A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter I. How I First Heard of the Maid.
“The age of Chivalry–alas!–is dead. The days of miracles are past and gone! What future is there for hapless France? She lies in the dust. How can she hope to rise?”
Sir Guy de Laval looked full in our faces as he spoke these words, and what could one reply? Ah me!–those were sad and sorrowful days for France–and for those who thought upon the bygone glories of the past, when she was mistress of herself, held high her head, and was a power with hostile nations. What would the great Charlemagne say, could he see us now? What would even St. Louis of blessed memory feel, could he witness the changes wrought by only a century and a half? Surely it were enough to cause them to turn in their graves! The north lying supine at the feet of the English conqueror; licking his hand, as a dog licks that of his master, lost to all sense of shame that an English infant in his cradle (so to speak) should rule through a regent the fair realm of France, whilst its own lawful King, banished from his capital and from half his kingdom, should keep his Court at Bourges or Chinon, passing his days in idle revelry, heedless of the eclipse of former greatness, careless of the further aggressions threatened by the ever-encroaching foe.
Was Orleans to fall next into the greedy maw of the English adventurers? Was it not already threatened? And how could it be saved if nothing could rouse the King from his slothful indifference? O for the days of Chivalry!–the days so long gone by!
Whilst I, Jean de Novelpont, was musing thus, a curious look overshadowed the face of Bertrand de Poulengy, our comrade and friend, with whom, when we had said adieu to Sir Guy a few miles farther on, I was to return to Vaucouleurs, to pay a long-promised visit there. I had been journeying awhile with Sir Guy in Germany, and he was on his way to the Court at Chinon; for we were all of the Armagnac party, loyal to our rightful monarch, whether King or only Dauphin still, since he had not been crowned, and had adopted no truly regal state or authority; and we were earnestly desirous of seeing him awaken from his lethargy and put himself at the head of an army, resolved to drive out the invaders from the land, and be King of France in truth as well as in name. But so far it seemed as though nothing short of a miracle would effect this, and the days of miracles, as Sir Guy had said, were now past and gone.
Then came the voice of Bertrand, speaking in low tones, as a man speaks who communes with himself; but we heard him, for we were riding over the thick moss of the forest glade, and the horses’ feet sank deep and noiseless in the sod, and our fellows had fallen far behind, so that their laughter and talk no longer broke upon our ears. The dreamy stillness of the autumn woodlands was about us, when the songs of the birds are hushed, and the light falls golden through the yellowing leaves, and a glory more solemn than that of springtide lies upon the land.
Methinks there is something in the gradual death of the year which attunes our hearts to a certain gentle melancholy; and perchance this was why Sir Guy’s words had lacked the ring of hopeful bravery that was natural to one of his temperament, and why Bertrand’s eyes were so grave and dreamy, and his voice seemed to come from far away.
“And yet I do bethink me that six months agone I did behold a scene which seems to me to hold within its scope something of miracle and of mystery. I have thought of it by day, and dreamed of it by night, and the memory of it will not leave me, I trow, so long as breath and being remain!”
We turned and looked at him–the pair of us–with eyes which questioned better than our tongues. Bertrand and I had been comrades and friends in boyhood; but of late years we had been much sundered. I had not seen him for above a year, till he joined us the previous Wednesday at Nancy, having received a letter I did send to him from thence. He came to beg of me to visit him at his kinsman’s house, the Seigneur Robert de Baudricourt of Vaucouleurs; and since my thirst for travel was assuaged, and my purse something over light to go to Court, I was glad to end my wanderings for the nonce, in the company of one whom I still loved as a brother.
From the first I had noted that Bertrand was something graver and more thoughtful than had been his wont. Now I did look at him with wonder in my eyes. What could he be speaking of?
He answered as though the question had passed my lips.
“It was May of this present year of grace,” he said, “I mind it the better that it was the Feast of the Ascension, and I had kept fast and vigil, had made my confession and received the Holy Sacrament early in the day. I was in my lodging overlooking the market place, and hard by the Castle which as you know hangs, as it were, over the town, guarding or threatening it, as the case may be, when a messenger arrived from my kinsman, De Baudricourt, bidding me to a council which he was holding at noon that day. I went to him without delay; and he did tell me a strange tale.
“Not long since, so he said, an honest prud’homme of the neighbouring village of Burey le Petit, Durand Laxart by name, had asked speech with him, and had then told him that a young niece of his, dwelling in the village of Domremy, had come to him a few days since, saying it had been revealed to her how that she was to be used by the God of Heaven as an instrument in His hands for the redemption of France; and she had been told in a vision to go first to the Seigneur de Baudricourt, who would then find means whereby she should be sent to the Dauphin (as she called him), whom she was to cause to be made King of France.”
