It is a delicate situation. It seems offensive to me to refuse to believe a person when he makes so direct a statement, and yet I am obliged to say, rude as it may appear, that I am not able to believe the whole of it--no, I am not able to believe that you climbed nine trees."
"There!" cried the Paladin; "now what do you think of yoiurself, NoČl Rainguesson? How many do you believe I climbed, Pierre?"
The laughter that followed inflamed the Paladin's anger to white heat, and he said:
"I bide my time--I bide my time. I will reckon with you all, I promise you that!"
"Don't get him started," NoČl pleaded; "he is a perfect lion when he gets started. I saw enough to teach me that, after the third skirmish. After it was over I saw him come out of the bushes and attack a dead man single-handed."
"It is another lie; and I give you fair warning that you are going too far. You will see me attack a live one if you are not careful."
"Meaning me, of course. This wounds me more than any number of injurious and unkind speeches could do. In gratitude to one's benefactor--"
"Benefactor? What do I owe you, I should like to know?"
"You owe me your life. I stood between the trees and the foe, and kept hundreds and thousands of the enemy at bay when they were thirsting for your blood. And I did not do it to display my daring. I did it because I loved you and could not live without you."
"There--you have said enough! I will not stay here to listen to these infamies. I can endure your lies, but not your love. Keep that corruption for somebody with a stronger stomach than mine. And I want to say this, before I go. That you people's small performances might appear the better and win you the more glory, I hid my own deeds through all the march. I went always to the front, where the fighting was thickest, to be remote from you in order that you might not see and be discouraged by the things I did to the enemy. It was my purpose to keep this a secret in my own breast, but you force me to reveal it. If you ask for my witnesses, yonder they lie, on the road we have come. I found that road mud, I paved it with corpses. I found that country sterile, I fertilized it with blood. Time and again I was urged to go to the rear because the command could not proceed on account of my dead. And yet you, you miscreant, accuse me of climbing trees! Pah!"
And he strode out, with a lofty air, for the recital of his imaginary deeds had already set him up again and made him feel good.
Next day we mounted and faced toward Chinon. Orleans was at our back now, and close by, lying in the strangling grip of the English; soon, please God, we would face about and go to their relief. From Gien the news had spread to Orleans that the peasant Maid of Vaucouleurs was on her way, divinely commissioned to raise the siege. The news made a great excitement and raised a great hope--the first breath of hope those poor souls had breathed in five months. They sent commissioners at once to the King to beg him to consider this matter, and not throw this help lightly away. These commissioners were already at Chinon by this time.
When we were half-way to Chinon we happened upon yet one more squad of enemies. They burst suddenly out of the woods, and in considerable force, too; but we were not the apprentices we were ten or twelve days before; no, we were seasoned to this kind of adventure now; our hearts did not jump into our throats and our weapons tremble in our hands. We had learned to be always in battle array, always alert, and always ready to deal with any emergency that might turn up. We were no more dismayed by the sight of those people than our commander was. Before they could form, Joan had delivered the order, "Forward!" and we were down upon them with a rush. They stood no chance; they turned tail and scattered, we plowing through them as if they had been men of straw. That was our last ambuscade, and it was probably laid for us by that treacherous rascal, the King's own minister and favorite, De la Tremouille.