A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter III. How the Maid Came to Vaucouleurs.
It may yet be remembered by some how early the snow came that year, to the eastern portion of France at least. I think scarce a week had passed since our journey to Domremy, before a wild gale from the northeast brought heavy snow, which lay white upon the ground for many long weeks, and grew deeper and deeper as more fell, till the wolves ravaged right up to the very walls of Vaucouleurs, and some of the country villages were quite cut off from intercourse with the world.
Thus it came about that I was shut up in Vaucouleurs with my good comrade and friend Bertrand, in the Castle of which Robert de Baudricourt was governor, and for awhile little news reached us from the outside world, though such news as did penetrate to our solitude was all of disaster for the arms of France.
We never spoke to De Baudricourt of our expedition to Domremy, nor told him that we had seen the Maid again. Yet methinks not a day passed without our thinking of her, recalling something of that wonderful look we had seen upon her face, and asking in our hearts whether indeed she were truly visited by heavenly visions sent by God, and whether she indeed heard voices which could reach no ears but hers.
I observed that Bertrand was more regular in attendance at the services of the Church, and especially at Mass, than was usual with young knights in those days, and for my part, I felt a stronger desire after such spiritual aids than I ever remember to have done in my life before. It became a regular thing with us to attend the early Mass in the little chapel of the Castle; and, instead of growing lax (as I had done before many times in my roving life), as to attending confession and receiving the Holy Sacrament, I now began to feel the need for both, as though I were preparing me for some great and solemn undertaking. I cannot well express in words the feeling which possessed me–ay, and Bertrand too–for we began to speak of the matter one with another–but it seemed to us both as though a high and holy task lay before us, for which we must needs prepare ourselves with fasting and prayer; I wondered if, perhaps, it was thus that knights and men in days of old felt when they had taken the Red Cross, and had pledged themselves to some Crusade in the East.
Well, thus matters went on, quietly enough outwardly, till the Feast of the Nativity had come and gone, and with that feast came a wonderful change in the weather. The frost yielded, the south wind blew soft, the snow melted away one scarce knew how, and a breath of spring seemed already in the air, though we did not dare to hope that winter was gone for good and all.
It was just when the year had turned that we heard a rumour in the town, and it was in this wise that it reached our ears. De Baudricourt had been out with his dogs, chasing away the wolves back into their forest lairs. He had left us some business to attend to for him within the Castle, else should we doubtless have been of the party. But he was the most sagacious huntsman of the district, and a rare day’s sport they did have, killing more than a score of wolves, to the great joy of the townsfolk and of the country people without the walls. It was dark ere he got home, and he came in covered with mud from head to foot; the dogs, too, were so plastered over, that they had to be given to the servants to clean ere they could take their wonted places beside the fire; and some of the poor beasts had ugly wounds which needed to be washed and dressed.
But what struck us most was that De Baudricourt, albeit so successful in his hunt, seemed little pleased with his day’s work. His face was dark, as though a thunder cloud lay athwart it, and he gave but curt answers to our questions, as he stood steaming before the fire and quaffing a great tankard of spiced wine which was brought to him. Then he betook himself to his own chamber to get him dry garments, and when he came down supper was already served. He sat him down at the head of the table, still silent and morose; and though he fell with right good will upon the viands, he scarce opened his lips the while, and we in our turn grew silent, for we feared that he had heard the news of some disaster to the French arms, which he was brooding over in silent gloom.
But when the retainers and men-at-arms had disappeared, and we had gathered round the fire at the far end of the hall, as was our wont, then he suddenly began to speak.
“Went ye into the town today?” he suddenly asked of us.
We answered him, Nay, that we had been occupied all day within the Castle over the services there he had left us to perform.
“And have you heard nought of the commotion going on there?”
“We have heard nought. Pray what hath befallen, good sir? Is it some disaster? Hath Orleans fallen into the hands of the English?”
For that was the great fear possessing all loyal minds at this period.
“Nay, it is nought so bad as that,” answered De Baudricourt, “and yet it is bad enough, I trow. That mad girl from Domremy is now in the town, telling all men that Robert de Baudricourt hath been appointed of God to send her to the Dauphin at Chinon, and that she must needs start thither soon, to do the work appointed her of heaven.
“Dents de Dieu!–the folly of it is enough to raise the hair on one’s head! Send a little paysanne to the King with a wild story like hers! ’Tis enough to make the name of De Baudricourt the laughingstock of the whole country!”