“Mort de Dieu!” cried Sir Guy, as he gazed at Bertrand with a look betwixt laughter and amaze, “and what said your worshipful uncle to that same message?”
“At the first, he told me, he broke into a great laugh, and bid the honest fellow box the girl’s ears well, and send her back to her mother. But he added that the man had been to him once again, and had pleaded that at least he would see his niece before sending her away; and since by this time he was himself somewhat curious to see and to question this village maiden, who came with so strange a tale, he had told Laxart to bring her at noon that very day, and he desired that I and certain others should be there in the hall with him, to hear her story, and perhaps suggest some shrewd question which might help to test her good faith.”
“A good thought,” spoke Sir Guy, “for it is hard to believe in these dreamers of dreams. I have met such myself–they talk great swelling words, but the world wags on its way in spite of them. They are no prophets; they are bags of wind. They make a stir and a commotion for a brief while, and then they vanish to be heard of no more.”
“It may be so,” answered Bertrand, whose face was grave, and whose steadfast dark-blue eyes had taken a strange shining, “I can only speak of that which I did see and hear. What the future may hold none can say. God alone doth know that.”
“Then you saw this maid–and heard her speech. What looked she like?–and what said she?”
“I will tell you all the tale. We were gathered there in the great hall. There were perhaps a score of us; the Seigneur at the head of the council table, the Abbe Perigord on his right, and the Count of La Roche on his left. There were two priests also present, and the chiefest knights and gentlemen of the town. We had all been laughing gaily at the thought of what a village maid of but seventeen summers–or thereabouts–would feel on being introduced into the presence of such a company. We surmised that she would shrink into the very ground for shame. One gentleman declared that it was cruel to ask her to face so many strangers of condition so much more exalted than her own; but De Baudricourt cried out, ’Why man, the wench is clamouring to be taken to the King at his Court! If she cannot face a score of simple country nobles here, how can she present herself at Chinon? Let her learn her place by a sharp lesson here; so may she understand that she had best return to her distaff and spindle and leave the crowning of Kings to other hands!’ And it was in the midst of the roar of laughter which greeted this speech that the door opened slowly–and we saw the maid of whom we had been talking.”
“And she doubtless heard your mirth,” spoke I, and he bent his head in assent.
“I trow she did,” he answered, “but think you that the ribald jests of mortal men can touch one of the angels of God? She stood for a moment framed in the doorway, and I tell you I lie not when I declare that it seemed to all present as though a halo of pure white light encircled her. Where the light came from I know not; but many there were, like myself, who noted it. The far end of the hall was dim and dark; but yet we saw her clear as she moved forward. Upon her face was a shining such as I have seen upon none other. She wore the simple peasant dress of her class, with the coif upon her head; yet it seemed to me–ay, and to others too–as though she was habited in rich apparel. Perchance it was that when one had seen her face, one could no longer think upon her raiment. If a queen–if an angel–if a saint from heaven stood in stately calm and dignity before one’s eyes, how could we think of the raiment worn? We should see nothing but the grandeur and beauty of the face and form!”
“Mort de Dieu!” cried Sir Guy with his favourite oath, “but you look, good Bertrand, as though you had gazed upon some vision from the unseen world!”
“Nay,” he answered gravely, “but I have looked upon the face of one whom God has visited through His saints. I have seen the reflection of His glory in human eyes; and so I can never say with others that the days of miracles are past.”
Bertrand spoke with a solemnity and earnestness which could not but impress us deeply. Our eyes begged him to continue, and he told the rest of his tale very simply.
“She came forward with this strange shining in her eyes. She bent before us with simple reverence; but then lifted herself up to her full height and looked straight at De Baudricourt without boldness and without fear, as though she saw in him a tool in the hand of God, and had no other thought for him besides.
“’Seigneur,’ she said, ’my Lord has bidden me come to you, that you may send me to the Dauphin; for He has given me a message to him which none else may bear; and He has told me that you will do it, therefore I know that you will not fail Him, and your laughter troubles me not.’
“’Who is your Lord, my child?’ asked De Baudricourt, not laughing now, but pulling at his beard and frowning in perplexity.
