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HOW THE BURGUNDIANS HUNTED HARES, WITH THE END OF THAT HUNTING
"Tell me, what tidings of him?" Barthelemy Barrette asked me, on the day after that unbought feast at Royaulieu.
He was sitting in the noonday sun on the bridge of Compiegne, and strange it was to see the place so battered yet so peaceful after five months of war. The Oise sliding by and rippling on the piers was not more quiet than this bridge of many battles, yet black in places with dried-up blood of men slain. "Tidings can I find none," I answered. "He who saw the cordelier last was on guard in the boulevard during the great charge. He marked Brother Thomas level his couleuvrine now and again, as we ran for the bastille, and cried out to him to aim higher, for that the ball would go amongst us."
"You were his target, I make no doubt," said Barthelemy, "but by reason of the throng he had no certain aim."
"After we broke into the bastille, I can find no man who has set eyes on him," and I cursed the cordelier for very rage.
"He is well away, if he stays away: you and I need scarce any longer pray for eyes in the backs of our heads. But what make we next?"
"I have but one thought," I said: "to pluck the Maid out of the hands of the English, for now men say that she is sold to them by Jean of Luxembourg. They mean to take her to Arras, and so by Crotoy at the mouth of Seine, and across Normandy to Rouen. Save her France must, for the honour of France."
"My mind is the same," he said, and fell into a muse. "Hence the straight road, and the shortest," he said at last, "is by Beauvais on to Rouen, where she will lie in chains," and drawing his dagger he scratched lines on the bridge parapet with its point. "Here is Compiegne; there, far to the west, is the sea, and here is Rouen. That straight line," which he scratched, "goes to Rouen from Compiegne. Here, midway, is Beauvais, whereof we spoke, which town we hold. But there, between us and Beauvais, is Clermont, held by Crevecoeur for the Burgundians, and here, midway between Beauvais and Rouen, is Gournay, where Kyriel and the Lord Huntingdon lie with a great force of English. Do you comprehend? We must first take Clermont ere we can ride to rescue the Maid at Rouen!"
"The King should help us," I said. "For what is the army that has delivered Compiegne but a set of private bands, under this gentleman's flag or that, some with Boussac, some with Xaintrailles, some with a dozen others, and victuals are hard to come by."
"Ay, many a peaceful man sits by the fire and tells how great captains should have done this, and marched there, never thinking that men fight on their bellies. And the King should help us, and march with D'Alencon through Normandy from the south, while our companies take Clermont if we may, and drive back the English and Burgundians. But you know the King, and men say that the Archbishop of Reims openly declares that the Maid is rightly punished for her pride. He has set up a mad shepherd-boy to take her place, Heaven help him! who can fight as well as that stone can swim," and he dropped a loose stone over the bridge into the water.
"Whoever stays at home, we take the field," I said; "let us seek counsel of Xaintrailles."
We rose and went to the Jacobins, where Xaintrailles was lodged, and there found him at his dejeuner.
He was a tall young knight, straight as a lance, lean as a greyhound; for all his days his sword had won his meat; and he was hardy, keen, and bright, with eyes of steel in a scarred face, and his brow was already worn bald with the helmet. When he walked his legs somewhat straggled apart, by reason of his much riding.
Xaintrailles received us in the best manner, we telling him that we had ridden with the Maid, that I was of her own household, and that to save her we were willing to go far, and well knew that under no banner could we be so forward as under his.
"I would all my company were as honest as I take you twain to be," he said, "and I gladly receive you under my colours with any men you can bring."
"Messire, I have a handful of horse of the Maid's company," said Barthelemy, hardily; "but when do we march, for to-day is better than to-morrow."
"As soon as may be," said the knight; "the Marechal de Boussac leads us against Clermont. That town we cannot leave behind us when we set forth from Beauvais. But, with these great bombards, which we have won from the Burgundians, we may have reason of Clermont, and then," clapping his hands together, and looking up, "then for Rouen! We shall burst the cage and free the bird, God willing!"
He stood like one in prayer, crossing himself, and our hearts turned to him in loyalty.
"If but the King will send a force to join hands with La Hire in Louviers, the English shall have news of you, Messire!" I made bold to say.
