A BATTLE OF SPURS
Meantime, where was Charles for whom his soldiers were boldly fighting and clearing the royal way to Reims? As Jeanne's foreboding heart told her, he was in the hands of his crafty councilors, ever plotting to hamper her or to make a sinister use of victory. The evasive king, instead of coming to congratulate his army and to place himself at the head of it, went to accept the hospitality of La Tremoille at the latter's chateau of Sully. The man with the bag, wholly intent upon making profit out of these wars, was not minded to give his royal debtor too long a leash. Jeanne was not invited there, and so with d'Alencon she led the army to Orleans for a short rest ere resuming the campaign.
After a few days Jeanne, left wholly to her own initiative, proposed to move on Meung and Beaugency, both places held in force by the English. D'Alencon seconded the plan—which, by the way, seemed his most useful function; the army advanced quickly, attacked the bridge at Meung, a strong strategic point, and took it in short order. Next day the French proceeded to Beaugency, which Talbot had just quitted in order to join Fastolfe, the deliberate
reinforcer, at Janville. There was still a strong garrison in Beaugency, pledged to make a desperate resistance. It seems to me, however, that the action of Talbot, their mightiest warrior, was not calculated to put heart in them. The French began with bombarding the chateau and the bridge, a preliminary gesture, and decided to make a regular assault on the following day. Strict watch was kept during the night.
Early in the morning a diversion occurred which at first threatened to have bad effects. The constable of France, Richemont, arrived with a body of troops and proposed to put himself under the orders of d'Alencon. Richemont, formerly a favorite of Charles and leader of his council, had been displaced by the intrigues of La Tremoille, who had then succeeded him. Richemont's offer was now rejected by d'Alencon, upon express orders of the king, and he threatened, moreover, to give up the command if the army received Richemont. But here Jeanne interposed, recalling to d'Alencon that Talbot was near with a large army. "Is it a time," she cried, "to refuse help from our own?" D'Alencon yielded, and the constable, renewing the oath of allegiance, took his place in the army with his men. Jeanne promised to be sponsor for her friend in this action. Her soul was all generosity, all sacrifice.
I have been particular in setting down this incident because, as we shall see later on, it had a marked influence upon Jeanne's relations with the king, and doubtless contributed to the evil fate awaiting her.
The rumored English army of succor turned out to be a force sent by Bedford to the relief of the Loire towns. It was led by Sir John Fastolfe. (His name is always misspelled by French writers, and he is often confounded with the Sir John Falstaff of "Henry V," greatest of Shakespeare's humorous creations, on account of the similarity of names. There is also a certain resemblance in their military attitude, upon which a caricature might have been founded. This Fastolfe appears in 'Henry VI," without discredit in the representation.) heretofore noted as a person of Fabian tactics, who delayed his march purposely in order to pick up further reinforcements en route. He was hoping to save Jargeau, when he learned that it had fallen to the French.
On joining forces with Talbot, the latter took the chief command and proposed to advance upon Meung and Beaugency. Fastolfe was for more Fabianism, but the council of captains overruled him; besides, Talbot was keen to avenge recent defeats and humiliations due to the Maid. "We must fight the enemy," he said, "with the help of God and St. George!"
It appears that on this occasion the smaller soldier gave the better counsel, and Talbot's headlong valor drew a terrible disaster upon the English—the worst they had ever sustained from the French in the open field.
A little incident at this time marks the simplicity of mediaeval manners even in war.
At Beaugency the French held a strong position on a hill, and were challenged to combat by the English in the plain below—like the irate but illogical Irishman who cried to his enemy within doors, "Come
outside and put me out!" The French prudence on this occasion, enforced by Jeanne d'Arc, proved to be, in the issue, of the greatest value to them. As the English heralds continued to gibe and provoke their enemies, alleging what a lily-livered lot of miscreants they were, Jeanne said to them:
"Go away and rest for to-day, because it is too late; but to-morrow, with the will of God and Our Lady, we'll take a closer look at each other."
And they did as they were told, like good little boys! Falling back on Meung, which town they still held, they spent a part of the night bombarding the bridge, which the French had taken and fortified.
Beaugency was still holding out against the French, but the garrison, finding themselves closely menaced and at the same time learning of the retreat of the English relief force, decided to capitulate. They were allowed to go on merciful terms. Talbot hearing of this disaster, ordered a retreat to Janville. The English started on the double-quick, but in good order: artillery, foot-soldiers, the several detachments of Talbot, Fastolfe, and Rampston, and the rear guard composed of picked English warriors; with the usual rout of merchants and camp-followers.
The French witnessed this retreat of the English, almost a flight indeed, and hesitated to pursue them. Why not let them go, since we have the Loire towns and have attained the object of the campaign? Besides, we haven't enough horses for the pursuit. Perhaps also some of them were a little timid.
I want to signalize the fact that but for Jeanne's prompt decision the affair would have so ended and the English would have escaped the most cruel and sanguinary defeat, which they had to suffer in those times. Ordinarily given to prudent counsels, Jeanne now spoke as with sudden inspiration, in the voice never unheeded by the French captains:
"Let us go boldly against the enemies; they will surely be conquered. Yes, in the name of God, we must fight them! They fly, you say, but though they hung to the clouds we should have them, for God has sent us to punish those English! The noble King of France will have this day the greatest victory he has ever won. My Voices have told me that the English are all ours."
