A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter XV. How the Maid Rode With the King.
Thus the English were routed with great loss, their leading generals prisoners in the hands of the Maid, and the road for the King open, not to Rheims alone, but to the very walls of Paris, had he so chosen.
Indeed, there were those amongst us who would gladly and joyfully have marched under our great white banner right to the capital of the kingdom, and driven forth from it the English Regent and all the soldiers with him, whether Burgundians or those of his own nation. For Fastolffe was flying along the road which led him thither, and it would have been a joy to many of us to pursue and overtake, to rout him and his army, or put them to the sword, and to march up beneath the walls of Paris itself, and demand its surrender in the name of the Maid!
Those there were amongst us who even came and petitioned of her to lead us thither, and strike a death blow, once and for all, against the power of the alien foe who had ruled our fair realm too long; but though her eyes brightened as we spoke, and though all that was martial in her nature responded to the appeal thus made to her–for by this time she was a soldier through every fibre of her being, and albeit ever extraordinarily tender towards the wounded, the suffering, the dying–be they friends or foes–the soldier spirit within her burned ever higher and higher, and she knew in her clear head that humanly speaking, we could embark upon such a victorious march as perchance the world has never seen before–certainly not beneath such a leader.
And yet she shook her head, even whilst her cheek flushed and her eyes sparkled. Little as the King had done to merit the deep devotion of such a nature as hers, the Maid’s loving loyalty towards, and faith in him never wavered. Although we all saw in him the idle, pleasure loving, indolent weakling, which in those days he was, she could, or would, find no fault with him. Often as he disappointed her, she never ceased to love and honour him. Perchance it was given to her to see something of that manlier nature which must have underlaid even then that which we saw and grieved over. For she would hear no word against him. He was the centre and sun of her purpose, and her answer to us was spoken without hesitation.
“Nay, my friends, we have other work to do ere we may stand before the walls of Paris. The Dauphin must be brought to Rheims, and the crown set upon his head; for thus hath my Lord decreed, and I may not act other than as my voices direct.”
And when the Maid spoke thus, there was no contradicting or gainsaying her. We had such confidence in her by this, that whatever she did was right in our eyes The soldiers would have followed her eagerly to the very walls of Paris; but at her command they turned back and marched, with pennons flying and music sounding, to the Court of the King, where news of the Chasse of Patay had already preceded us, and where a joyous welcome awaited our return, though even now there were sour and jealous faces amongst the nearest advisers of the King.
If you would believe it, they still opposed the journey of the King to Rheims, working on his fears, his irresolution, his indolence, and seeking to undermine the influence of the Maid, when she went personally to see him, that she might speak with him face to face. He himself had many excuses to offer.
“Sweet Chevaliere,” he would say, calling her by one of the names which circulated through the Court, “why such haste? Is it not time that you should rest and take your ease after your many and arduous toils? Think what you have accomplished in these few days! Flesh and blood cannot continue at such a strain. Let us now enjoy the fruits of these wonderful victories; let us feast and rejoice and enjoy a period of repose. Surely that is prudent counsel; for we must have care for our precious Maid, whom none can replace in our army, if she, by too arduous toil, should do herself an injury!”
But the Maid looked at him with her grave eyes full of earnest pleading and searching questioning.
“Gentle Dauphin, I beseech you speak not thus, nor reason after such carnal fashion. Think of what your Lord and my Lord has done for you! Think of what hath been accomplished by Him since first it was given to me to look upon your face. Think what He hath decreed and what He hath already wrought for the furtherance of His purpose towards your Majesty and this realm! And shall His will be set aside? Shall we, His children, hang back and thwart Him, just in the hour when He has put the victory in our hands? Ah, sweet Dauphin, that would be shame, indeed! That would be pain and grief to Him. Cast away all such unworthy thought! Press on to the goal, now in sight! When you stand, crowned and anointed, King of France, you shall know the power wherewith you have been upheld, and lifted from the very mire of humiliation and disgrace!”
And at these words the Duc d’Alencon, who was by this an ardent believer in the Maid, and devotedly attached to her service, prostrated himself before the King, and cried:
“Sire, this Maid speaks words of wisdom. I pray your Majesty to give full heed to what she says. Had you watched her as I have done, had you marched with her and seen her in battle as well as in scenes of peace, you would know well that the power of God is with her. Fear not to do her bidding! Go forth as she bids. Let us hail you King of your fair realm, and then let the Maid lead us on to other and greater victories!”
