A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter XI. How the Maid Bore Triumph and Trouble.
The people of Orleans, and we her knights and followers, were well-nigh wild with joy. I do not think I had ever doubted how she would bear herself in battle; and yet my heart had sometimes trembled at the thought of it. For, after all, speaking humanly, she was but a girl, a gentle maid, loving and tender-hearted, to whom the sight of suffering was always a sorrow and a pain. And to picture a young girl, who had perhaps never seen blows struck in anger in her life–save perchance in some village brawl–suddenly set in the midst of a battle, arms clashing, blood flowing, all the hideous din of warfare around her, exposed to all its fearful risks and perils–was it strange we should ask ourselves how she would bear it? Was it wonderful that her confidence and calmness and steadfast courage under the trial should convince us, as never perhaps we had been convinced before, of the nearness of those supernatural beings who guarded her so closely, who warned her of danger, who inspired her with courage, and yet never robbed her for one moment of the grace and beauty and crown of her pure womanhood?
And so, whilst we were well-nigh mad with joy and triumph, whilst joy bells pealed from the city, and the soldiers and citizens were ready to do her homage as a veritable saint from heaven, she was just her own quiet, thoughtful, retiring self. She put aside the plaudits of the Generals; she hushed the excited shouting of the soldiers. She exercised her authority to check and stop the carnage, to insist that quarter should be given to all who asked it, to see that the wounded upon both sides were carried into the city to receive attention and care, and in particular that the prisoners–amongst whom were several priests–should receive humane treatment, and escape any sort of insult or reprisal.
These matters occupied her time and thought to the exclusion of any personal pride or triumph. It was with difficulty that the Generals could persuade her to ride at their head into the city, to receive the applause and joyful gratitude of the people; and as soon as she could without discourtesy extricate herself from the crowd pressing round to kiss her hands or her feet, or even the horse upon which she rode, she slipped away to give orders that certain badly wounded English prisoners were to be carried to the Treasurer’s house, and laid in the spacious guest chamber, which, having been prepared for her own reception, had been permitted to no one else. Here she begged of Madame Boucher permission to lodge them, that she might tend their hurts herself, and assure herself that all was well with them.
No one could deny the Maid those things she asked, knowing well that others in her place would have issued commands without stooping to petition. But with the Maid it was never so. Her gentle courtesy never deserted her. No association with men, no military dignity of command, which she could so well assume, ever tarnished the lustre of her sweet humility. A gentle maiden, full of tenderness and compassion, she showed herself now. Instead of resting after the sore strife of the battle, which had exhausted even strong men, nothing would serve her but that she must herself dress the wounds of these English prisoners; and so deft was her touch, and so soft and tender her methods with them, that not a groan passed the lips of any of them; they only watched her with wondering eyes of gratitude; and when she had left the room they looked at each other and asked:
“Who is it? Is it boy, or angel, or what? The voice is as the voice of a woman, and the touch is as soft; but the dress is the dress of a man. Who can it be?”
I understood them, for I knew something of the English tongue, and I saw that they were in great amazement; for all who had seen the Maid bore her image stamped upon their hearts; and yet it was impossible for these prisoners of war to believe that the triumphant, angelic Commander of the Forces could stoop to tend the hurts of wounded prisoners with her own hands.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “that is the Angelic Maid herself–she who has been sent of Heaven for the deliverance of France. I trow that you soldiers and knights of England have called her witch, and threatened to burn her if you can lay hands upon her. Perchance now that you have seen her thus face to face, your thoughts towards her will somewhat change.”
They gazed at me and at one another in amaze. They broke into questions, eager and full of curiosity. When I had answered them they were ready to tell me what was spoken of her in the English ranks; all averred that some strange power seemed to fall upon them with the advent of the Maid into the city–a power that withheld them from sallying forth to hinder her coming, or that of the relieving army.
