You smile; and that is punishment for my vanity; and fairly earned, I grant you. Still, if I may toy a little, just a little--" saying which he stepped to the Burgundian and began a fair soft speech, all of goodly and gentle tenor; and in the midst he mentioned the Maid; and was going on to say how she out of her good heart would prize and praise this compassionate deed which he was about to-- It was as far as he got. The Burgundian burst into his smooth oration with an insult leveled at Joan of Arc. We sprang forward, but the Dwarf, his face all livid, brushed us aside and said, in a most grave and earnest way:
"I crave your patience. Am not I her guard of honor? This is my affair."
And saying this he suddenly shot his right hand out and gripped the great Burgundian by the throat, and so held him upright on his feet. "You have insulted the Maid," he said; "and the Maid is France. The tongue that does that earns a long furlough."
One heard the muffled cracking of bones. The Burgundian's eyes began to protrude from their sockets and stare with a leaden dullness at vacancy. The color deepened in his face and became an opaque purple. His hands hung down limp, his body collapsed with a shiver, every muscle relaxed its tension and ceased from its function. The Dwarf took away his hand and the column of inert mortality sank mushily to the ground.
We struck the bonds from the prisoner and told him he was free. His crawling humbleness changed to frantic joy in a moment, and his ghastly fear to a childish rage. He flew at that dead corpse and kicked it, spat in its face, danced upon it, crammed mud into its mouth, laughing, jeering, cursing, and volleying forth indecencies and bestialities like a drunken fiend. It was a thing to be expected; soldiering makes few saints. Many of the onlookers laughed, others were indifferent, none was surprised. But presently in his mad caperings the freed man capered within reach of the waiting file, and another Burgundian promptly slipped a knife through his neck, and down he went with a death-shriek, his brilliant artery blood spurting ten feet as straight and bright as a ray of light. There was a great burst of jolly laughter all around from friend and foe alike; and thus closed one of the pleasantest incidents of my checkered military life.
And now came Joan hurrying, and deeply troubled. She considered the claim of the garrison, then said:
"You have right upon your side. It is plain. It was a careless word to put in the treaty, and covers too much. But ye may not take these poor men away. They are French, and I will not have it. The King shall ransom them, every one. Wait till I send you word from him; and hurt no hair of their heads; for I tell you, I who speak, that that would cost you very dear."
That settled it. The prisoners were safe for one while, anyway. Then she rode back eagerly and required that thing of the King, and would listen to no paltering and no excuses. So the King told her to have her way, and she rode straight back and bought the captives free in his name and let them go.
Chapter 35 The Heir of France is Crowned
IT WAS here hat we saw again the Grand Master of the King's Household, in whose castle Joan was guest when she tarried at Chinon in those first days of her coming out of her own country. She made him Bailiff of Troyes now by the King's permission.
And now we marched again; Châlons surrendered to us; and there by Châlons in a talk, Joan, being asked if she had no fears for the future, said yes, one--treachery. Who would believe it? who could dream it? And yet in a sense it was prophecy. Truly, man is a pitiful animal.
We marched, marched, kept on marching; and at last, on the 16th of July, we came in sight of our goal, and saw the great cathedraled towers of Rheims rise out of the distance! Huzza after huzza swept the army from van to rear; and as for Joan of Arc, there where she sat her horse gazing, clothed all in white armor, dreamy, beautiful, and in her face a deep, deep joy, a joy not of earth, oh, she was not flesh, she was a spirit! Her sublime mission was closing--closing in flawless triumph.