A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter II. How I First Saw the Maid.
I did not forget my desire to see this maiden of Domremy, nor did Bertrand, I trow, forget the promise, albeit some days passed by ere we put our plan into action.
Bad news kept coming in to the little loyal township of Vaucouleurs. There was no manner of doubt but that the English Regent, Bedford, was resolved to lose no more time, but seek to put beneath his iron heel the whole of the realm of France. Gascony had been English so long that the people could remember nothing different than the rule of the Roy Outremer–as of old they called him. Now all France north of the Loire owned the same sway, and as all men know, the Duke of Burgundy was ally to the English, and hated the Dauphin with a deadly hatred, for the murder of his father–for which no man can justly blame him. True, his love for the English had cooled manifestly since that affair of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester and Jacquelaine of Brabant, in which as was natural, he took the part of his brother; but although the Duke of Bedford was highly indignant with Duke Humphrey, and gave him no manner of support in his rash expedition, yet the Duke of Burgundy resented upon the English what had been done, and although it did not drive him into the arms of the Dauphin, whom he hated worse, it loosened the bond between him and our foes, and we had hoped it might bring about a better state of things for our party. Yet alas!–this seemed as far as ever from being so; and the Burgundian soldiers still ravaged along our borders, and it seemed ofttimes as though we little loyal community of the Duchy of Bar would be swallowed up altogether betwixt the two encroaching foes. So our hearts were often heavy and our faces grave with fear.
I noted in the manner of the Governor, whose guest I had now become, a great gravity, which in old days had not been there; for Robert de Baudricourt, as I remembered him, had ever been a man of merry mood, with a great laugh, a ready jest, and that sort of rough, bluff courage that makes light of trouble and peril.
Now, however, we often saw him sunk in some deep reverie, his chin upon his hand, his eyes gazing full into the blaze of the leaping fire of logs, which always flamed upon the hearth in the great hall, where the most part of his time was spent. He would go hunting or hawking by day, or ride hither and thither through the town, looking into matters there, or sit to listen to the affairs of the citizens or soldiers as they were brought before him; and at such times his manner would be much as it had ever been of yore–quick, almost rough, yet not unkindly–whilst the shrewd justice he always meted out won the respect of the people, and made him a favourite in the town.
But when the evening fell, and the day’s work was done, and after supper we sat in the hall, with the dogs slumbering around us, talking of any news which might have come in, either of raids by the roving Burgundians, or the advance of the English towards Orleans, then these darker moods would fall upon him; and once when he had sat for well-nigh an hour without moving, his brow drawn and furrowed, and his eyes seemingly sunk deeper in his head, Bertrand leaned towards me and whispered in mine ear:
“He is thinking of the Maid of Domremy!”
De Baudricourt could not have heard the words, yet when he spoke a brief while later, it almost seemed as though he might have done so.
“Nephew,” he said, lifting his head abruptly and gazing across at us, “tell me again the words of that prophecy of Merlin’s, spoken long, long ago, of which men whisper in these days, and of which you did speak to me awhile back.”
“Marry, good mine uncle, the prophecy runs thus,” answered Bertrand, rising and crossing over towards the great fire before which his kinsman sat, “’That France should be destroyed by the wiles of a woman, and saved and redeemed by a maiden.’”
The bushy brows met in a fierce scowl over the burning eyes; his words came in a great burst of indignation and scorn.
“Ay, truly–he spake truly–the wise man–the wizard! A woman to be the ruin of the kingdom! Ay, verily, and has it not been so? Who but that wicked Queen Isabeau is at the bottom of the disgraceful Treaty of Troyes, wherein France sold herself into the hands of the English? Did she not repudiate her own son? Did not her hatred burn so fiercely against him that she was ready to tarnish her own good fame and declare him illegitimate, rather than that he should succeed his father as King of France? Did she not give her daughter to the English King in wedlock, that their child might reign over this fair realm? Truly has the kingdom been destroyed by the wiles of a woman! But I vow it will take more than the strength of any maiden to save and redeem it from the woes beneath which it lies crushed!”
“In sooth it doth seem so,” answered Bertrand with grave and earnest countenance, “but yet with the good God nothing is impossible. Hath He not said before this that He doth take of the mean and humble to confound the great of the earth? Did not the three hundred with Gideon overcome the hosts of the Moabites? Did not the cake of barley bread overturn the tent and the camp of the foe?”