“We had meant to fight her to the death,” spoke one English knight. “I was in counsel with the Generals when it was so proposed; and yet more resolved were we to keep out the army from Blois, which we heard must needs pass straight through our lines–an easy prey, we said, to our gunners, archers and swordsmen. All was in readiness for the attack–and yet no word was ever given. No trumpet sounded, though the men were drawn up ready. We all stood to arms; but the sight of that dazzling white figure seemed to close the lips of our commanders, to numb the limbs of our soldiers. I can say no more. When the chance was gone–the hour passed–we gazed into each other’s face as men awaking from a dream. We cursed ourselves. We cursed the witch who had bound us by her spells. We vowed to redeem and revenge ourselves another day. And when we saw the French issuing forward to the attack scarce two hours after the entry of the relieving army, and there was no white figure with them, then indeed did we tell ourselves that our time was come; and we thought to win a speedy victory over the men who had so often fled before us. Yet you know how the day did end. The Maid came–victory rode beside her! Nought we could do availed when she appeared. I had thought to be left to die upon the battlefield, but behold I am here, and she has dressed my wounds with her own hands! It is wonderful! Past belief! Tell me who and what is she? A creature of earth or of heaven?”
I had already told him all I knew; but they were never tired of hearing the story of the Maid; and as I, at her request, watched beside them during the night, ministering to their wants, and doing what I was able to relieve their pain, I found that nothing so helped them to forget the smart of their wounds as the narration of all the wonderful words and deeds of this Heavenly Deliverer of France.
They were frank enough on their side also, and told me much of the disposition of their forces, and how that they were expecting a strong army to join them quickly, headed by Sir John Fastolffe, a notable knight, whose name we well knew, and had trembled before ere this. They admitted that their ranks were somewhat thinned by disease and death, and that they had scarce sufficient force both to maintain all the bastilles erected on the north side of the river and also to hold the great forts of Les Tourelles and Les Augustins on the south; but that when the reinforcements should arrive all would be well, and but for the marvellous power of the Maid, they would have felt no doubt whatever as to the speedy reduction of the city either by assault or blockade.
With the first golden shafts of sunlight came the Maid once more, little Charlotte beside her, both bearing in their hands such cooling drinks and light sustenance as the condition of the wounded men required. The Maid wore the white, silver embroidered tunic and silken hose which Queen Yolande had provided for her indoor dress; she carried no arms, and her clustering curls framed her lovely face like a nimbus. All eyes were fixed upon her as upon a vision, and as she bent over each wounded man in turn, asking him of his welfare and holding a cup to his lips, I could see the amazement deepening in their eyes; and I am sure that they were well-nigh ready to worship the ground upon which she trod, so deep was the impression made upon them by her beauty and her gentle treatment.
When she left the room I followed her at her sign, and asked:
“Then you go not forth to battle today, General?”
“Nay,” she replied, “for today the Church keeps the blessed Feast of the Ascension; which should be to all a day of peace and thanksgiving and holy joy. I am going forthwith to hear Mass and receive the Holy Sacrament; and I would have my faithful knights about me. Let us forget warfare and strife for this day.”
Her own face was transfigured as she spoke. The light shone upon it all the time that she knelt before the high altar in the Cathedral, rapt in a mystery of thanksgiving and heavenly joy. O how real it all was to her–those things which were to us articles of faith, grounds of hope, yet matters which seemed too far above us to arouse that personal rapture which was shining from the eyes and irradiating the whole face of the Maid.
It was a beautiful beginning to the day; and all the early hours were spent by the Maid in meditation and prayer within the walls of the Cathedral, where the people flocked, as perhaps they had never done before, to give thanks for the mercies received with the advent of the Maid, and to gaze upon her, as she knelt in a trance of rapture and devotion in her appointed place not far from the altar. We, her knights, went to and fro, some of us always near to her, that the crowd might not too curiously press upon her when she went forth, or disturb her devotions by too close an approach.
I noted that none of the Generals appeared or took part in the acts of devotion that day. And as I issued forth into the sunny street at the close of the High Mass, Bertrand met me with a look of trouble and anger on his face.
“They are all sitting in council of war together,” he said, “and they have not even told her of it, nor suffered her to join them! How can they treat her so–even Dunois and La Hire–when they have seen again and yet again how futile are all plans made by their skill without the sanction of her voice? It makes my gorge rise! Do they think her a mere beautiful image, to ride before them and carry a white banner to affright the foe? It is a shame, a shame, that they should treat her so, after all that they have seen and heard!”