Orders were given for an immediate pursuit. The English were now out of sight, but the couriers of the vanguard soon reported them to be not far ahead, on the road to Janville. Near the village of Patayall these little war-sites are most conveniently close to each other—the English chose their ground and put themselves in order of battle. Protected by a small wood and two parallel hedges, which afforded shelter to Talbot's famous archers forming the rearguard, the English might well think themselves in a strong position.
But see how chance or something greater mocks at these precautions—mocks the wisdom of Talbot and makes naught of his bravery! Hidden as they were, the nearness of the English was not suspected
by the French eclaireurs (scouts), when suddenly La Hire's cavaliers raised a deer which fled before them into the English lines, the exact spot occupied by Talbot's archers—who, raising a clamor at sight of the scared animal, unwittingly gave warning to the French. La Hire reported as much to d'Alencon, on hearing which Jeanne said to the Constable Richemont :
"Ah, handsome Constable, it was not I that invited you, but since you have come, you will be most welcome."
The Duc d'Alencon addressing the Maid:
"Jeanne, here are the English. What must we do?"
"Have you good spurs?" she answers, including the chiefs gathered around them.
Anxiously, they reply:
"What do you mean, Jeanne? Shall we be obliged to fly?"
"No, no," she cries with passion. "Go after them without fear; you will beat them and lose very few of your people. The English will run, and you will need good spurs to overtake them!"
La Hire prepares to attack Talbot and his archers, while the main body of the English army, having advanced, takes up a good fighting position. Like a thunderbolt the madcap French cavalier falls upon the enemy, overthrows the archers, captures Talbot himself and other important leaders. From a little distance the prudent Fastolfe witnesses this deroute and with other horsemen gallops off to rally the
advance guard, which has stopped near a convoy. This courageous body, fearing a disaster, makes good its escape from the field. Seeing himself unable to do anything better, Fastolfe executes a Fabian move of remarkable celerity and is seen no more. Perhaps he is still going!
As the body of the French army arrived, the battle changed quickly into a chase, for the English, thrown into panic, were unable to recover from La Hire's coup de main; in short, they were disordered, leaderless, unable and unwilling to make a stand. Hence, indeed, it was a battle of spurs and a frightful carnage. Two thousand Englishmen were killed and two hundred prisoners taken. The casualties among the French were very few. Jeanne sought in every way to succor the wounded and to procure religious consolation for the dying—as always, indeed, she showed kindness to the English which, later, they took most jealous and particular care not to return.
Such was the famous battle of Patay, which our Mark Twain admired so much and justly praised. It seems to me the most Napoleonic of Jeanne's actions, equal to Arcola or Eylau, neither of which, I suspect, will look as fresh after five hundred years.
It has been suggested that much of the wonder about Jeanne is of the ex post facto kind—i.e., conceived and worked up in later times. We may note, then, that a superior contemporary witness, Perceval de Boulainvilliers, wrote to the Duke of Milan two days after the Battle of Patay:
La Pucelle has done all that and many other things besides. For ourselves we see a miracle of heaven in these events.
Dunois also testifies: "If all the places [along the Loire] were reduced in a few days, it was thanks to La Pucelle."
THE DEER CHAISE
THE wild deer from her covert broke
As the lancers jingled by:
God! what a day of June it was,
What peace in earth and sky!
The wild deer flashed from her covert green,
And the lancers raised a cry,
Then swift pursued the flying game
Hillihi! Hilliho! Hillihi!
La Hire is foremost in the race:
Away in full career
The Gascon leads his riders rash,
Nor dreams the foe is near.
Behind the wood the foemen camped,
With Talbot at their head;
The pick of England's strength were they,
All English born and bred.
And there they rested at their ease,
Nor dreamed the foe was nigh:
God! what a day of June it was,
What peace in earth and sky!
Long-limbed they sprawled in careless ease,
And bragged of England's power,
And cursed the Witch that worked them ill
With conjuration dour.
But she was nearer than they knew,
Yea, Death himself close by,
While the headlong French their quarry chased
Hillihi! hilliho! hillihi!
Full in their midst the fleeting doe
Lands with a mighty bound;
The startled English leap to arms
As the clamors near resound.
The French come on at breakneck pace,
Nor ear, nor tail do spy
"This way she went and she is spent"—
Hillibi! hilliho! hillihi!
Into the English camp they drove—
The deer had led them well;
And from their merry hunt they turned
To make the sport of Hell!
Surprised, o'erborne, the foemen strove,
With Talbot at their head:
Five hundred archers tall were they—
Full soon the most lay dead!
Thick strewn they lay e'en where they fell,
A vulture circled nigh:
God! what a day of June it was,
What peace in earth and sky!
But there's a weird the English tell,
Aye, one they'll not forego:
It is that Jeanne had witched the deer-
Hilliho! hillihi! hilliho!