We all joined our entreaties to that of the Duke. We marvelled how the King could be so blind. But whilst others spoke and urged him, whilst we saw the light kindle in the monarch’s eyes, and knew that her words had prevailed with him, she stood apart as one who dreams; and over her face there stole a strange, pale shadow, unlike anything I had seen there before. She saw nothing of the scene about her; heard no word of what passed. I think she did not even know what was meant by the great shout which suddenly went up when the King arose and declared, once and for all, that his mind was made up, that he would march with the Maid to Rheims; that he would not be daunted by the fact that in Troyes and in Chalons English garrisons yet remained, which might give him trouble in passing. What the Maid had done before she could do again. All that hitherto she had promised had been fulfilled; the fear of her had fallen upon the English, and the terror of the English no longer weighed upon the spirits of the French. He would go, come what might. He would trust in the power of the Maid to finish that which she had begun.
The shouts and plaudits of the courtiers within the castle, and of the soldiers without, when this thing was known, was evidence enough of the confidence and enthusiasm which the exploits of the Maid had awakened. Not a soldier who had followed her heretofore but would follow her now, wherever she should lead them. Surely her heart must have swelled with joy and pride as she heard the clamour of frantic applause ringing through the place.
But when she was back in her own apartments, and I was able to approach her alone, I ventured to ask her something concerning her silence of a short time back.
I always think with a great pride and tender joy of the trust and friendship which the Maid reposed in me, thereby doing me a vast honour. I had often ridden beside her on our marches, especially in the earlier days, when she had not so many to claim her words and counsels. Methinks she had spoken to Bertrand, to me, and to Sir Guy de Laval with more freedom respecting her voices and her visions than to any others, save, perhaps, the King himself, of whom she had ever said she had revelations for his ear alone. She would talk to us of things which for the most part she kept locked away in her own breast; and now when I did ask her what it was that had robbed her cheek of its colour, and wrapped her in a strange trance of grave musing, she passed her hand across her eyes, and then looked at me full, with a strange intensity of gaze.
“If I only knew! If I only knew myself!” she murmured.
“Did your voices speak to you, mistress mine? I have seen you fall into such musing fits before this, when something has been revealed; but then your eyes have been bright with joy–this time they were clouded as with trouble.”
“It was when the Duke spoke of other victories,” she said, dreamily; “I seemed to see before me a great confusion as of men fighting and struggling. I saw my white banner fluttering, as it were, victoriously; and yet there was a darkness upon my spirit. I saw blackness–darkness–confusion; there was battle and strife–garments rolled in blood. My own white pennon was the centre of some furious struggle. I could not see what it was, waves of black vapour rose and obscured my view. Then, in the midst of the smoke and vapour, I saw a great pillar of fire, rising up as to the very sky itself, and out of the fire flew a white dove. Then a voice spoke–one of my own voices; but in tones different from any I have heard before–’Have courage, even to death, Jeanne,’ it said, ’for we will still be with you.’ Then everything faded once more, and I heard only the shouting of the people, and knew that the King had made his decision, and that he had promised to receive his crown, which has waited for him so long.”
As she spoke these last words, the cloud seemed to lift. Her own wonderful smile shone forth again.
“If this be so; if, indeed, the Dauphin shall be made King, what matters that I be taken away? My work will end when the crown shall be set upon his head. Then, indeed, my soul shall say: ’Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.’”
Her face was suddenly transfigured–radiant–with some great and glorious thought. I was glad at heart to see that the shadow had passed entirely away. Only for a moment could any presage of personal fear cloud the sweet serenity of the Maid’s nature. And yet I went from her something troubled myself; for had I not reason to know what strange power she possessed of reading the future, and what did it mean, that confusion of battle, that intermingling of victory and defeat, that darkness of smoke and blaze of fire, and the white dove flying forth unscathed? I had heard too often the shouts of the infuriated English–"We will take you and burn you, you White Witch! You shall perish in the flames from whence the devil, your father, has sent you forth!"–not to hear with a shudder any vision of smoke and of fire. But again, had not the Maid ever prevailed in battle over her foes? Might she not laugh to scorn all such threats?
Ah me! It is well that we may not read the future, else how could we bear the burden of life?