“Ay, if the good God will arise to work miracles again, such things might be; but how can we look for Him to do so? What manner of man is the Dauphin of France that he should look for divine deliverance? ’God helps those who help themselves,’ so says the proverb; but what of those who lie sunk in lethargy or despair, and seek to drown thought or care in folly and riotous living–heedless of the ruin of the realm?”
“There is another proverb, good mine uncle, that tells how man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” quoth Bertrand thoughtfully; “if we did judge of God’s mercy by man’s worthiness to receive the same, we might well sink in despair. But His power and His goodness are not limited by our infirmities, and therein alone lies our hope.”
De Baudricourt uttered a sound between a snort and a grunt. I knew not what he thought of Bertrand’s answer; but that brief dialogue aroused within me afresh the desire I had before expressed to see the maid, Jeanne of Domremy; and as the sun upon the morrow shone out bright and clear, after a week of heavy rain storms, we agreed that no better opportunity could we hope for to ride across to the little village, and try whether it were possible to obtain speech with the young girl about whom such interest had been aroused in some breasts.
We spoke no word to De Baudricourt of our intention. Bertrand knew from his manner that he was thinking more and more earnestly of that declaration on the part of the village maiden that her Lord–the King of Heaven–had revealed to her that she must be sent to the Dauphin, to help him to drive out the English from his country, and to place the crown of France upon his head, and that he, Robert de Baudricourt, was the instrument who would be used to speed her on her way. Bertrand knew that this thought was weighing upon the mind of his kinsman, and the more so as the time for the fulfilment of the prophecy drew nearer.
Autumn had come. Winter was hard at hand; and before Mid-Lent the promised succour to France was to arrive through the means of this maiden–this Jeanne d’Arc.
“He is waiting and watching,” spoke Bertrand, as we rode through the forest, the thinning leaves of which allowed the sunlight to play merrily upon our path. “He says in his heart that if this thing be of God, the Maid will come again when the time draws near; but that if it is phantasy, or if she be deluded of the Devil, perchance his backwardness will put a check upon her ardour, and we shall hear no more of it. The Abbe Perigord, his Confessor, has bidden him beware lest it be a snare of the Evil One"–and as he spoke these words Bertrand crossed himself, and I did the like, for the forest is an ill place in which to talk of the Devil, as all men know.
“But for my part, when I think upon her words, and see again the look of her young face, I cannot believe that she has been thus deceived; albeit we are told that the Devil can make himself appear as an angel of light.”
This was the puzzle, of course. But surely the Church had power to discern betwixt the wiles of the Evil One and the finger of God. There were words and signs which any possessed of the Devil must needs fly before. I could not think that the Church need fear deception, even though a village maid might be deceived.
The forest was very beautiful that day, albeit travelling was something slow, owing to the softness of the ground, and the swollen condition of the brooks, which often forced us to go round by the bridges instead of taking the fords; so that we halted a few miles from Domremy to bait our horses and to appease our own hunger, for by that time our appetite was sharp set.
It was there, as we sat at table, and talked with mine host, that we heard somewhat more of this Maid, whom we had started forth in hopes to see.
Bertrand was known for the kinsman of De Baudricourt and all the countryside knew well the tale, how that Jeanne d’Arc had gone to him in the springtide of the year, demanding an escort to the Dauphin King of France, for whom she had a message from the King of Heaven, and whom she was to set upon his throne.
“When she came home again, having accomplished nothing,” spoke the innkeeper, leaning his hands upon the table and greatly enjoying the sound of his own voice, “all the village made great mock of her! They called her the King’s Marshal, the Little Queen, Jeanne the Prophetess, and I know not what beside. Her father was right wroth with her. Long ago he had a dream about her, which troubled him somewhat, as he seemed to see his daughter in the midst of fighting men, leading them on to battle.”
“Did he dream that? Surely that is something strange for the vision of a village prud’homme anent his little daughter.”
“Ay truly, though at the time he thought little of it, but when all this came to pass he recalled it again; and he smote Jeanne upon the ear with his open hand, and bid her return to her needle and her household tasks, and think no more of matters too great for her. Moreover, he declared that if ever she were to disgrace herself by mingling with men-at-arms, he would call upon her brothers to drown her, and if they disobeyed him, he would take and do it with his own hands!”
“A Spartan father, truly!” murmured Bertrand.
“O ay–but he is a very honest man, is Jacques d’Arc; and he was very wroth at all the talk about his daughter, and he vowed she should wed an honest man, as she is now of age to do, and so forget her dreams and her visions, and take care of her house and her husband and the children the good God should send them–like other wedded wives.”