“’Even the Lord of Heaven, Sire,’ she answered, and her hands clasped themselves loosely together whilst her eyes looked upward with a smile such as I have seen on none other face before. ’He that is my Lord and your Lord and the Lord of this realm of France. But it is His holy will that the Dauphin shall be its King, and that he shall drive back the English, and that the crown shall be set upon his head. And this, with other matters which are for his ear alone I am sent to tell him; and you, good my lord, are he who shall send me to my King.’
“Thus she spoke, and looked at us all with those shining eyes of hers; yet it seemed to me she scarce saw us. Her glance did go beyond, as though she were gazing in vision upon the things which were to be.”
“She was beautiful, you say?” asked Sir Guy, whose interest was keenly aroused; but who, I saw, was doubtful whether Bertrand had not been deceived by some witchery of fair face and graceful form; for Bertrand, albeit a man of thews and sinews and bold as a lion in fight, was something of the dreamer too, as warriors in all ages have sometimes been.
“Yes–as an angel of God is beautiful,” he answered, “ask me not of that; for I can tell you nothing. I know not the hue of her hair or of her eyes, nor what her face was like, nor her form, save that she was tall and very slender; but beautiful–ah yes!–with the beauty which this world cannot give; a beauty which silenced every flippant jest, shamed every scoffing thought, turned ridicule into wonder, contempt into reverence. Whether this wonderful maiden came in truth as a messenger of God or no, at least not one present but saw well that she herself believed heart and soul in her divine commission.”
“And what answer did the Seigneur de Baudricourt make to her?”
“He gazed upon her full for awhile, and then he suddenly asked of her, ’And when shall all these wonders come to pass?’
“She, with her gaze fixed still a little upwards, answered, ’Before mid-Lent next year shall succour reach him; then will the city of Orleans be in sore straight; but help shall come, and the English shall fly before the sword of the Lord. Afterwards shall the Dauphin receive consecration at Rheims, and the crown of France shall be set upon his head, in token that he is the anointed of the Lord.’
“’And who has told you all this, my child?’ asked De Baudricourt then, answering gently, as one speaks within a church.
“’Mes voix,’ she answered, speaking as one who dreams, and in dreaming listens.
“’What voices?’ asked De Baudricourt, ’and have you naught but voices to instruct you in such great matters?’
“’Yes, Sire,’ she answered softly, ’I have seen the great Archangel Michael, his sword drawn in his hand; and I know that he has drawn it for the deliverance of France, and that though he has chosen so humble an instrument as myself, yet that to him and to the Lord of Heaven will he the victory and the glory.’
“When she had thus spoken there was a great silence in the hall, in which might have been heard the fall of a pin, and I vow that whether it were trick of summer sunshine or no, the light about the maiden seemed to grow brighter and brighter. Her face was just slightly uplifted as one who listens, and upon her lips there was a smile.
“’And I know that you will send me to the Dauphin, Robert de Baudricourt,’ she suddenly said, ’because my voices tell me so.’
“We all looked at De Baudricourt, who sat chin on hand, gazing at the maiden as though he would read her very soul. We waited, wondering, for him to speak At last he did.
“’Well, my girl, I will think of all this. We have till next year, by your own showing, ere these great things shall come to pass. So get you home, and see what your father and mother say to all this, and whether the Archangel Michael comes again or no. Go home–be a good girl, and we will see what we will see.’”
“Was that all he promised?” spoke Sir Guy with a short laugh. “I trow the maiden dreamer would not thank him for that word! A deliverer of princes to be bidden to go home and be a good girl! What said she to that counsel?”
“Ay, well you may ask,” spoke Bertrand with subdued emotion. “Just such a question sprang to my lips as I heard my kinsman’s answer. I looked to see her face fall, to see sparks of anger flash from her eyes, or a great disappointment cloud the serene beauty of her countenance. But instead of this a wonderful smile lighted it, and her sweet and resonant voice sounded clear through the hall.
“’Ah, now Seigneur, I know you for a good and true man! You speak as did my voices when first I heard them. “Jeanne, sois bonne et sage enfant; va souvent a l’eglise"; that was their first message to me, when I was but a child; and now you say the same to me–be a good girl. Thus I know that your heart is right, and that when my Lord’s time is come you will send me with His message to the Dauphin.’
“And so saying she bent again in a modest reverence before us. Yet let me tell you that as she did so, every man of us sprang to his feet by an impulse which each one felt, yet none could explain. As one man we rose, and bowed before her, as she retired from the hail with the simple, stately grace of a young queen. Not till the door had closed behind her did we bethink us that it was to a humble peasant girl we had paid unconscious homage. We who had thought she would well-nigh sink to the dust at sight of us, had been made to feel that we were in the presence of royalty!”
