and falling, lifting and falling, streamed the thundering charge of La Hire’s godless crew, La Hire’s great figure dominating it and his sword stretched aloft like a flagstaff.
“Oh, Satan and his Hellions, see them go!” Somebody muttered it in deep admiration.
And now he was closing up — closing up on Fastolfe’s rushing corps.
And now he struck it — struck it hard, and broke its order. It lifted the duke and the Bastard in their saddles to see it; and they turned, trembling with excitement, to Joan, saying:
But she put up her hand, still gazing, weighing, calculating, and said again:
“Wait — not yet.”
Fastolfe’s hard-driven battle-corps raged on like an avalanche toward the waiting advance-guard. Suddenly these conceived the idea that it was flying in panic before Joan; and so in that instant it broke and swarmed away in a mad panic itself, with Talbot storming and cursing after it.
Now was the golden time. Joan drove her spurs home and waved the advance with her sword. “Follow me!” she cried, and bent her head to her horse’s neck and sped away like the wind!
We went down into the confusion of that flying rout, and for three long hours we cut and hacked and stabbed. At last the bugles sang “Halt!”
The Battle of Patay was won.
Joan of Arc dismounted, and stood surveying that awful field, lost in thought. Presently she said:
“The praise is to God. He has smitten with a heavy hand this day.” After a little she lifted her face, and looking afar off, said, with the manner of one who is thinking aloud, “In a thousand years — a thousand years — the English power in France will not rise up from this blow.” She stood again a time thinking, then she turned toward her grouped generals, and there was a glory in her face and a noble light in her eye; and she said:
“Oh, friends, friends, do you know? — do you comprehend? France is on the way to be free!”
“And had never been, but for Joan of Arc!” said La Hire, passing before her and bowing low, the other following and doing likewise; he muttering as he went, “I will say it though I be damned for it.” Then battalion after battalion of our victorious army swung by, wildly cheering. And they shouted, “Live forever, Maid of Orleans, live forever!” while Joan, smiling, stood at the salute with her sword.
This was not the last time I saw the Maid of Orleans on the red field of Patay. Toward the end of the day I came upon her where the dead and dying lay stretched all about in heaps and winrows; our men had mortally wounded an English prisoner who was too poor to pay a ransom, and from a distance she had seen that cruel thing done; and had galloped to the place and sent for a priest, and now she was holding the head of her dying enemy in her lap, and easing him to his death with comforting soft words, just as his sister might have done; and the womanly tears running down her face all the time. (1)
(1) Lord Ronald Gower (Joan of Arc, p. 82) says: “Michelet discovered this story in the deposition of Joan of Arc’s page, Louis de Conte, who was probably an eye-witness of the scene.” This is true. It was a part of the testimony of the author of these “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc,” given by him in the Rehabilitation proceedings of 1456. — TRANSLATOR.