“Then has she indeed wedded?” asked Bertrand earnestly.
“Ah, that is another story!” answered our host, wagging his head and spreading out his hands. “It would take too long were I to tell you all, messires; but so much will I tell. They did find a man who had long desired the pretty Jeanne for his wife, and he did forswear himself and vow that he had been betrothed to Jeanne with her own free will and consent, and that now he claimed her as his wife. Jeanne, whose courage is high, though she be so quiet and modest in her daily life, did vehemently deny the charge, whereupon the angry father and his friend, the claimant of her hand, did bring it into the court, and the Maid had to defend herself there from the accusation of broken faith. But by St. Michael and all his angels!–how she did confound them all! She asked no help from lawyers, though one did offer himself to her. She called no witnesses herself; but she questioned the witnesses brought against her, and also the man who would fain have become her lord, and out of their own mouths did she convict them of lying and hypocrisy and conspiracy, so that she was triumphantly acquitted, and her judges called her a most wonderful child, and told her mother to be proud of such a daughter!”
I saw a flush rise to Bertrand’s cheek, a flush as of pride and joy. And indeed, I myself rejoiced to hear the end of the tale; for it did seem as though this maiden had been persecuted with rancour and injustice, and that is a thing which no man can quietly endure to hear or see.
“And how have they of Domremy behaved themselves to her since?” I asked; and Bertrand listened eagerly for the answer.
“Oh, they have taken her to favour once more; her father has been kind again; her mother ever loved Jeanne much, for her gentleness and beauty and helpfulness at home. All the people love her, when not stirred to mockery by such fine pretensions. If she will remain quietly at home like a wise and discreet maiden, no one will long remember against her her foolish words and dreams.”
As we rode through the fields and woodlands towards Domremy, the light began to take the golden hue which it does upon the autumn afternoon, and upon that day it shone with a wonderful radiance such as is not uncommon after rain. We were later than we had meant, but there would be a moon to light us when the sun sank, and both we and our horses knew the roads well; or we could even sleep, if we were so minded, at the auberge where we had dined. So we were in no haste or hurry. We picked our way leisurely towards the village, and Bertrand told me of the Fairy Well and the Fairy Tree in the forest hard by, so beloved of the children of Domremy, and of which so much has been heard of late, though at that time I knew nothing of any such things.
But fairy lore has ever a charm for me, and I bid him show me these same things. So we turned a little aside into the forest, and found ourselves in a lovely glade, where the light shone so soft and golden, and where the songs of the birds sounded so sweet and melodious, that I felt as though we were stepping through an enchanted world, and well could I believe that the fairies danced around the well, sunk deep in its mossy dell, and fringed about with ferns and flowers and the shade of drooping trees.
But fairies there were none visible to our eyes, and we moved softly onwards towards the spreading tree hard by. But ere we reached it, we both drew rein as by a common impulse, for we had seen a sight which arrested and held us spellbound, ay, and more than that, for the wonder and amaze of it fell also upon the horses we bestrode. For scarcely had we drawn rein, before they both began to tremble and to sweat, and stood with their forefeet planted, their necks outstretched, their nostrils distended; uttering short, gasping, snorting sounds, as a horse will do when overcome by some terror. But for all this they were as rigid as if they had been carved in stone.
And now, what did we see? Let me try and tell, so far as my poor words may avail. Beneath a spreading tree just a stone’s throw to the right of where we stood, and with nothing between to hinder our view of her, a peasant maiden, dressed in the white coif, red skirt, and jacket and kerchief of her class, had been bending over some fine embroidery which she held in her hands. We just caught a glimpse of her thus before the strange thing happened which caused us to stop short, as though some power from without restrained us.
Hard by, as I know now, stood the village, shut out from view by the trees, with its little church, and the homestead of Jacques d’Arc nestling almost within its shadow. At the moment of which I speak the bell rang forth for the Angelus, with a full, sweet tone of silvery melody; and at the very same instant the work dropped from the girl’s hands, and she sank upon her knees. At the first moment, although instinctively, we reined back our horses and uncovered our heads, I had no thought but that she was a devout maiden following the office of the Church out here in the wood. But as she turned her upraised face a little towards us, I saw upon it such a look as I have never seen on human countenance before, nor have ever seen (save upon hers) since. A light seemed to shine either from it or upon it–how can I tell which?–a light so pure and heavenly that no words can fully describe it, but which seemed like the radiance of heaven itself. Her eyes were raised towards the sky, her lips parted, and through the breathless hush of silence which had fallen upon the wood, we heard the soft, sweet tones of her voice.
