A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter XVII. How the Maid Was Persuaded.
The ceremony was over. The Dauphin stood in our midst a crowned and anointed King. We were back in the great hall of the Archeveche, and the thunders of triumphant applause which had been restrained within the precincts of the sacred edifice now broke forth again, and yet again, in long bursts of cheering, which were echoed from without by the multitudes in the street and great square Place, and came rolling through the open windows in waves of sound like the beating of the surf upon the shore.
The King stood upon a raised dais; his chiefest nobles and peers around him. He was magnificently robed, as became so great an occasion, and for the first time that I had ever seen, he looked an imposing and a dignified figure. Something there was of true kingliness in his aspect. It seemed as though the scene through which he had passed had not been without effect upon his nature, and that something regal had been conveyed to him through the solemnities which had just taken place.
The Maid was present also; but she had sought to efface herself in the crowd, and stood thoughtfully apart in an embrasure of the wall, half concealed by the arras, till the sound of her name, proclaimed aloud in a hundred different tones, warned her that something was required of her, and she stepped forward with a questioning look in her startled eyes, as though just roused from some dream.
She had been one of the first to prostrate herself at the new-made King’s feet when the coronation ceremony was over; and the tears streaming down her face had been eloquent testimony of her deep emotion. But she had only breathed a few broken words of devotion and of joy, and had added something in a choked whisper which none but he had been able to hear.
“The King calls for the Maid! The King desires speech with the Maid!” such was the word ringing through the hall; and she came quietly forth from her nook, the crowd parting this way and that before her, till she was walking up through a living avenue to the place where the King was now seated upon a throne-like chair on the dais at the far end of the hall.
As she came towards him the King extended his hand, as though he would meet her still rather as friend than as subject; but she kneeled down at his feet, and pressing her lips to the extended hand, she spoke in a voice full of emotion:
“Gentle King, now is the pleasure of God fulfilled towards you. Now is the will of my Lord accomplished. To Him alone be the praise and glory! It was His will that I should be sent before you to raise the siege of Orleans, to lead you to this city of Rheims, there to receive your consecration. Now has He shown to all the world that you are the true King–that it is His will you should reign over this fair realm, that this kingdom of France belongs to you and you alone. My task is now accomplished. His will in me is fulfilled. Go forward, then, noble King–strong in the power of your kingly might and right, doubting not that He will aid you still; though He will work with other instruments, with other means, for my task in this is now accomplished!”
There was a little stir and thrill throughout the hall as these words were spoken. Dismay fell upon many, wonder upon all, triumph gleamed from the eyes of a few; but most men looked one at the other in consternation. What did she mean by these words?–this Heaven-sent Maid to whom we owed so much? Surely she did not think to leave us just in the hour of her supreme triumph? How could we hope to lead on the armies to fresh victories, if the soldiers were told that the Maid would no longer march with them? Who would direct us with heavenly counsel, or with that marvellous clearness of vision which is given only to a few in this sinful world, and to those only whose hearts are consecrated by a great devotion, and a great love? She could not mean that! She loved France with an overwhelming fervour. She was devoted to the service of the King, in whom she had never been able or willing to see wrong. She knew her power with the army; she loved the rough soldiers who followed her unshrinkingly in the teeth of the very fiercest perils, and who would answer to her least command, when they would obey none other general.
O no, she could not think of deserting France in this her hour of need! Much had been done; but much yet remained to do. If she were to quit her post, there could be no telling what might not follow. The English, cowed and bewildered now, might well pluck up heart of grace, and sweep back through the country once owning their sway, driving all foes before them as in the days of old. The victories won in these last weeks might soon be swallowed up in fresh defeat and disaster. How could we expect it to be otherwise if the presence of the Maid were withdrawn?
These and a hundred other questions and conjectures were buzzing through the great hall. Wonder and amaze was on every face. The King himself looked grave for a moment; but then his smile shone out carelessly gay and confident. He looked down at the Maid, and there was tender friendliness in his glance. He spoke nothing to her at the first as to what she had said; he merely asked of her a question.
“My Chevaliere, my guardian angel, tell me this, I pray. You have done all these great things for me; what am I to do in return for you?”
