THE EPIC OF ORLEANS
The relief of Orleans presents itself to my mind as a complete epopee, with Jeanne d'Arc as its animating and directing soul—the Hero, in a classic sense, who chiefly attracts our interest, without whom beginning and end were alike impossible. It is greater than the tale of Troy, recounted or imagined by Homer, vague and nebulous as that appears in the mists of time and fable; but it offers a certain resemblance to the Iliad from its element of the supernatural, which may not be excluded. According to the "tale of Troy divine," the gods took part visibly or by their chosen human favorites in-the struggle between Greeks and Trojans. It is ages since the last pagan gave up belief in Homer; while faith constantly increases in the epic of Orleans, in the divine power acting through and manifesting itself in the person of the maiden warrior.
One feels this especially, at the point we have now reached, when the struggle grew tense and engaged the supreme effort on both sides. Jeanne is now to exhibit the quality of her inspired generalship and to win her most signal victory. Again as at the outset, the stupid or sinister policy of the French leaders seeks to embarrass her, the only result of which will be to demonstrate the more clearly her marvelous
divination and to leave her the undisputed glory of the triumph. In saying this we allude more particularly to the action of the Tourelles, which we will attempt to describe in the following chapter. But the same was preceded by one of scarcely less significance —that which led to the capture of the Augustines, a neighboring fort.
On Thursday, May 6, Jeanne had begun the day by making another appeal to the English to save themselves by abandoning the siege, else threatening them with a defeat which would be a "perpetual memory"—prophecy accurately fulfilled. She also reclaimed her messenger or herald, unjustly detained by them as a prisoner. This letter attached to an arrow by Jeanne herself, was received by the enemy with the usual obscene demonstrations. "Read it," cried Jeanne, from a position near the hostile works; "there is some news in it for you." But they jeered at her, "Yes! news from the prostitute of the Armagnacs." (Name of the faction opposed to the Burgundians (Bourguignons) in recent struggles of the period. Charles VII was identified with the Armagnacs, even more from his father's policy then his own. This enables us to understand the insult.)
Jeanne shed bitter tears over this reiterated outrage, the tears of injured innocence, but presently she consoled herself in prayer or rather was consoled by her Voices, now more clamant and encouraging than ever before.
Next day was signalized by the taking of the Augustines, a formidable bastile situated a little above the Tourelles, and with the latter defending
the entrance to the bridge. Shortly after engaging, the French soldiers took fright from the rumored approach of an English army of reinforcement, finally broke and sought refuge in a little island of the river called Isle aux Toiles. La Pucelle, who with a part of the infantry had taken up a position in the faubourg of Portereau surrounding the two great English forts above named, advanced under fire and planted her white standard in the rampart of the Augustines. At this juncture her own following yielded to the panic and fled to join the rest in the island. Only a few chevaliers remained with Jeanne, and these insisted upon taking her back to the city. The English, emboldened, came forth in crowds from the bastiles, mocked the flying French, and showered their filthiest insults upon the Maid. Ali, the brave English! Here was a weapon that never failed them, to which they clung with racial attachment. Be it allowed, however, that their French allies, the Burgundians, had no small share in the reproach.
But Jeanne is no tourne-le-dos; she cannot bear the thought of retreating before those foul-mouthed English, and suddenly, with La Hire and a few captains, she charges them with incredible fury, driving them back in spite of their numbers. They seek the shelter of the bastiles, where no doubt their leaders take up the most comfortable cursing stations. Rebuked at once and inflamed by the example of Jeanne and her little band, the body of the French army now returns to its duty, urged on by leaders eager to wipe out the shame of a momentary defeat.
A great attack is now made upon the Augustines, and for the second time Jeanne plants her banner on the ramparts; wounded in the foot by a caltrop, she never weakens a moment nor relinquishes the command until the victory is assured.
A costly defeat it is to the English, most of the defenders being killed; a remnant of them with the noble Glansdale, insulter-in-chief of the Maid, have barely the time to throw themselves into the Tourelles, which, as we have pointed out, was quite near. Many French prisoners-of-war were recovered, and there was, besides, a large booty of munitions. However, the outstanding fact, most crushing to the English, was—their second defeat at the hands of a woman!
Jeanne ordered the fortress to be destroyed, for military reasons, but I wish she had left a small portion of it for the joy of succeeding generations.
On retiring for the night she astonished the captains with this declaration:
"By my martin, I will take the towers of the bridge to-morrow (the Tourelles) and I will not return into the city until they are in the hands of the good King Charles!"
But the royal captains, while rendering full credit to Jeanne and agreeing that there was something miraculous in this second victory, decided none the less, in council, not to fight on the following day. They were expecting new reinforcements from the king, the city was well supplied with food, and everything in good train; hence they deemed it prudent to
wait. Also, they lost no time in communicating this decision to Jeanne on the same evening. To the chevalier, who in most respectful terms announced it, the Maid responded:
"You have been at your council and I also have been at mine. Now learn that the counsel of my God will be accomplished and remain stable, while yours will perish!"
Jeanne reaffirmed her promise to take the Tourelles to-morrow and dismissed the envoy. She ordered her chaplain, Brother Pasquerel, to come very early in the morning, for she said: "I shall have great work to do. Keep near me always, for I shall accomplish greater things than I have yet done."
Also, she predicted that she would be wounded, that the blood would flow from her bosom.
In both camps that night there was much agitation following the day's result, so heartening to the French and of such ill omen to the English; also, there were stern preparations for the morrow. Advised of the Maid's attitude and reply, the French captains slept in the suspicion that their counsel would not stand. The English burned one of their bastiles on the left bank of the river, not far from the Tourelles, garrisoning the latter with the strongest force available.
Rest, Jeanne, lightly as is thy wont, but calmly, unbrokenly, watched over by thy angelic protectors, cherishing in thy consciousness the purpose divine, which thou art bidden to fulfil. Already thou hast
foreseen the issue of to-morrow's battle, which will glorify thy name forever. Sleep in peace, then, until the first lights of the day that shall make reply to Agincourt!