I felt a great throb at heart when I heard these words. Then the Maid had not forgot! This time of waiting had not bred either indifference or doubt. The time appointed was drawing near, and she had come to Vaucouleurs once more, to do that which was required of her!
O, was it not wonderful? Must not it be of heaven, this thing? And should we seek to put the message aside as a thing of nought?
Bertrand was already speaking eagerly with his kinsman; but it seemed as though his words did only serve to irritate the Governor the more. In my heart I was sure that had he been certain the Maid was an impostor, he would have been in no wise troubled or disturbed, but would have contented himself by sharply ordering her to leave the town and return home and trouble him no more. It was because he was torn by doubts as to her mission that he was thus perturbed in spirit. He dared not treat her in this summary fashion, lest haply he should be found to be fighting against God; and yet he found it hard to believe that any deliverance for hapless France could come through the hands of a simple, unlettered peasant girl; and he shrank with a strong man’s dislike from making himself in any sort an object of ridicule, or of seeming to give credence to a wild tale of visions and voices, such as the world would laugh to scorn. So he was filled with doubt and perplexity, and this betrayed itself in gloomy looks and in harsh speech.
“Tush, boy! You are but an idle dreamer. I saw before that you were fooled by a pretty face and a silvery voice. Go to!–your words are but phantasy! Who believes in miracles now?”
“If we believe in the power of the good God, shall we not also believe that He can work even miracles at His holy will?”
“Poof–miracles!–the dreams of a vain and silly girl!” scoffed De Baudricourt, “I am sick of her name already!”
Then he suddenly turned upon me and spoke.
“Jean de Metz, you are a knight of parts. You have sense and discretion above your years, and are no featherhead like Bertrand here. Will you undertake a mission from me to this maiden? Ask of her the story of her pretended mission. Seek to discover from her whether she be speaking truth, or whether she be seeking to deceive. Catch her in her speech if it may be. See whether the tale she tells hang together, and then come and report to me. If she be a mad woman, why should I be troubled with her? She cannot go to the Dauphin yet, come what may. The melting snows have laid the valleys under water, the roads are impassable; horses would stick fast in the mire, and we are not at the end of winter yet. She must needs wait awhile, whatever her message may be, but I would have you get speech of her, and straightly question her from me. Then if it seem well, I can see her again; but if you be willing, you shall do so first.”
I was more than willing. I was rejoiced to have this occasion for getting speech with the Maid. I spoke no word of having had sight of her already, but fell in with De Baudricourt’s wish that I should go to her as if a mere passing stranger, and only afterwards reveal myself as his emissary. I slept but little all that night, making plans as to all that I should speak when I saw her on the morrow, and, rising early, I betook myself to Mass, not to the private chapel of the Castle, but to one of the churches in the town, though I could not have said why it was that I was moved to do this.
Yet as I knelt in my place I knew, for there amongst the worshippers, her face upraised and full of holy joy, her eyes alight with the depth of her devotion, her hands clasped in an ecstasy of prayer, was the Maid herself; and I found it hard to turn my eyes from her wonderful face, to think upon the office as it was recited by the priest.
I did not seek speech of her then, for she tarried long in the church over her prayers. I felt at last like one espying on another, and so I came away. But after breakfast, as the sun shone forth and began to light up the narrow streets of the little town, I sallied forth again alone, and asked of the first citizen I met where could be found the dwelling place of one Jeanne d’Arc, from Domremy, who was paying a visit to the town.
I had scarce need to say so much as this. It seemed that all the people in the town had heard of the arrival of the Maid. I know not whether they believed in her mission, or whether they scoffed at it; but at least it was the talk of the place how she had come before, and fearlessly faced the Governor and his council, and had made her great demand from him, and how she had come once again, now that the year was born and Lent approaching, in the which she had said she must seek and find the Dauphin. Thus the man was able at once to give me the information I asked, and told me that the girl was lodging with Henri Leroyer the saddler, and Catherine his wife, naming the street where they dwelt, but adding that I should have no trouble in finding the house, for the people flocked to it to get a sight of the Maid, and to ask her questions concerning her mission hither, and what she thought she was about to accomplish.
