A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter IV. How the Maid Was Tried and Tested.
I had myself proposed the test, and yet when the moment came I was ashamed of myself. The Abbe had put on his robes and his stole; a vessel containing holy water stood before him on the table; the book of the Blessed Gospels was in his hands, a boy with a taper stood at his side. The place was the hall of the Castle, and the Governor with a few of those most in his confidence stood by to see what would follow. I was at his right hand.
Bertrand brought in the Maid. I know not what he had said to her, or whether he had prepared her for what was about to take place; but however that may have been, her face wore that calm and lofty serenity of expression which seemed to belong to her. As she approached she made a lowly reverence to the priest, and stood before him where Bertrand placed her, looking at him with earnest, shining eyes.
“My daughter,” spoke the Abbe gravely, “have you security in your heart that the visions and voices sent to you come of good and not of evil? Many men and women have, ere this, been deceived–yea, even the holy Saints themselves have been tempted of the devil, that old serpent, who is the great deceiver of the hearts and spirits of men. Are you well assured in your heart that you are not thus deceived and led away by whispers and suggestions from the father of lies?”
There was no anger in her face, but a beautiful look of reverent, yet joyful, confidence and peace.
“I am well assured, my father, that it is my Lord who speaks to me through His most holy and blessed Saints, and through the ever-glorious Archangel Michael.”
“And yet, my daughter, you know that it is written in the Holy Scriptures that the devil can transform himself into an angel of light.”
“Truly that is so, my father; but is it not also written that those who put their trust in the Lord shall never be confounded?”
“Yes, my daughter; and I pray God you may not be confounded. But it is my duty to try and test the spirits, so as to be a rock of defence to those beneath my care. Yet if things be with you as you say, you will have no fear.”
“I have no fear, my father,” she answered, and stood with folded hands and serene and smiling face whilst he went through those forms of exorcism and adjuration which, it is said, no evil spirit can endure without crying aloud, or causing that the person possessed should roll and grovel in agony upon the ground, or rush frantically forth out of sight and hearing.
But the Maid never moved, save to bend her head in reverence as the Thrice Holy Name was proclaimed, and as the drops of holy water fell upon her brow. To me it seemed almost like sacrilege, in face of that pure and holy calm, to entertain for one moment a doubt of the origin of her mission. Yet it may be that the test was a wise one; for De Baudricourt and those about him watched it with close and breathless wonder, and one and another whispered behind his hand:
“Of a surety she is no witch. She could never stand thus if there was aught of evil in her. Truly she is a marvellous Maid. If this thing be of the Lord, let us not fight against Him.”
The trial was over. The Maid received the blessing of the Abbe, who, if not convinced of the sacredness of her mission, was yet impotent to prove aught against her. It is strange to me, looking back at those days, how far less ready of heart the ecclesiastics were to receive her testimony and recognise in her the messenger of the Most High than were the soldiers, whether the generals whom she afterwards came to know, or the men who crowded to fight beneath her banner. One would have thought that to priests and clergy a greater grace and power of understanding would have been vouchsafed; but so far from this, they always held her in doubt and suspicion, and were her secret foes from first to last.
I made it my task to see her safely home; and as we went, I asked:
“Was it an offence to you, fair Maid, that he should thus seek to test and try you?”
“Not an offence to me, Seigneur,” she answered gently, “but he should not have had need to do it. For he did hear my confession on Friday. Therefore he should have known better. It is no offence to me, save inasmuch as it doth seem a slighting of my Lord.”
The people flocked around her as she passed through the streets. It was wonderful how the common townsfolk believed in her. Already she was spoken of as a deliverer and a saviour of her country. Nay, more, her gentleness and sweetness so won upon the hearts of those who came in contact with her, that mothers prayed of her to come and visit their sick children, or to speak words of comfort to those in pain and suffering; and such was the comfort and strength she brought with her, that there were whispers of miraculous cures being performed by her. In truth, I have no knowledge myself of any miracle performed by her, and the Maid denied that she possessed such gifts of healing. But that she brought comfort and joy and peace with her I can well believe, and she had some skill with the sick whom she tended in her own village, so that it is likely that some may have begun to mend from the time she began to visit them.
