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 moldy 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'Alen‡on 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:
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 andhis 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:
But she put up her hand, still gazing, weighing, calculating, and said again:
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.