And truly I did find that this honest citizen had spoken the truth, for as I turned into the narrow street where Leroyer lived, I saw quite a concourse of people gathered about the house, and though they made way for me to approach, knowing that I was from the Castle, I saw that they were very eager to get sight or speech of the Maid, who was standing at the open door of the shop, and speaking in an earnest fashion to those nearest her.
I made as though I were a passing stranger, who had just heard somewhat of her matter from the bystanders, and I addressed her in friendly fashion, rather as one who laughs.
“What are you doing here, ma mie? And what is this I hear? Is it not written in the book of fate that the King or Dauphin of France must be overcome of England’s King, and that we must all become English, or else be driven into the sea, or banished from the realm?”
Then for the first time her wonderful eyes fastened themselves on my face, and I felt as though my very soul were being read.
“Nay, sire,” she answered, and there was something so flute-like and penetrating in her tones that they seemed to sink into my very soul, “but the Lord of Heaven Himself is about to fight for France, and He has sent me to the Governor here, who will direct me to the Dauphin, who knows nothing of me as yet. But I am to bring him help, and that by Mid-Lent. So I pray you, gentle knight, go tell Robert de Baudricourt that he must needs bestir himself in this business, for my voices tell me that the hour is at hand when, come what may, I must to Chinon, even though I wear my legs to the knees in going thither.”
“Why should I tell this to the Seigneur de Baudricourt?” I asked, marvelling at her words and the fashion of her speech.
“Because he has sent you to me,” she answered, her eyes still on my face, “and I thank him for having chosen so gracious a messenger; for you have a good heart, and you are no mocker of the things my Lord has revealed to me; and you will be one of those to do His will, and to bring me safely to the Dauphin.”
Half confounded by her words I asked:
“Who is your Lord?”
“It is God,” she answered, and bent her head in lowly reverence.
And then I did a strange thing; but it seemed to be forced upon me from above by a power which I could not withstand. I fell suddenly to my knees before her, and put up my clasped hands, as we do when we pay homage for our lands and honours to our liege lord. And, I speak truth, and nought else, the Maid put her hands over mine just as our lord or sovereign should do, and though I dare swear she had never heard my name before, she said:
“Jean de Novelpont de Metz, my Lord receives you as His faithful knight and servant. He will be with us now and to the end.”
And the people all uncovered and stood bareheaded round us, whilst I felt as though I had received a mandate from Heaven.
Then I went into the house with Jeanne, and asked her of herself, and of her visions and voices. She told me of them with the gentle frankness of a child, but with a reverence and humility that was beautiful to see, and which was in strange contrast to some of the things she spoke, wherein she told how that she herself was to be used of Heaven for the salvation of France.
I cannot give her words as she spoke them, sitting there in the window, the light upon her face, her eyes fixed more often upon the sunny sky than upon her interlocutor, though now and again she swept me with one of her wonderful glances. She told me how from a child she had heard voices, which she knew to be from above, speaking to her, bidding her to be good, to go to the church, to attend to her simple duties at home. But as she grew older there came a change. She remembered the day when first she saw a wonderful white light hovering above her; and this light came again, and yet again; and the third time she saw in it the figure of an angel–more than that–of the Archangel Michael himself–the warrior of Heaven; and from him she first received the message that she was to be used for the deliverance of her people.
She was long in understanding what this meant. St. Michael told her she should receive other angelic visitors, and often after this St. Catherine and St. Margaret appeared to her, and told her what was required of her, and what she must do. At first she was greatly affrighted, and wept, and besought them to find some other for the task, since she was but a humble country maid, and knew nothing of the art of warfare, and shuddered at the sight of blood. But they told her to be brave, to trust in the Lord, to think only of Him and of His holy will towards her. And so, by degrees, she lost all her fears, knowing that it was not of herself she would do this thing, and that her angels would be with her, her saints would watch over her, and her voices direct her in all that she should speak or do.
“And now,” she added, clasping her hands, and looking full into my face, “now do they tell me that the time is at hand. Since last Ascensiontide they have bid me wait in quietness for the appointed hour; but of late my voices have spoken words which may not be set aside. I must be sent to the Dauphin. Orleans must be saved from the hosts of the English which encompass it. I am appointed for this task, and I shall accomplish it by the grace of my Lord and His holy saints. Then the crown must be set upon the head of the Dauphin, and he must be anointed as the king. After that my task will be done; but not till then. And now I must needs set forth upon the appointed way. To the Dauphin I must go, to speak to him of things I may tell to none other; and the Sieur Robert de Baudricourt is appointed of Heaven to send me to Chinon. Wherefore, I pray you, gentle knight, bid him no longer delay; for I am straitened in spirit till I may be about my Lord’s business, and He would not have me tarry longer.”