Joyous and triumphant was the day upon which, after some inevitable delays, we started forth–a goodly company in sooth–an army at our back, swelling with pride and triumph–to take our young King to the appointed place, and see the crown of France there set upon his head. From all quarters news was pouring in of the hopeless disruption of the power of the English after the Chasse de Patay. Towns and villages which had submitted in sullen acquiescence before, now sent messages of loyalty and love to the King. Men flocked daily to join our standard as we marched. It was a sight to see the villagers come forth, clad in their holiday dress, eager to see and pay homage to the King, but yet more eager to look upon the white mailed figure at his side and shout aloud the name of THE MAID OF ORLEANS!
For the place of honour at the King’s right hand was reserved for the Maid, and she rode beside him without fear, without protest, without shame. Gentle, humble, and simple as she always was, she knew herself the Messenger of a greater King than that of France, and the honour done to her she accepted as done to her Lord, and never faltered beneath it, as she was never puffed up or made haughty or arrogant thereby. Nor did she ever lose her tenderness of heart, nor her quick observation of trivial detail in the absorbing interests of her greatness.
She was the first to note signs of distress upon the part of the soldiers, during this march in the midsummer heat. It was she who would suggest a halt in the noontide, in some wooded spot, that “her children” might rest and refresh themselves, and it was she who, never tired herself, would go amongst them, asking them of their well being, and bringing with her own hands some luscious fruit or some cooling draught to any soldier who might be suffering from the effects of the sun.
She who rode beside a King, who was the greatest and most renowned of that great company, would minister with her own hands to the humblest of her followers; and if ever King or Duke or courtier jested or remonstrated with her on the matter, her answer was always something like this:
“They are my own people. I am one of them. At home when any was sick in the village, I was always sent for. And wherefore not now? I am the same as I was then. Soon I shall be going back to them, my task accomplished. Wherefore should I not be their friend and sister still?”
Then all would laugh to think of the Maid of Orleans going back to take up the life of a peasant again at Domremy; but the Maid’s face grew grave and earnest as she would make reply:
“Indeed, if my work for my King is accomplished, I would fain do so. I was so happy, so happy in my sweet home.”
But now our triumphal march was suddenly brought to a halt; for we were approaching the town of Troyes–a place of ill omen to France, and to the young King in particular, for there the shameful treaty was signed which robbed him of his crown; and great was the dissension amongst the King’s counsellors as to what should be done.
The place was strong, the English garrison there large. A summons to surrender sent on in advance had been ignored, and now came the question–should the army pass on its way to Rheims leaving this place in the rear unattacked and untaken, or should it run the risk of a long delay, and perhaps some peril and loss in attempting to reduce it?
La Hire and Dunois spoke out insistently. At all costs the town must be taken. It would be folly and madness to leave such a stronghold of the enemy in the rear. Other places had fallen before the victorious Maid, and why not this? The army would go anywhere with her. The soldiers only desired to be told what she counselled, and to a man they would support her. They had lost all fear of the foe, if only the Maid led them into battle, whether in the open or against massive walls.
But as usual the King’s nearest counsellors were all for delay, for avoiding battle, for retreat rather than risk. The Archbishop of Rheims, instead of being eager to push on to the place which so far was only his in name, for he had never been aught but titular Archbishop as yet, was always one with La Tremouille in advising caution and a timid policy. Both were the enemies of the Maid, jealous of her gifts and of her influence with the King, and fearful lest her power over him should grow and increase. They even plotted that she should be excluded from the council now sitting anent this very matter, and it was only when the King and the Duc d’Alencon, growing restless and impatient at her absence, desired her presence instantly, that she was sent for.
There was a grave dignity about her as she entered, which sat impressively upon her young face, so fair and sweet and gentle. She knew that timid counsels were being held, and that she, the Commander-in-Chief of the army, was being set aside–the Messenger from the Lord was being ignored. Not for herself, but for Him was her spirit moved.
The Archbishop with much circumlocution told her of the difficulty in which the King’s Council was placed, and would have discoursed for long upon the situation, only that in his first pause the Maid spoke, addressing herself to the King:
“Shall I be believed if I speak my counsel?” she asked.
“You will be believed according as you speak,” answered the King, thoroughly uneasy, as he ever was, when torn in twain by the multitude of counsellors with whom he must needs surround himself, though his heart ever inclined towards the Maid.
“I speak that which my Lord gives me to speak,” she answered, her wonderful eyes full upon the King. “Shall I be believed?”