She raised her eyes towards him, and the light sprang into them–that beautiful, fearless light which shone there when she led her soldiers into battle.
“Go forward fearlessly, noble King. Go forward in the power of your anointing; and fear nothing. That is all I ask of you. Do that, and you will give to me my heart’s desire.”
“We will talk of that later, Jeanne,” he answered, “I have many things to speak upon that matter yet. But today I would ask you of something different. You have done great things for me; it is not fitting that you should refuse to receive something at my hands. This day I sit a King upon my father’s throne. Ask of me some gift and grace for yourself–I your King and your friend demand it of you!”
It was spoken in a right kingly and gracious fashion, and we all held our breath to listen for the answer the Maid should give. We had known her so long and so well, and we had learned how little she desired for herself, how hard it was to induce her to express any wish for her own gratification. She was gentle and gracious in her acceptance of the gifts received from friends who had furnished her from the beginning with such things as were needful for her altered life; but she had ever retained her simplicity of thought and habit; and though often living in the midst of luxury and extravagance, she was never touched by those vices herself. And now she was bidden to ask a boon; and she must needs do it, or the displeasure of the King would light upon her.
He had raised her to her feet by this time, and she stood before him, a slim boy-like figure in her white point-device dress, her cheeks a little flushed, her slender fingers tightly entwined, the breath coming and going through her parted lips.
“Gentle King,” she answered, and her low full voice thrilled through the hall to its farthermost end in the deep hush which had fallen upon it, “there is one grace and gift that I would right gladly ask of you. Here in this city of Rheims are assembled a few of mine own people from Domremy; my father, my uncle, and with them some others whom I have known and loved from childhood. I would ask this thing of you, noble King. Give me at your royal pleasure a deed, duly signed and sealed by your royal hand, exempting the village of Domremy, where I was born, from all taxes such as are levied elsewhere throughout the realm. Let me have this deed to give to those who have come to see me here, and thus when I return with them to my beloved childhood’s home, I shall be witness to the joy and gladness which such a kingly boon will convey. Grant me this–only this, gentle King, and you will grant me all my heart desires!”
The King spoke aside a few words to one of those who stood about him, and this person silently bowed and quitted the hail; then he turned once more to the Maid, standing before him still with a happy and almost childlike smile playing over her lips.
“The thing shall be done, Jeanne,” he said; “and it shall be done right soon. The first deed to which I set my hand as King shall be the one which shall for ever exempt Domremy from all taxation. You shall give it to your father this very day, to take home with him when he goes. But as for those other words of yours–what did you mean by them? How can you witness the joy of a distant village, when you will be leading forward the armies of France to fresh victories?”
He gazed searchingly into her face as he spoke; and she looked back at him with a sudden shrinking in her beautiful eyes.
“Sire,” she faltered–and anything like uncertainty in that voice was something new to us–"of what victories do you speak? I have done my part. I have accomplished that which my Lord has set me to do. My task ends here. My mission has been fulfilled. I have no command from Him to go forward. I pray you let me return home to my mother and my friends.”
“Nay, Jeanne, your friends are here,” spoke the King gravely, “and your country is your mother. Would you neglect to hear her cry to you in the hour of her need? Her voice it was that called you forth from your obscurity; she calls you yet. Will you cease to hear and to obey?”
The trouble and perplexity deepened in the eyes of the Maid.
“My voices have not bidden me to go forward,” she faltered.
“Have they bidden you to go back–to do no more for France?”
“No,” she answered, throwing back her head, her eyes kindling once again with ardour; “they have not bidden me return, or I would have done it without wavering. They tell me nothing, save to be of a good heart and courage. They promise to be with me–my saints, whom I love. But they give me no commands. I see not the path before me, as I have seen it hitherto. That is why I say, let me go home. My work is done; I have no mission more. Shall I take upon me that which my Lord puts not upon me–whether it be honour or toil or pain?”
“Yes, Jeanne, you shall take that upon you which your country calls upon you to take, which your King puts upon you, which even your saints demand of you, though perchance with no such insistence as before, since that is no longer needed. Can you think that the mind of the Lord has changed towards me and towards France? Yet you must know as well as I and my Generals do, that without you to lead them against the foe, the soldiers will waver and tremble, and perchance turn their backs upon our enemies once more. You they will follow to a man; but will they follow others when they know that you have deserted them? You tell me to go forward and be of good courage. How can I do this if you turn back, and take with you the hearts of my men?”