"Ay, if!" quoth Xaintrailles, and his face grew darker, "but we must make good speedy for the midwinter draws nigh."
Therewith we left him, and, in few days, were marching on Clermont, dragging with long trains of horses the great bombards of the Burgundians.
To our summons Messire de Crevecoeur answered knightly, that Clermont he would hold till death or rescue, so we set to battering his house about his ears. But, alas! after four days a sentinel of ours saw, too late, an English knight with nine men slip through the vines, under cover of darkness, and win a postern gate in the town wall. Soon we heard a joy-fire of guns within Clermont town, and foreboded the worst. At midnight came a peasant to Xaintrailles, with tidings that a rescue was riding to Clermont, and next morning it was boots and saddles and away, so hastily that we left behind us the great bombards of the Burgundians. On this they made much mirth; but they laugh best who laugh last, as shall he seen.
And the cause of our going was that the Earl of Huntingdon had ridden out of Gournay, in Normandy, with a great force of English, to deliver Clermont. Against foes within the town and foes without the town the captains judged that we were of no avail. So we departed, heavy at heart. Now the companies scattered, and Barthelemy and I, sorry enough, rode behind Xaintrailles, due north to Guermigny, whence we threatened Amiens.
At Guermigny, then, for a short season, lay Xaintrailles, gathering all the force he might along the Picardy marches, for the Duke of Burgundy was in Peronne, full of wrath and sorrow, so many evils had befallen him. For ourselves, we were in no gentler temper, having lost our hope of pushing on to Rouen.
I was glad, therefore, when Xaintrailles himself rode one day to the door of our lodging in Guermigny, strode clanging into our chamber, and asked if we were alone? We telling him that none was within ear-shot, he sat him down on the table, playing with his dagger hilt, and, with his hawk's eye on Barthelemy, asked, "You know this land well?"
"I have ridden over it, in war or peace, since I was a boy."
"How far to Lihons?"
"A matter of two leagues."
"What manner of country lies between?"
"Chiefly plain, rude and untilled, because of the distresses of these times. There is much heath and long grasses, a great country for hares."
"Know you any covert nigh the road?"
"There runs a brook that the road crosses by a bridge, midway between Guermigny and Lihons. The banks are steep, and well wooded with such trees and undergrowth as love water."
"You can guide me thither?"
"There is no missing the road."
"God could not have made this land better for me, if He had asked my counsel," said Xaintrailles. "You can keep your own?"
"Nom Dieu, yea!" said Barthelemy.
"And your Scots friend I can trust. A good-day to you, and thanks many."
Thereupon he went forth.
"What has he in his mind?" I asked Barthelemy.
"Belike an ambush. The Duke of Burgundy lies at Peronne, and has mustered a great force. Lihons is midway between us and Peronne, and is in the hands of Burgundy. I deem Xaintrailles has tidings that they intend to ride from Peronne to Lihons to-night, and thence make early onfall on us to-morrow. Being heavy-pated men of war, and bemused with their strong wine, they know not, belike, that we have more with us than the small garrison of Guermigny. And we are to await them on the road, I doubt not. You shall see men that wear your cross of St. Andrew, but not of your colour."
I shame not to say that of bushments in the cold dawn I had seen as much as I had stomach for, under Paris. But if any captain was wary in war, and knew how to discover whatsoever his enemy designed, that captain was Xaintrailles. None the less I hoped in my heart that his secret tidings of the Burgundian onfall had not come through a priest, and namely a cordelier.
Dawn found us mounted, and riding at a foot's-pace through the great plain which lies rough and untilled between Guermigny and Lihons. All grey and still it was, save for a cock crowing from a farmstead here and there on the wide wold, broken only by a line of trees that ran across the way.
Under these trees, which were mainly poplars and thick undergrowth of alders about the steep banks of a little brook, we were halted, and here took cover, our men lying down.
"Let no man stir, or speak, save when I speak to him, whatever befalls, on peril of his life," said Xaintrailles, when we were all disposed in hiding. Then touching me on the shoulder that I should rise, he said--
"You are young enough to climb a tree; are your eyes good?"
"I commonly was the first that saw the hare in her form, when we went coursing at home, sir."