I talked with her long and earnestly. Not that I doubted her. I could not do so. Although no voices came to me, yet my heart was penetrated by a conviction so deep and poignant that to doubt would have been impossible. France had been sold and betrayed by one bad woman; but here was the Maid who should arise to save! I knew it in my heart; yet I still spoke on and asked questions, for I must needs satisfy De Baudricourt, I must needs be able to answer all that he would certainly ask.
“How old are you, fair maiden?” I asked, as at length I rose to depart, and she stood, tall and slim, before me, straight as a young poplar, graceful, despite her coarse raiment, her feet and hands well fashioned, her limbs shapely and supple.
“I was seventeen last week,” she answered simply, “the fifth of January is my jour de fete.”
“And your parents, what think they of this? What said they when you bid them farewell for such an errand?”
The tears gathered slowly in her beautiful eyes; but they did not fall. She answered in a low voice:
“In sooth they know not for what I did leave them. They believed I went but to visit a sick friend. I did not dare to tell them all, lest my father should hold me back: He is very slow to believe my mission; he chides me bitterly if ever word be spoken anent it. Is it not always so when the Lord uses one of His children? Even our Lord’s brethren and sisters believed not on Him. How can the servant be greater than his Lord?”
“You fear not, then, to disobey your parents?”
I had need to put this question; for it was one that De Baudricourt had insisted upon; for he knew something of Jacques d’Arc’s opposition to his daughter’s proposed campaign.
“I must obey my Lord even above my earthly parents,” was her steadfast reply; “His word must stand the first. He knows all, and He will pardon. He knows that I love my father and my mother, and that if I only pleased myself I should never leave their side.”
Then suddenly as she spoke a strange look of awe fell upon her; I think she had forgotten my presence, for when she spoke, her words were so low that I could scarce hear them.
“I go to my death!” she whispered, the colour ebbing from her face, “but I am in the hands of my Lord; His will alone can be done.”
I went out from her presence with bent head. What did those last words signify–when hitherto all she had spoken was of deliverance, of victory? She spoke them without knowing it. Of that I was assured; and therefore I vowed to keep them locked in my heart. But I knew that I should never forget them.
I found Robert de Baudricourt awaiting my coming in the great hall, pacing restlessly to and fro. Bertrand was with him, and I saw by the tense expression upon his face that he was eager for my report. I gave him one quick glance upon entering, which I trow he read and understood; but to De Baudricourt I spoke with caution and with measured words, for he was a man whose scorn and ridicule were easily aroused, and I knew that Bertrand had fallen into a kind of contempt with him, in that he had so quickly believed in the mission of the Maid.
“Well, and what make you of the girl? Is she witch, or mad, or possessed by some spirit of vainglory and ambition? What has she said to you, and what think you of her?”
“In all truth, my lord, I believe her to be honest; and more than this, I believe her to be directed of God. Strange as it may seem, yet such things have been before, and who are we to say that God’s arm is shortened, or that He is not the same as in the days of old? I have closely questioned the Maid as to her visions and voices, and I cannot believe them delusions of the senses. You may ask, are they of the Devil? Then would I say, if there be doubt, let the Abbe Perigord approach her with holy water, with exorcisms, or with such sacred words and signs as devils must needs flee before. Then if it be established that the thing is not of the Evil One, we may the better regard it as from the Lord of whom she speaks. At least, if she can stand this test, I would do this much for her–give her a small escort to Chinon, with a letter to the Dauphin. After that your responsibility will cease. The matter will be in the hands of the King and his advisers.”
“Ay, after I have made myself the laughingstock of the realm!" burst out De Baudricourt grimly; yet after he had questioned me again, and yet again, and had even held one interview himself with the Maid, who came of her own accord to the Castle to ask for him one day, he seemed to come to some decision, after much thought and wavering.
Bringing out one of his rattling oaths, he cried:
“Then if she can bear the touch of holy water, and the sign of book and taper and bell–and I know not what beside–then shall she be sent to the King at Chinon, and I, Robert de Baudricourt, will send her–come what may of the mission!”