“Sire, I know not that such would be the case,” spoke the Maid gravely. “You stand amongst them now as their crowned and anointed King. What need have they of other leader? They have followed me heretofore, waiting for you; but now–”
“Now they will want you more than ever, since you have ever led them to victory!” cried the King; and raising his voice and looking about him, especially to those generals and officers of his staff who had seen so much of the recent events of the campaign, he cried out:
“What say you, gentlemen? What is our chance to drive away the English and become masters of this realm if the MAID OF ORLEANS take herself away from us, and the soldiers no longer see her standard floating before them, or hear her voice cheering them to the battle?”
Some of those present looked sullenly on the ground, unwilling to own that the Maid was a power greater than any other which could be brought into the field; but there were numbers of other and greater men, who had never denied her her meed of praise, though they had thwarted her at times in the council room; and these with one accord declared that should the Maid betake herself back to Domremy, leaving the army to its fate, they would not answer for the effect which this desertion would have, but would, in fact, almost expect the melting away of the great body of the trained soldiers and recruits who had fought with her, and had come to regard her presence with them as the essential to a perfect victory.
But we were destined to have a greater testimony than this, for a whisper of what was passing within the great hall had now filtered forth into the streets, and all in a moment we were aware of a mighty tumult and hubbub without, a clamour of voices louder and more insistent than those which had hailed the King a short time before, and the words which seemed to form themselves out of the clamour and gradually grow into the burden of the people’s cry was the repeated and vehement shout, “THE MAID OF ORLEANS! THE MAID OF ORLEANS! We will fight if the Maid goes with us–without her we be all dead men!”
They came and told us what the crowd of soldiers in the street was shouting; they begged that the Maid would show herself at some window, and promise that she would remain with the army. Indeed, there was almost a danger of riot and disaster if something were not done to quell the excitement of the soldiery and the populace; and at this news the Maid suddenly drew her slender, drooping figure to its full height, and looked long and steadfastly at the King.
“Sire,” she said, “I give myself to you and to France. My Lord knows that I seek in this to do His will, though differently from heretofore. You will be disappointed. Many will misjudge me. There will be sorrow and anguish of heart as well as triumph and joy. But if my country calls, I go forth gladly to meet her cry–even though I go to my death!”
I do not know how many heard her last words; for they were drowned in the roar of joyful applause which followed her declaration. The King gave her his hand, and led her forth upon a balcony, where the great concourse in the street below could see them; and by signs he made them understand that she would continue with him as one of his Commanders-in-Chief; and in hearing this the city well nigh went mad with joy; bonfires blazed and bells pealed madly; and the cry heard in the streets was less “Long live the King!” than that other frantic shout, “THE MAID OF ORLEANS! THE MAID OF ORLEANS!”
But the Maid returned to her apartments with a strange look upon her face; and she held out her hand to me as one who would fain ask help and sympathy of a trusted comrade, as I am proud to think I was regarded at that time by her.
“The King’s word has prevailed, O my friend,” she said, “but I would that I were sure it will be for the best!”
“How can it be otherwise than for the best?” I answered as I held her hand in mine, and looked searchingly into her fair, grave face. “Will not your Lord help you yet? Do not all men trust in you? Will not the soldiers fight for and with you? And are you not sure in your heart that the cause of the French King will yet triumph?”
Her eyes were misty with unshed tears as she made reply:
“I know that my Lord will not desert me; and I trust I may serve Him yet, and the King whom I love. I know that all will be well–at the last–for this fair realm of France. But I have no commission direct from my Lord as I have had hitherto. My voices yet speak gentle and kindly words. I trow that my saints will watch over me, and that they will give me strength to strive and to overcome. For myself I fear not–I am ready to die for my King and my country if that be the will of God. Only the shadow lies athwart my path, where until today all was brightness and sunshine. It would have been so sweet to go home to my mother, to see the Fairy Tree, and the old familiar faces, and listen once more to the Angelus bell! I had thought that I should by this have earned my rest. I had not thought that with so many to serve him, the King would have had further use for me.”