I was as wroth as Bertrand, and as full of surprise. Even now, looking back after all these years, the blindness of these men of war astonishes and exasperates me. They had seen with their own eyes what the Maid could accomplish; again and again she had proved herself the abler in counsel as in fight; and yet they now deliberately desired to set her aside from their councils, and only inform her of their decisions when made, and permit her to take a share in the fighting they had planned.
Bertrand was furiously angry. He led me up into a lofty turret which commanded a bird’s-eye view of the whole city and its environs, and he pointed out that which the Maid had declared she would straightway do, so soon as the Feast of the Ascension was over, and how the Generals were about to follow a quite different course.
Orleans, as all men know, lies upon the right–the north–bank of the Loire, and the country to the north was then altogether in the power of the English; wherefore they had built their great bastilles around the city upon that side without molestation, and were able to receive supplies from their countrymen without let or hindrance.
But these bastilles were not the chiefest danger to the city, or rather I should say, it was not these which were the chiefest cause of peril, since no help could reach the garrison from that side. They looked to the country to the south to help them, and it was to stop supplies from reaching them by water or from the south that the English had long since crossed the river and had established themselves in certain forts along the south bank. Of these, St. Jean le Blanc was one; but by far the most important and dangerous to the city were the two great towers commanding the bridge, whose names I have given before. Let me explain how these great fortifications stood.
Les Augustins had once been a convent, and it stood on the south bank, very near to the end of the bridge, guarding it securely from attack, and commanding the waterway and the approach to the city. Les Tourelles was an even stronger tower, constructed upon the very bridge itself, and menacing the town in formidable fashion. Dunois had broken down the main portion of the bridge on the north side to prevent the advance into the city of the English from their tower; so it stood grimly isolated from either bank; for the permanent bridge at the south end had been destroyed to be replaced by a drawbridge which could rise or fall at will.
And it was these towers of Les Augustins and Les Tourelles which had reduced the city to such straits by hindering the entrance of food supplies. Moreover, from Les Tourelles great stone cannon balls had been hurled into the city in vast numbers, battering down walls and doing untold damage to buildings and their inhabitants.
Now it was evident to all that these fortresses must be taken if the city were to be relieved and the siege raised. But the Maid, with her far-seeing eyes, had decreed that first the bastilles upon the north bank should be attacked and destroyed; and it was easy to follow her reasoning; “For,” she said, “when the English are fiercely attacked there, they will, without doubt, yield up these lesser fortresses without a great struggle, concentrating themselves in force upon the left bank, where they think to do us most hurt. We shall then destroy their bastilles, so that they will have no place of shelter to fly back to; and then we shall fall upon them hip and thigh on the south side, and drive them before us as chaff before the wind. They must needs then disperse themselves altogether, having no more cover to hide themselves in; so will the enemies of the Lord be dispersed, and the siege of Orleans be raised.”
This was the plan she had confided to her own immediate attendants and staff the previous evening, and which Bertrand repeated to me, gazing over the ramparts, and pointing out each fortress and bastion as it was named. But now the Generals in Council, without reference to the Maid, had decreed something altogether different. What they desired to do was not to make any real or vigorous attack upon any of the English forts, but to feign an assault upon the towers on the south bank, and whilst the attention of the foe was thus engaged, get great quantifies of stores–all lying in readiness at hand–into the city, enough to last for a long while, and then quietly sit down behind the strong walls, and tire out the English, forcing them thus to retreat of their own accord!
Think of it! After all that had been promised, all that had been performed! To be content to shut ourselves in a well-provisioned town, and just weary out the patience of the foe! And, moreover, of a foe who expected daily reinforcements from the north, and who would be quite capable of exercising as much patience, and perhaps more daring than ourselves.
Even now my blood boils at the thought, and I find it hard to conceive how such men as Dunois and La Hire let themselves be led from their allegiance and confidence in the Maid to listen to such counsel as this from her detractors, and those many lesser commanders who were sorely jealous of her success and influence. But so it was, not once nor twice, but again and again; though in action they were staunch to her, would follow her everywhere, rally round her standard, fly to her defence when danger threatened, and show themselves gallant soldiers and generous-hearted men, never denying her all her share of praise and honour. But when sitting in the council room, surrounded by officers and men of experience in war disposed to scorn the counsels of an unlettered girl, and scoff at her pretensions to military rule, they were invariably led away and overborne, agreeing to act without her sanction, or even contrary to her advice, notwithstanding their belief in her mission, and their trust in her power as a leader.