“Speak, my Lord–Thy servant heareth!”
It was then that our horses showed the signs of terror of which I have before spoken. For myself, I saw nothing save the shining face of the Maid–I knew who it was–there was no need for Bertrand’s breathless whisper–"It is she–herself!"–I knew it in my heart before.
She knelt there amid the fallen leaves, her face raised, her lips parted, her eyes shining as surely never human eyes have shone before. A deep strange hush had fallen over all nature, broken only by the gentle music of the bell. The ruddy gold light of approaching sunset bathed all the wood in glory, and the rays fell upon the kneeling figure, forming a halo of glory round it. But she did not heed, she did not see. She was as one in a trance, insensible to outward vision. Once and again her lips moved, but we heard no word proceed from them, only the rapt look upon her face increased in intensity, and once I thought (for I could not turn my gaze away) that I saw the gleam of tears in her eyes.
The bell ceased as we stood thus motionless, and as the last note vibrated through the still air, a change came over the Maid. Her head drooped, she hid her face in her hands, and thus she knelt as one absorbed in an intensity of prayer. Even as this happened, the peculiar glory of the sunlight seemed to change. It shone still, but without such wonderful glow, and our horses at the same time ceased their trembling and their rigid stillness of pose. They shook their heads and jingled their bits, as though striving to throw off some terrifying impression.
“Let us withdraw from her sight,” whispered Bertrand touching my arm, and very willingly I acceded to this suggestion, and we silently pressed into the shadow of some great oaks, which stood hard by, the trunks of which hid us well from view. It seemed almost like a species of sacrilege to stand there watching the Maid at her prayers, and yet I vow, that until the bell ceased we had no more power to move than our horses. Why we were holden by this strange spell I know not. I can only speak the truth. We saw nothing and we heard nothing of any miraculous kind, and yet we were like men in a dream, bound hand and foot by invisible bonds, a witness of something unseen to ourselves, which we saw was visible to another.
Beneath the deep shadow of the oaks we looked back. The Maid had risen to her feet by this, and was stooping to pick up her fallen work. That done, she stood awhile in deep thought, her face turned towards the little church, whence the bell had only just ceased to sound.
I saw her clearly then–a maiden slim and tall, so slender that the rather clumsy peasant dress she wore could not give breadth or awkwardness to her lithe figure. The coif had slipped a little out of place, and some tresses of waving hair had escaped from beneath it, tresses that looked dark till the sun touched them, and then glowed like burnished gold. Her face was pale, with features in no way marked, but so sweet and serene was the expression of the face, so wonderful was the depth of the great dark eyes, that one was lost in admiration of her beauty, albeit unable to define wherein that beauty lay.
When we started forth, I had meant to try and seek speech with this Jeanne–this Maid of Domremy–and to ask her of her mission, and whether she were still believing that she would have power to carry it out; but this purpose now died within me.
How could I dare question such a being as to her visions? Had I not seen how she was visited by sound or sight not sensible to those around her? Had I not in some sort been witness to a miracle? Was it for us to approach and ask of her what had been thus revealed? No!–a thousand times no! If the good God had given her a message, she would know when and where to deliver it. She had spoken before of her voices. Let them instruct her. Let not men seek to interfere. And so we remained where we were, hidden in the deep shadows, whilst Jeanne, with bent head and lingering, graceful steps, utterly unconscious of the eyes that watched her, went slowly out of sight along the glade leading towards the village and her home.
Only when she had disappeared did we venture to move on in her wake, and so passed by the low-browed house, set in its well-tended little garden, where the d’Arc family lived. It lay close to the church, and bore a look of pleasant homelike comfort. We saw Jeanne bending tenderly over a chair, in which reclined the bent form of a little crippled sister. We even heard the soft, sweet voice of the Maid, as she answered some question asked her from within the open door. Then she lifted the bent form in her arms, and I did note how strong that slim frame must be, for the burden seemed as nothing to her as she bore it within the house; and then she disappeared from view, and we rode onwards together.
“There, my friend,” spoke Bertrand at last, “I have kept my promise, you have seen the Maid.”
“Yes,” I answered gravely, “I have seen the Maid,” and after that we spoke no word for many a mile.