As for De Baudricourt, his mind was made up. There was something about this girl which was past his understanding. Just at present it was not possible to send her to the King, for the rains, sometimes mingled with blinding snow storms, were almost incessant, the country lay partially under water, and though such a journey might be possible to a seasoned soldier, he declared it would be rank murder to send a young girl, who, perchance, had never mounted a horse before, all that great distance. She must needs wait till the waters had somewhat subsided, and till the cold had abated, and the days were somewhat longer.
The Maid heard these words with grave regret, and even disapproval.
“My Lord would take care of me. I have no fear,” she said; but De Baudricourt, although he now faithfully promised to send her to Chinon, would not be moved from his resolution to wait.
For my part, I have always suspected that he sent a private messenger to Chinon to ask advice what he should do, and desired to await his return ere acting. But of that I cannot speak certainly, since he never admitted it himself.
If the delay fretted the Maid’s spirit, she never spoke with anger or impatience; much of her time was spent in a little chapel in the crypt of the church at Vaucouleurs, where stood an image of Our Lady, before which she would kneel sometimes for hours together in rapt devotion. I myself went thither sometimes to pray; and often have I seen her there, so absorbed in her devotions that she knew nothing of who came or went.
By this time Bertrand and I had steadfastly resolved to accompany the Maid not only to Chinon, but upon whatsoever campaign her voices should afterwards send her. Although we were knights, we neither of us possessed great wealth; indeed, we had only small estates, and these were much diminished in value from the wasting war and misfortunes of the country. Still we resolved to muster each a few men-at-arms, and form for her a small train; for De Baudricourt, albeit willing to send her with a small escort to Chinon, had neither the wish nor the power to equip any sort of force to accompany her, though there would be no small danger on the journey, both from the proximity of the English in some parts, and the greater danger from roving bands of Burgundians, whose sole object was spoil and plunder, and their pastime the slaughter of all who opposed them.
And now we began to ask one another in what guise the Maid should travel; for it was obvious that her cumbrous peasant garb was little suited for the work she had in hand, and we made many fanciful plans of robing her after the fashion of some old-time queen, such as Boadicea or Semiramis, and wondered whether we could afford to purchase some rich clothing and a noble charger, and so convey her to the King in something of regal state and pomp.
But when, one day, we spoke something of this to the Maid herself, she shook her head with a smile, and said:
“Gentle knights, I give you humble and hearty thanks; but such rich robes and gay trappings are not for me. My voices have bidden me what to do. I am to assume the dress of a boy, since I must needs live for a while amongst soldiers and men. I am sent to do a man’s work, therefore in the garb of a man must I set forth. Our good citizens of Vaucouleurs are already busy with the dress I must shortly assume. There is none other in which my work can be so well accomplished.”
And in truth we saw at once the sense of her words. She had before her a toilsome journey in the companionship of men. She must needs ride, since there was no other way of travelling possible; and why should the frailest and tenderest of the party be burdened by a dress that would incommode her at every turn?
And when upon the very next day she appeared in the Castle yard in the hose and doublet and breeches of a boy, and asked of us to give her her first lesson in horsemanship, all our doubts and misgivings fled away. She wore her dress with such grace, such ease, such simplicity, that it seemed at once the right and fitting thing; and not one of the soldiers in the courtyard who watched her feats that day, passed so much as a rude jest upon her, far less offered her any insult. In truth, they were speedily falling beneath the spell which she was soon to exercise upon a whole army, and it is no marvel to me that this was so; for every day I felt the charm of her presence deepening its hold upon my heart.