"Then up this tree with you! keep outlook along the road, and hide yourself as best you may in the boughs. Throw this russet cloak over your harness." It was shrewdly chill in the grey November morning, a hoarfrost lying white on the fields. I took the cloak gladly and bestowed myself in the tree, so that I had a wide view down Lihons way, whence we expected our enemies, the road running plain to see for leagues, like a ribbon, when once the low sun had scattered the mists. It was a long watch, and a weary, my hands being half frozen in my steel gauntlets. Many of our men slept; if ever a wayfarer crossed the bridge hard by he was stopped, gagged, and trussed in a rope's end. But wayfarers were few, and all were wandering afoot. I was sorry for two lasses, who crossed on some business of their farm, but there was no remedy.
These diversions passed the time till nigh noon, when I whispered to Xaintrailles that I saw clouds of dust (the roads being very dry) a league away. He sent Barthelemy and another to waken any that slept, and bade all be ready at a word.
Now there came shouts on the wind, cries of venerie, loud laughter, and snatches of songs.
And now, up in my perch, I myself broke into a laugh at that I saw.
"Silence, fool!" whispered Xaintrailles. "Why laugh you, in the name of Behemoth?"
"The Burgundians are hunting hares," I whispered; "they are riding all disorderly, some on the road, some here and there about the plain. One man has no lance, another is unhelmeted, many have left their harness behind with the baggage!" Even as I spoke rose up a great hunting cry, and a point of the chase was blown on a trumpet. The foremost Burgundians were spurring like madmen after some beast, throwing at it with their lances, and soon I saw a fox making our way for its very life.
"To horse," cried Xaintrailles, and, leaving thirty men to hold the bridge, the whole of our company, with spears in rest, drove down on these hare-hunters of Burgundy.
Two hundred picked men in all, fully armed, were we, and we scattered the foremost riders as they had scattered the hares. Saddles were emptied, archers were cut down or speared ere they could draw bows, the Burgundians were spurring for their lives, many cried mercy, and were taken to ransom, of whom I had my share, as I shall tell.
But a few men made a right good end. Thomas Kyriel, a knight of England, stood to his banner, his archers rallied about it, with three or four knights of Burgundy. There, unhelmeted for the most part, they chose the way of honour, but they were of no avail where so many lances were levelled and so many swords were hewing at so few. There was a great slaughter, but Geoffrey de Thoisy, nephew to the Bishop of Tournay, plucked from danger fortune, for he so bore him that he being fully armed we took him for Messire Antoine de Vienne, a very good knight. For his courage we spared him, but Antoine, being unhelmeted and unknown, was smitten on the head by Barthelemy Barrette, with a blow of a casse-tete.
For this Barthelemy made much sorrow, not only that so good a knight was slain, but that he had lost a great ransom, whereby he should have been a rich man. Yet such is the fortune of war! Which that day was strangely seen; for a knight having yielded to me because his horse threw him, and he lost for a moment all sense with the fall and found my boot on his neck when he came to himself, who should he be but Messire Robert Heron, the same whom I took at Orleans!
Who, when he knew me, took off his salade for greater ease, and, sitting down on a rock by the way, swore as never I heard man swear, French, English, Spaniard, or Scot; and at length laughed, and said it was fortune of war, and so was content. This skirmish being thus ended, we returned, blithe and rich men every one of us, what with prisoners, horses, arms, and all manner of treasure taken with the baggage. That night we slept little in Guermigny, but feasted and drank deep. For my own part, I know not well where I did sleep, or how I won to what bed, which shames me some deal after all these years.
On the morrow we left Guermigny to the garrison of the place for their ill-fortune, and rode back towards Compiegne.
And this was the sport that the Burgundians had in hare-hunting.
This Battle of the Hares was the merriest passage of arms for our party, and bourdes were made on it, and songs sung, as by the English on that other Battle of the Herrings. Now, moreover, I might be called rich, what with ransoms, what with my share of the plunder in horses, rings, chains of gold, jewels, silver dishes, and rich cloths, out of the baggage of the enemy. Verily lack of wealth could no more sunder Elliot and me! For Pothon was as open of hand as he was high of heart, and was no greedy captain, wherefore men followed him the more gladly.
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