Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 30

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Chapter XXX

When the morning broke at last on that forever memorable 18th of June, thee 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 mouldy 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'Alençon 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—

"Now!"

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]

References[edit]

  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.