The shades of evening had fallen in the Treasurer’s house before word was brought to the Maid of the decision of the Generals in Council. We were sitting around her after supper; and she had fallen into a very thoughtful mood. The Chevalier d’Aulon had been called away, and now returned with a troubled face. He stood just within the doorway, as though half afraid to advance. The Maid lifted her eyes to his and smiled.
“Do not fear to tell me your news, my kind friend. I know that your faithful heart is sore at the dishonour done to me; but let us not judge harshly. It is hard for men full of courage and fleshly power to understand how the Lord works with such humble instruments. Perchance, in their place, we should not be greatly different.
“So they have refused my plan, and made one of their own. We are to attack the foe upon the south? Is that agreed? And even so not with all our heart and strength?”
D’Aulon recoiled a step in amaze.
“Madame, that is indeed so–a feint upon the south bank has been decreed, whilst provisions are thrown into the city–”
“Yes, yes, I know. Well, so be it. We will attack on the south bank. It must have come sooner or later, and if we fight with a will, the Lord will be with us and uphold our cause. But, my friends, understand this, and let the men likewise understand it. There shall be no mockery of fighting. It shall be true and desperate warfare. Let the Generals decree what they will, the Maid will lead her soldiers to victory! Tomorrow Les Augustins shall be ours; upon the next day Les Tourelles shall fall–” she paused suddenly and turned towards Bertrand.
“What day will that be–the day after to-morrow?”
“The seventh day of May,” he answered at once.
“Ah!” she said, “then it will be on that day–the day which shall see Orleans relieved–the power of the English broken.”
She spoke dreamily, and only Madame Boucher, who sat in the shadows with her child upon her lap, ventured to ask of her:
“What will be on that day, gentle Jeanne?”
“That I shall be wounded,” she answered quietly.
“Did I not tell you long since,” turning to Bertrand and me, “that I should not come unscathed through the assault; but that on a certain day I should receive a wound?”
I pulled out my tablets, upon which I often recorded the sayings of the Maid, and sure enough there it was written down as she said. We felt a great burning revolt at the thought of any hurt befalling her, and somebody spoke vehemently, saying that the holy Saints would surely protect her from harm. But she lifted her hand with her gentle authority of gesture, and spoke:
“Nay, my kind friends, but thus it must needs be; nor would I have it otherwise. Listen, and I will tell you all. I often had my days and hours of fear because this great work was put upon one so weak and ignorant as I, and it was long before I clearly understood that I was but the instrument in a mighty Hand, and that power for all would be given me. Then my fear left and great joy came; perhaps even some pride and haughtiness of spirit in that I had been chosen for such a task.
“And then it was that my voices asked of me: ’Jeanne, hast thou no fear?’
“And I answered without pause, ’I fear nothing now.’
“Then St. Catherine herself suddenly appeared to me in a great white light and said: ’Child, thou art highly favoured of heaven; but the flesh is easily puffed up. And for this cause, and because it may be well that thou thyself and all men shall know that thou art but human flesh and blood, thou shalt not escape unscathed in warfare; but thou too shalt feel the sting of fiery dart, and know the scald of flowing blood.’
“I bowed my head and made answer I would bear whatever my Lord thought fit to lay upon me; and I asked if I might know when this thing would happen. It was not told me then; but later it was revealed to me; and I know that upon the seventh day of May I shall be wounded–” and she touched her right shoulder as she spoke, just below the neck.
“But what matter will that be, when the siege of Orleans shall be raised?”
Her face was aglow; nothing could touch her joy, not the insults of the proud Generals, nor the knowledge of coming pain for herself. Her thought was all of the mission entrusted to her; and so, though thwarted and set aside, she showed no petty anger, dreamed not of any paltry vengeance such as others might have dealt the soldiers, by refusing to march with them on the morrow. Oh, no; hurt she might be–indeed we knew she was–her pain being for the dishonour done her Lord in this disrespect of His messenger; but no thought of reprisal entered her head. She rose from her seat, and lifted the little Charlotte in her strong young arms.
“Gentlemen, let us early to rest,” she said, holding her head proudly, “for tomorrow a great work shall be done, and we must all have our share in it.”