“Yet how could it be otherwise, my General, when the soldiers will follow you alone?–when all look to you as their champion and their friend?”
“Nay, but I have enemies too,” she answered sadly, “and I know that they will work me ill–greater ill in the future than they have had power to do heretofore, when I was watched over and guarded for the task that was set me. That task is now accomplished. Can I look to receive the same protection as before? The Lord may have other instruments prepared to carry on His work of deliverance. I doubt not that He will use me yet, and that I shall never be forsaken; but my time will not be long. I shall only last a year. Let the King use me for all that I am worth!–after that he must look for others to aid him!”
I could not bear to hear her speak so. I would have broken in with protestations and denials; but something in the look upon her face silenced me. My heart sank strangely within me, for had I not learned to know how truly the Maid did read that which the future hid from our eyes? I could only seek to believe that in this she might be mistaken, since she herself did say how that things were something different with her now.
She seemed to read the thoughts that crowded my brain; for she looked into my face with her tender, far-seeing smile.
“You are sad, my kind friend, my faithful knight, and sometimes mine own heart is sad also. But yet why should we fear? I know that I have enemies, and I know that they will have more power to hurt me in the times that are coming, than has been permitted hitherto, yet–”
With an uncontrollable impulse I flung myself at her feet.
“O my General–O my dear lady–speak not such things–it breaks my heart. Or if, indeed, the peril be so great, then let all else go, and bid your father to take you back to Domremy with him. There, at least, you will be safe and happy!”
Her eyes were deep with the intensity of her emotion.
“It may not be,” she said with grave gentleness and decision. “I had hoped it for myself, but it may not be. My word is pledged. My King has commanded. I, too, must learn, in my measure, the lesson of obedience, even unto death!”
Her hands were clasped; her eyes were lifted heavenwards. A shaft of light from the sinking sun struck in through the coloured window behind her, and fell across her face with an indescribable glory. I was still upon my knees and I could not rise, for it seemed to me as though at that moment another Presence than that of the Maid was with us in the room. My limbs shook. My heart seemed to melt within me; and yet it was not fear which possessed me, but a mysterious rapture the like of which I can in no wise fathom.
How long it lasted I know not. The light had faded when I rose to my feet and met her wonderful gaze. She spoke just a few words.
“Now you know what help is given us in our hours of need. My faithful knight need never mourn or weep for me; for that help and comfort will never be withheld. Of this I have the promise clear and steadfast!”
I was with her when she went to see her father. It was dark, and the old man sat with his brother-in-law, Durand Laxart–he who had helped her to her first interview with De Baudricourt–in one of the best rooms of the inn. Since it had been known that these men were the kinsfolk of the Maid, everything of the best had been put at their disposal by the desire of the citizens, and horses had been provided for them for their return to Domremy. For the city of Rheims was filled with joy at that which had been accomplished, and the Maid was the hero of the hour.
But I could see that there was a cloud upon the old man’s face–the father’s; and he did not rise as his daughter entered–she before whom nobles had learnt to bend, and who sat at the Council of the King. His sombre eyes dwelt upon her with a strange expression in their depths. His rugged face was hard; his knotted hands were closely locked together.
The Maid gazed at him for a moment, a world of tender emotions in her eyes; and then she quickly crossed the room and threw herself at his feet.
“My father! My father! My father!”
The cry seemed to come from her heart, and I saw the old man’s face quiver and twitch; but he did not touch or embrace her.
“It is the dress he cannot bear,” whispered Laxart distressfully to me, “it is as gall and wormwood to him to see his daughter go about in the garb of a man.”
The Maid’s face was raised in tender entreaty; she had hold of her father’s hands by now. She was covering them with kisses.
“O my father, have you no word for me? Have you not yet forgiven your little Jeanne? I have but obeyed our Blessed Lord and His holy Saints. And see how they have helped and blessed and guided me! O my father, can you doubt that I was sent of them for this work? How then could I refuse to do it?”
Then the stern face seemed to melt with a repressed tenderness, and the father bent and touched the girl’s brow with his lips. She uttered a little cry of joy, and would have flung herself into his arms; but he held her a little off, his hands upon her shoulders, and he looked into her face searchingly.