“If you speak that which is reasonable and profitable, I will certainly believe you,” he answered, still uneasy beneath her look.
“Shall I be believed?” she questioned a third time, and there was a fire in her eyes which seemed to leap out and scathe the pusillanimous monarch as he sat quaking in his Council.
“Speak, Maiden,” he cried out then, “I at least will believe!”
“Then, noble Dauphin,” she cried, “order your army to assault this city of Troyes, where such despite has been done you, and hold no more councils; for my Lord has told me that within three days I shall lead you into the town, and false Burgundy and proud England shall there be overthrown!”
“Pouf!” cried the Chancellor, one of the Maid’s worst foes, “if there was a chance of doing such a thing in six days we would willingly wait; but–”
He stopped suddenly–none knew why, save that the Maid’s eyes were fixed full upon him, and in those eyes was that strange shining light which some of us knew so well. She did not speak to him, but when his voice suddenly wavered and broke, she addressed herself to the King, speaking as one who repeats a message.
“You shall be master of the city of Troyes, noble Dauphin, not in six days–but tomorrow.”
And even as she spoke, without waiting for any response, she turned and went forth, walking with her head well up, and her eyes fixed straight before her, yet as one who walks in sleep, and pays no heed to what lies before him. She called for her horse; and leaping into the saddle, rode out bareheaded in the summer sun to the camp where the soldiers lay, in doubt and wonderment at this delay; and as they sprang up to a man at sight of her, and broke into the acclamations which always greeted her appearance amongst them, she lifted up her clear ringing voice and cried:
“Be ready, my children, against the morrow, confess your sins, make your peace with God and man. For tomorrow He will lead you victorious into yonder frowning city, and not a hair of your heads shall suffer!”
They crowded about her, filling the air with shouts of triumph; they clamoured to be led at once against the grim frowning walls. I verily believe, had she put herself at their head then and there, that nothing could have withstood the elan of their attack; but the Maid received her orders from a source we knew not of, and fleshly pride never tempted her to swerve from the appointed path. She smiled at the enthusiasm of the men, but she shook her head gently and firmly.
“Do my bidding, my children, confess yourselves and pray till set of sun. Then I will come to you and set you your appointed tasks, and tomorrow I will lead you into the city!”
That night there was no sleep for the Maid or for her soldiers. At no time was it dark, for midsummer was over the land, and the moon hung in the sky like a silver lamp when the sun had set. The Maid came forth as she had said with the last of the daylight, and at her command a great mound was speedily raised, of earth, brushwood, faggots, stones–anything that the soldiers could lay hands upon; and when this hillock was of height sufficient to satisfy the young General, the great guns were brought and set upon it in such masterly fashion, and in such a commanding way, that La Hire, Dunois and Xantrailles, who came to see, marvelled at it, and we could note from the top of this earthwork that within the city great commotion reigned, and that it was as busy as a hive that has been disturbed.
As the first mystic glow of the summer’s dawn kindled in the eastern sky, the Maid stood, a white luminous figure in full armour, poised lightly on the top of one of our pieces of ordnance, her drawn sword in her hand, pointing full in the direction of the city.
I have heard since from those within that the anxious garrison and citizens saw this motionless figure, and cried aloud in terror and awe. To them it seemed as though St. Michael himself had come down to fight against them, and terror stricken they ran to the governors of the city and implored that surrender might be made, ere the heavens opened and rained lightnings down upon them.
And thus it came about that ere the dawn had fairly come, an embassy was sent to the King and terms of surrender offered. The King, from motives of policy or fear, the Maid, from pity and generosity, accepted the messengers graciously, and granted the garrison leave to depart with their horses and their arms, if the town were peacefully given up; and thus it came about that after the King had finished his night’s slumber, and the Maid had done her gracious part in redeeming and releasing the French prisoners, which, but for her, would have been carried away by the retiring English and Burgundians, she rode beside the King, and at the head of the cheering and tumultuous army into the city of Troyes, which had surrendered to the magic of her name without striking a blow.
“O my Chevaliere,” cried the happy and triumphant monarch, as he turned to look into her grave serene face. “What a wonderful Maid you are! Stay always with me, Jeanne, and be my friend and General to my life’s end.”
She looked at him long and earnestly as she made answer:
“Alas, Sire, it may not be! For a year–perhaps for a year. But I shall last no longer than that!”