“Tu Dieu! but that is a strange story!” quoth Sir Guy with knitted brows. “For many a long day I have heard nought so strange! What think you of it yourself, good Bertrand? For by my troth you speak like a man convinced that a miracle may even yet be wrought for France at the hand of this maid.”
“And if I do, is that so strange? Cannot it be that the good God may still speak through His saints to the sons of men, and may raise up a deliverer for us, even as He did in the days of old for His chosen people? Is His arm shortened at all? And is it meet that we Christian knights should trust Him less than did the Jews of old?”
Sir Guy made no reply, but fell into thought, and then asked a sudden question:
“Who is this peasant maid of whom you speak? And where is she now? Is she still abiding content at home, awaiting the time appointed by her visions?”
“I trow that she is,” answered Bertrand. “I did hear that she went home without delay, as quietly as she had come. Her name is Jeanne d’Arc. She dwells in the village of Domremy over yonder. Her father is an honest prud’homme of the place. She has brothers and a sister. She is known in the village as a pious and gentle maid, ever ready to tend the sick, hold vigil for the dead, take charge of an ailing child, or do any such simple service for the neighbours. She is beloved of all, full of piety and good works, constant in attendance at church, regular in her confession and at mass. So much have I heard from her kinsman Laxart, though for mine own part I have not seen her again.”
“And what thinks De Baudricourt of her mission? Does he ever speak of it?”
“Not often; and yet I know that he has not forgotten it. For ofttimes he does sink into a deep reverie; and disjointed words break from him, which tell me whither his thoughts have flown.
“At the first he did say to me, ’Let the girl go home; let us see if we hear more of her. If this be but a phantasy on her part; if she has been fasting and praying and dreaming, till she knows not what is true and what is her own imagining, why, time will cure her of her fancies and follies. If otherwise–well, we will see when the time comes. To act in haste were to act with folly.’
“And so he dismissed the matter, though, as I say, he doth not forget it, and I think never a day comes but he thinks on it.”
“And while the Lord waits, the English are active!” cried Sir Guy with a note of impatience in his voice. “They are already threatening Orleans. Soon they will march in strength upon it. And if that city once fall, why what hope is there even for such remnants of his kingdom as still remain faithful south of the Loire? The English will have them all. Already they call our King in mockery ’the King of Bourges;’ soon even that small domain will be reft away, and then what will remain for him or for us? If the visions of the maiden had been true, why doth not the Lord strike now, before Salisbury of England can invest the city? If Orleans fall, all is lost!”
“But Jeanne says that Orleans shall be saved,” spoke Bertrand in a low voice, “and if she speaks sooth, must not she and we alike leave the times and seasons in the hand of the Lord?”
Sir Guy shrugged his shoulders, and gave me a shrewd glance, the meaning of which I was at no loss to understand. He thought that Bertrand’s head had been something turned, and that he had become a visionary, looking rather for a miracle from heaven than for deliverance from the foe through hard fighting by loyal men marching under the banner of their King. Truth we all knew well that little short of a miracle would arouse the indolent and discouraged Charles, cowed by the English foe, doubtful of his own right to call himself Dauphin, distrustful of his friends, despairing of winning the love or trust of his subjects. But could it indeed be possible that such a miracle could be wrought, and by an instrument so humble as a village maid–this Jeanne d’Arc?
But the time had come when we must say adieu to our comrade, and turn ourselves back to Vaucouleurs, if we were not to be benighted in the forest ere we could reach that place. We halted for our serving men to come up; and as we did so Bertrand said in a low voice to Sir Guy:
“I pray you, Seigneur de Laval, speak no word to His Majesty of this maid and her mission, until such time as news may reach him of her from other sources.”
“I will say no word,” answered the other, smiling, and so with many friendly words we parted, and Bertrand and I, with one servant behind us, turned our horses’ heads back along the road by which we had come.
“Bertrand,” I said, as the shadows lengthened, the soft dusk fell in the forest, and the witchery of the evening hour fell upon my heart, “I would that I could see this maiden of whom you speak, this Jeanne d’Arc of the village of Domremy.”
He turned and looked me full in the face; I saw his eyes glow and the colour deepen in his cheeks.
“You would not go to mock, friend Jean de Metz?” he said, for so I am generally named amongst my friends.
“Nay,” I answered truthfully, “there is no thought of mockery in my heart; yet I fain would see the Maid.”
He paused awhile in thought and then made answer:
“At least we may ride together one day to Domremy; but whether or no we see the Maid will be according to the will of Heaven.”