But he shall not get the bridge. We will see to that."
"Yes," said D'Alen&ccecil;on, "we must follow him, and take care of that matter. What of Beaugency?"
"Leave Beaugency to me, gentle duke; I will have it in two hours, and at no cost of blood."
"It is true, Excellency. You will but need to deliver this news there and receive the surrender."
"Yes. And I will be with you at Meung with the dawn, fetching the Constable and his fifteen hundred; and when Talbot knows that Beaugency has fallen it will have an effect upon him."
"By the mass, yes!" cried La Hire. "He will join his Meung garrison to his army and break for Paris. Then we shall have our bridge force with us again, along with our Beaugency watchers, and be stronger for our great day's work by four-and-twenty hundred able soldiers, as was here promised within the hour. Verily this Englishman is doing our errands for us and saving us much blood and trouble. Orders, Excellency--give us orders!"
"They are simple. Let the men rest three hours longer. At one o'clock the advance-guard will march, under our command, with Pothon of Saintrailles as second; the second division will follow at two under the Lieutenant-General. Keep well in the rear of the enemy, and see to it that you avoid an engagement. I will ride under guard to Beaugency and make so quick work there that Ii and the Constable of France will join you before dawn with his men."
She kept her word. Her guard mounted and we rode off through the puttering rain, taking with us a captured English officer to confirm Joan's news. We soon covered the journey and summoned the castle. Richard Gu‚tin, Talbot's lieutenant, being convinced that he and his five hundred men were left helpless, conceded that it would be useless to try to hold out. He could not expect easy terms, yet Joan granted them nevertheless. His garrison could keep their horses and arms, and carry away property to the value of a silver mark per man. They could go whither they pleased, but must not take arms against France again under ten days.
Before dawn we were with our army again, and with us the Constable and nearly all his men, for we left only a small garrison in Beaugency castle. We heard the dull booming of cannon to the front, and knew that Talbot was beginning his attack on the bridge. But some time before it was yet light the sound ceased and we heard it no more.
Gu‚tin had sent a messenger through our lines under a safe-conduct given by Joan, to tell Talbot of the surrender. Of course this poursuivant had arrived ahead of us. Talbot had held it wisdom to turn now and retreat upon Paris. When daylight came he had disappeared; and with him Lord Scales and the garrison of Meung.
What a harvest of English strongholds we had reaped in those three days!--strongholds which had defied France with quite cool confidence and plenty of it until we came.
Chapter 30 The Red Field of Patay
WHEN THE morning broke at last on that forever memorable 18th of June, thee was no enemy discoverable anywhere, as I have said. But that did not trouble me. I knew we should find him, and that we should strike him; strike him the promised blow--the one from which the English power in France would not rise up in a thousand years, as Joan had said in her trance.
The enemy had plunged into the wide plains of La Beauce--a roadless waste covered with bushes, with here and there bodies of forest trees--a region where an army would be hidden from view in a very little while. We found the trail in the soft wet earth and followed it. It indicated an orderly march; no confusion, no panic.
But we had to be cautious. In such a piece of country we could walk into an ambush without any trouble. Therefore Joan sent bodies of cavalry ahead under La Hire, Pothon, and other captains, to feel the way. Some of the other officers began to show uneasiness; this sort of hide-and-go-seek business troubled them and made their confidence a little shaky. Joan divined their state of mind and cried out impetuously:
"Name of God, what would you? We must smite these English, and we will.