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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

But Tristan has the single word Non


But

at the end the book improves quite astonishingly. Tristan, as has been said, has been specially commissioned by the fiend to effect the ruin of Joan. He has induced his half-brother, Gilles de Retz--not, indeed, to take the English side, for patriotism, as is well known, was the one redeeming point of that extremely loathsome person, but--to join the seigneurs who were malcontent with her, and if possible drug her and violate her, a process, as we have seen, quite congenial, hereditarily as well as otherwise, to M. de Laval. He is foiled, of course, and pardoned. But Tristan himself openly takes the English side, inflicts great damage on his countrymen, and after our defeat at the bastilles or bastides round Orleans, resumes his machinations against Joan, helps to effect her capture, and does his utmost to torment and insult her, and if possible resume Gilles's attempt, in her imprisonment; while, on the contrary, his brother Olivier (they are both disguised as monks) works on her side, nearly saves her,[365] and attends her on the scaffold. It is somewhat earlier than this that the author, as has been said, "wakes up" and wakes _us_ up. When Tristan, admitted to Joan's cell, designs the same outrage to which he had counselled his brother, it is the Maid's assumption of her armour to protect herself from him that (in this point for once historically) seals her fate. But at the very last his hatred is changed, _not_ at all impossibly or improbably, to violent love as she smiles
on him from the fire; and he sees the legendary dove mount to heaven, after he himself has flung to her, at her dying cry, an improvised crucifix, or at least cross. And then a choice miracle happens, told with almost all the vigour of the "Vin de Porto" itself. Tristan seeks absolution, but is, though not harshly, refused, before penitence and penance. He begs his brother Olivier's pardon, and is again refused--this time with vituperation--but bears it calmly. He takes, meekly, more insult from the very executioner. At last he makes the sign of the compact and summons the "Saracen" fiend. And then, after a very good conversation, in which the Devil uses all his powers of sarcasm to show his victim that, as usual, he has sold his soul for naught, Tristan draws his sword, calls on the Trinity, Our Lady, and Joan, and one of the strangest though not of the worst fights in fiction begins.

The Red Bastard is himself almost a giant; but the Saracen is a fiend, and though it seems that in this case the Devil _can_ be dead, he can, it seems also, only be killed at Poitiers in his original tomb. So

They wrestle up, they wrestle down, They wrestle still and sore,

for two whole years, the Demon constantly giving ground and misleading his enemy as much as he can. But Tristan, in the strength of repentance and with Joan's unseen help, lives, fights, and forces the fiend back over half France and half the world. By a good touch, after long combat, the Devil tries to tempt his adversary on the side of chivalry, asking to be allowed to drink at a stream on a burning day, to warm himself at a fire they pass in a snow-storm, to rest a moment. But Tristan has the single word "Non!" for any further pact with or concession to the Evil One; the two years' battle wears away his sin; and at last he finds himself pressing his fainting foe towards the very tomb in the fields of Poitou. It opens, and the combatants entering, find themselves by the actual graves. They drop their swords and now literally wrestle. Tristan wins, throws the Saracen into his own tomb, and runs him through the body, once more inflicting on him such death as he may undergo.[366]


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