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The Story of Joan of Arc by  Andrew Lang


 

 

HOW THE MAID RODE TO ORLEANS

[35] WHEN THEN Joan's army was gathered, with plenty of good things, and powder and shot, in waggons, for the people of Orleans, she gave orders that no loose people should follow them. The soldiers must not drink and play dice and cards. They must pray, and must never swear. One of the generals, the brave La Hire, asked that he might be allowed one little oath, so she said he might swear "by his baton," the short staff which he carried as a leader. Then Joan mounted, and rode at the head of the army out of the gate of Blois. The French Commander at Orleans, Dunois, had sent to say that they must march up the bank of the Loire opposite to that on which Orleans stands, for the English were very strong, with many forti- [36] fications, on the road on the Orleans side, and would stop them. Dunois seems to have thought that Joan's army should go above the town, and be ferried across with the supplies for the city—for the English held the bridge—but that they could not cut their way through the main body of the English army on the other side of the river. But to go straight through the English where they were strongest was what Joan had intended. Therefore she was angry when she arrived at the place where Dunois was waiting for her, and saw that the river lay between her and the town of Orleans. You may think that her Voices should have told her that she was marching on the wrong bank of the river: however, they did not. She asked Dunois why he had ordered them to come by the road they took. She said,

"I bring you better help than has ever come to any town or captain, the help of the King of heaven."

Dunois himself has left this account of what Joan said, and, as she was speaking, the wind changed. It had been blowing in such a way as to make it hard for the boats [37] to carry Joan and the provisions across the river, but now it went about, and they crossed easily, some way above the town. As for the army, Joan ordered them back to Blois, to cross by the bridge there, and march to Orleans again, past the forts and through the midst of the English.

Once across the river, Joan mounted again, with her banner of Our Lord and the Lilies in her hand, and with Dunois at her side, and rode to the town. They passed an English fortress, the Church of St. Loup, in safety, and the people came out to meet them. Night had fallen, and the people who crowded round the Maid were carrying torches. One of these set fire to the fringe of her banner and made her horse plunge; but she crushed out the flame with her left hand in its steel glove, and reined in her horse easily, while the people cheered, and the women wished to kiss her hand, which she did not like, thinking the honour too great. It was a beautiful sight to see the Maid ride into Orleans town. From that hour there was no more fear among the French.


[Illustration]

JOAN RIDING INTO ORLEANS UNDER TORCHLIGHT.

Dunois said, "till that day, two hundred [38] English could scatter eight hundred or a thousand of our men, but now they skulked in their forts and dared not come out against us." This is an extraordinary thing, for Talbot, who led the English, was the bravest of men, and was thought the greatest captain living. Jeanne sent to him a letter to bid him break up his camp and go away. The English laughed, and one day, when Joan went out to speak to them, they called her ill names, so that she wept for shame. But, somehow, the English had certainly lost heart, or they had some reason which we do not know, for merely defending their strong fortresses.

On the day after Joan entered Orleans she wanted Dunois to sally out of the town with his men and assail the English. He did not think it wise to do so, and Joan went up to her own room. Suddenly she rushed down and asked her page why he had not told her that the French were fighting, she did not know where. It was at the fort and Church of St. Loup, which Joan had passed on her way into Orleans. On this side, namely, farther up the river, above the town, the English were weakest, [39] as they did not expect to be attacked on that side. The French were victorious: when they saw Joan ride up they were filled with courage. Joan saw a Frenchman strike down an English prisoner: she dismounted, laid the poor prisoner's head in her lap, and did her best to comfort him.


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