“That may have been well done, my daughter; I will not say, I will not judge. But your task is now accomplished–your own lips have said it; and yet you still are to march with the King’s army, I am told. You love better the clash of arms, the glory of victory, the companionship of soldiers and courtiers to the simple duties which await you at home, and the protection of your mother’s love. That is not well. That is what no modest maiden should choose. I had hoped and believed that I should take my daughter home with me. But she has chosen otherwise. Do I not well to be angry?”
The Maid’s face was buried in her hands. She would have buried it in her father’s breast, but he would not have it so.
I could have wept tears myself at the sight of her sorrow. I saw how utterly impossible it would be to make this sturdy peasant understand the difficulty of the Maid’s position, and the claims upon her great abilities, her mysterious influence upon the soldiers. The worthy prud’homme would look upon this as rather a dishonour and disgrace than a gift from Heaven.
The words I longed to speak died away upon my tongue. I felt that to speak them would be a waste of breath. Moreover, I was here as a spectator, not as a partaker in this scene. I held the document, signed and sealed by the King, which I was prepared to read to the visitors from Domremy. That was to be my share in this interview–not to interpose betwixt father and child.
For a few moments there was deep silence in the room; then the Maid took her hands from her face, and she was calm and tranquil once again. She possessed herself of one of her father’s reluctant hands.
“My father, I know that this thing is hard for you to understand. It may be that my brothers could explain it better than I, had you patience to hear them. But this I say, that I long with an unspeakable desire to return home with you, for I know that the path I must tread will darken about me, and that the end will be sad and bitter. And yet I may not choose for myself. My King commands. My country calls. I must needs listen to those voices. Oh, forgive me that I may not follow yours, nor the yearnings of mine own heart!”
The old man dropped her hand and turned away. He spoke no word; I think perchance his heart was touched by the tone of the Maid’s voice, by the appealing look in her beautiful eyes. But he would not betray any sign of weakness. He turned away and leant his brow upon the hand with which he had grasped the high-carved ledge of the panelled shelf beside him. The Maid glanced at him, her lips quivering; and she spoke again in a brighter tone.
“And yet, my father, though you may not take me back with you, you shall not go away empty-handed. I have that to send home with you which shall, I trust, rejoice the hearts of all Domremy; and if you find it hard to forgive that which your child has been called upon to do, yet methinks there will be others to bless her name and pray for her, when they learn that which she has been able to accomplish.”
Then she made a little sign to me, and I stepped forward with the parchment, signed and sealed, and held it towards the Maid’s father. He turned to look at me, and his eyes widened in wonder and some uneasiness; for the sight of so great a deed filled him and his kinsman with a vague alarm.
“What is it?” he asked, turning full round, and I made answer:
“A deed signed by the King, exempting Domremy from all taxation, henceforward and for ever, by right of the great and notable services rendered to the realm by one born and brought up there–Jeanne d’Arc, now better known as THE MAID OF ORLEANS.”
The two men exchanged wondering glances, and over Laxart’s face there dawned a smile of intense joy and wonder.
“Nay, but this is a wonderful thing–a miracle–the like of which was never heard or known before! I pray you, noble knight, let me call hither those of our kinsfolk and acquaintance from Domremy as have accompanied us hither, that they may hear and understand this marvellous grace which hath been done us!”
I was glad enough that all should come and hear that which I read to them from the great document, explaining every phrase that was hard of comprehension. It was good to see how all faces glowed and kindled, and how the people crowded about the Maid with words of gratitude and blessing.
Only the father stood a little apart, sorrowful and stern. And yet I am sure that his heart, though grieved, was not altogether hardened against his child; for when at the last, with tears in her eyes (all other farewells being said), she knelt at his feet begging his blessing and forgiveness, he laid his hand upon her head for a moment, and let her embrace his knees with her arms.
“Go your way, my girl, if needs must be. Your mother will ever pray for you, and I trust the Lord whom you serve will not leave you, though His ways are too hard of understanding for me.”
That was all she could win from him; but her heart was comforted, I think; for as she reached her lodging and turned at the door of her room to thank me in the gracious way she never forgot, for such poor services as I had rendered, she said in a soft and happy voice:
“I think that in his heart my father hath forgiven me!”