Never have I witnessed such quickness of mastery as the Maid showed, both in her acquirement of horsemanship and in the use of arms, in both of which arts we instructed her day by day. I had noted her strength and suppleness of limb the very first day I had seen her; and she gave marvellous proof of it now. She possessed also that power over her horse which she exercised over men, and each charger that she rode in turn answered almost at once to her voice and hand, with a docility he never showed to other riders. Yet she never smote or spurred them; the sound of her voice, or the light pressure of knee or hand was enough. She had never any fear from the first, and was never unhorsed. Very soon she acquired such skill and ease that we had no fears for her with regard to the journey she soon must take.
Although filling the time up thus usefully, her heart was ever set upon her plan, and daily she would wistfully ask:
“May we not yet sally forth to the Dauphin?”
Still she bore the delay well, never losing opportunities for learning such things as might be useful to her; and towards the end of the month there came a peremptory summons to her from the Duke of Lorraine, who was lying very ill at Nancy.
“They tell me,” he wrote to De Baudricourt, “that you have at Vaucouleurs a woman who may be in sooth that Maid of Lorraine who, it has been prophesied, is to arise and save France. I have a great curiosity to see her; wherefore, I pray you, send her to me without delay. It may be that she will recover me of my sickness. In any case, I would fain have speech of her; so do not fail to send her forthwith.”
De Baudricourt had no desire to offend his powerful neighbour, and he forthwith went down to the house of Leroyer, taking Bertrand and me with him, to ask of the Maid whether she would go to see the Duke at his Court, since the journey thither was but short, and would be a fitting preparation for the longer one.
We found her sitting in the saddler’s shop, with one of his children on her lap, watching whilst he fashioned for her a saddle, which the citizens of Vaucouleurs were to give her. Bertrand and I were to present the horse she was to ride, and I had also sent to my home for a certain holiday suit and light armour made for a brother of mine who had died young. I had noted that the Maid had just such a slim, tall figure as he, and was certain that this suit, laid away by our mother in a cedar chest, would fit her as though made for her. But it had not come yet, and she was habited in the tunic and hose she now wore at all times. Her beautiful hair still hung in heavy masses round her shoulders, giving to her something of the look of a saintly warrior on painted window.
Later on, when she had to wear a headpiece, she cut off her long curling locks, and then her hair just framed her face like a nimbus; but today it was still hanging loose upon her shoulders, and the laughing child had got his little hands well twisted in the waving mass, upon which the midday sun was shining clear and strong. She had risen, and was looking earnestly at De Baudricourt; yet all the while she seemed to be, as it were, listening for other sounds than those of his voice.
When he ceased she was silent for a brief while, and then spoke.
“I would fain it had been to the Dauphin you would send me, Seigneur; but since that may not be yet, I will gladly go to the Duke, if I may but turn aside to make my pilgrimage to the shrine of St Nicholas, where I would say some prayers, and ask help.”
“Visit as many shrines as you like, so as you visit the Duke as well,” answered De Baudricourt, who always spoke with a sort of rough bluffness to the Maid, not unkindly, though it lacked gentleness. But she never evinced fear of him, and for that he respected her. She showed plenty of good sense whilst the details of the journey were being arranged, and was in no wise abashed at the prospect of appearing at a Court. How should she be, indeed, who was looking forward with impatience to her appearance at the Court of an uncrowned King?
Bertrand and I, with some half-dozen men-at-arms, were to form her escort, and upon the very next day, the sun shining bright, and the wind blowing fresh from the north over the wet lands, drying them somewhat after the long rains, we set forth.
The Maid rode the horse which afterwards was to carry her so many long, weary miles. He was a tall chestnut, deep in the chest, strong in the flank, with a proudly arching neck, a great mane of flowing hair, a haughty fashion of lifting his shapely feet, and an eye that could be either mild or fierce, according to the fashion in which he was treated. On his brow was a curious mark, something like a cross in shape, and the colour of it was something deeper than the chestnut of his coat. The Maid marked this sign at the first glance, and she called the horse her Crusader. Methinks she was cheered and pleased by the red cross she thus carried before her, and she and her good steed formed one of those friendships which are good to see betwixt man and beast.
