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the French mightily feared. But as the great lords stood mourning about King Henry's coffin in Westminster Abbey, certain ill tidings came to them of Talbot's capture by the French, which added tenfold to the bitterness of their grief. A messenger, hastily arrived from France, brought the news that Talbot was overthrown on the tenth of the previous August, when, retiring from the siege of Orleans and having scarcely six thousand men in his troop, he was surrounded and set upon before he had leisure even to form them into ranks. He wanted pikes to set before his archers and protect them from the French horsemen, but instead of these he plucked out hedges and pitched them confusedly into the ground. The fight, said the messenger, lasted more than three hours, where the valiant Talbot enacted wonders with his sword and lance. He slew hundreds, and none durst stand out against him; he was here, there, and everywhere, till the French exclaimed that Satan was in arms, and all the whole army stood at gaze upon him. His soldiers, spying his undaunted spirit, cried out amain and rushed into the midst of the battle. And here the conquest would have been fully achieved if Sir John Fastolfe had not played the coward. This false knight was in the rear, where he had been placed on purpose to relieve and follow his fellow-leaders, but he fled without striking a blow, and hence grew the general massacre of the English, who were enclosed with their enemies. A
base Walloon, at this point, thrust a spear into Talbot's back, whom all France durst not presume to look in the face. But though he was wounded, the messenger said, Talbot was still alive, and a prisoner, as were also his fellow-lords, Scales and Hungerford.
The receipt of such alarming news, with additional tidings that Orleans was besieged and the English army grown weak and faint, turned the nobles away from their mourning and set them instantly into action. The Dukes of Exeter, Bedford, Gloster, and the Bishop of Winchester, uncles of the young king, turned from the grave of Henry and began at once to make preparations for reinforcing the Earl of Salisbury, Lord Talbot's successor in the leadership, who sadly needed supplies and whose men were hardly kept from mutiny, so few were they in proportion to the multitude of their enemies.
Taking advantage of this, the French made strenuous endeavor to relieve Orleans, but they found the Englishmen, so they said, all Samsons and Goliaths; lean, raw-boned rascals, who showed unheard-of courage and audacity even in their weakness; and King Charles of France, finding that it was hopeless to take the city by force, resolved to let hunger conquer those who held it.
As he was about to withdraw his forces and thus leave the field to the English, the Bastard of Orleans sought him out in his camp, and told him of unexpected succour which was at hand. This, said
the bearer of the news, was a certain holy maid who, by a vision sent to her from heaven, was ordained to raise the tedious siege and drive the English from France. He said she had a spirit of deep prophecy exceeding the nine sibyls of Rome, for she could descry what was past and what was to come, and he asked the king if he should bring her into his presence. Driven by illsuccess in the field to snatch at any hope, Charles commanded that the maid should be called in to him; but first, to try her skill, he said, Lord Reignier should stand as dauphin in his place; and he told Reignier to question her proudly and let his looks be stern, for by such means they might sound what skill in divination she really had.
When La Pucelle, as she was called, came into the royal presence, Reignier, pretending to be the dauphin, said, “Fair maid, is it you who do these wondrous feats?" and she straightway answered, “Reignier, is it you who think to beguile me?” Then she asked for the dauphin's self, and looking about her, bid him come from his hidingplace, for she knew him well, though she had never seen him. But she bid him not to be amazed, for nothing was hid from her, and motioned him apart that they might talk in private.
She then told the dauphin her history. She was by birth, she said, a shepherd's daughter. Her wit was untrained in any kind of art, but it had pleased Heaven to shine on her contemptible estate, for while she waited on her tender lambs and
displayed her cheeks to the parching sun, God's mother deigned to appear to her, and, in a vision full of majesty, willed her to leave her base vocation and free her country from calamity. The Virgin promised her success, and revealed herself in complete glory; and, the maid said, whereas she was black and swart before, the clear rays which the Virgin shed upon her infused her with the beauty she was then blessed with, which the prince might see. She told him that she could answer unpremeditated any question he might ask her, or if he dared to try her courage in combat, he would find that she exceeded her sex, wherefore he should be fortunate if he received her for his warlike mate.
The dauphin was astonished by her high terms, and asked only the proof of arms; for, if she should buckle with him in combat and should vanquish him, her words were proven true; otherwise, he would renounce all confidence in her.
She was prepared, and showed her keen-edged sword decked with five flower-de-luces on each side, which she had chosen at Touraine, in St. Katharine's churchyard, out of a great deal of old iron. “Come, then, o God's name; I fear no woman," said the dauphin. And at once they brandished their arms and began the fight. It did not take long for the Maid of Orleans to overcome the dauphin, and in a little space he cried out, “Stay, stay thy hands; thou art an Amazon, and fightest with the sword of Deborah.” The
Maid said that Christ's mother helped her, else she were too weak; and the dauphin, convinced of her supernatural gifts, told her that whoever helped her, she must help him, for he was not only subdued by her skill in arms, but his heart also was conquered. “Excellent Pucelle," quoth he, “let me be thy servant, not thy sovereign;" but she said she must not yield to any rites of love, for her profession was sacred; nor would she think upon a recompense until she had chased all foes from France. She was, she said, assigned to be the English scourge, and she promised to raise the siege of Orleans that very night.
The English had, in the mean time, won the suburbs of Orleans, and the Lords Salisbury and Talbot, the latter of whom had now escaped from the French, with Sir William Glansdale and Sir Thomas Gargrave, climbed to the upper chamber of a tall tower which overlooked the city, to lay plans for its capture. The dauphin had learned that it was the wont of the English leaders to ascend this same tower and peer across the walls from its iron-grated windows, and he bid his master gunner direct a piece of ordnance against it, and watch for the foe to appear there. Thus it was that while these English generals were listening to Lord Talbot's account of his cruel treatment in the French prison and of his escape, a shot was fired which struck through the window and killed Lord Salisbury and Sir Thomas Gargrave. As Talbot, driven to desperation by this sudden loss of friends