Our journey was not adventurous; nor will I waste time in telling overmuch about it. We visited the shrine, where the Maid passed a night in fasting and vigil, and laid thereon a little simple offering, such as her humble state permitted. The next day she was presented to the Duke of Lorraine, as he lay wrapped in costly silken coverlets upon his great bed in one of the most sumptuous apartments of his Castle.
He gazed long and earnestly at the Maid, who stood beside him, flinching neither from his hollow gaze, nor from the more open curiosity or admiration bestowed upon her by the lords and ladies assembled out of desire to see her. I doubt me if she gave them a thought. She had come to see the sick Duke, and her thoughts were for him alone.
There was something very strange and beautiful in her aspect as she stood there. Her face was pale from her vigil and fast; her hair hung round it in a dark waving mass, that lighted up at the edges with gold where the light touched it. Her simple boy’s dress was splashed and travel stained; but her wonderful serene composure was as marked here as it had been throughout. No fears or tremors shook her, nor did any sort of consciousness of self or of the strangeness of her position come to mar the gentle dignity of her mien or the calm loveliness of her face.
The Duke raised himself on his elbow the better to look at her.
“Is this true what I have heard of you, that you are the Maid of Lorraine, raised up, according to the word of the wizard Merlin, to save France in the hour of her extremity?”
“I am come to save France from the English,” she answered at once; “to drive them from the city of Orleans, to bring the Dauphin to Rheims, and there see the crown set upon his head. This I know, for my Lord has said it. Who I am matters nothing, save only as I accomplish the purpose for which I am sent.”
Her sweet ringing voice sounded like a silver trumpet through the room, and the lords and ladies pressed nearer to hear and see.
“In sooth, the Maid herself–the Maid who comes to save France!”
Such was the whisper which went round; and I marvelled not; for the look upon that face, the glorious shining in those eyes, was enough to convince the most sceptical that the beatific vision had indeed been vouchsafed to them.
The Duke fell back on his pillows, regarding her attentively.
“If then, Maiden, you can thus read the future, tell me, shall I recover me of this sickness?” he gasped.
“Of that, sire, I have no knowledge,” she answered. “That lies with God alone; but if you would be His servant, flee from the wrath to come, which your sins have drawn upon you. Turn to the Lord in penitence. Do His will. Be reconciled to your wife; for such is the commandment of God. Perchance then you will find healing for body and soul. But seek not that which is hidden. Do only the will of the Lord, and trust all to Him.”
She was hustled from the room by the frightened attendants, who feared for her very life at the hands of their irate lord. He had done many a man to death for less than such counsel. But the Maid felt not fear.
“He cannot touch me,” she said, “I have my Lord’s work yet to accomplish.”
And in truth the Duke wished her no ill, though he asked not to see her more. Perhaps–who knows–these words may have aroused in him some gleams of penitence for his past life. I have heard he made a better end than was expected of him when his time came. And before the Maid left the Castle he sent her a present of money, and said he might even send his son to help the Dauphin, if once Orleans were relieved, and her words began to fulfil themselves.
So then we journeyed home again, and we reached Vaucouleurs on the afternoon of the twelfth day of February. The Maid had been smiling and happy up till that time, and, since the weather was improving, we had great hopes of soon starting forth upon the journey for Chinon. Nevertheless, the streams were still much swollen, and in some places the ground was so soft that it quaked beneath our horses’ feet. We travelled without misadventure, however, and I wondered what it was that brought the cloud to the brow of the Maid as we drew nearer and nearer to Vaucouleurs.
But I was to know ere long; for as we rode into the courtyard of the Castle the Maid slipped from her horse ere any could help her, and went straight into the room where the Governor was sitting, with her fearless air of mastery.
“My lord of Baudricourt, you do great ill to your master the Dauphin in thus keeping me from him in the time of his great need. Today a battle has been fought hard by the city of Orleans, and the arms of the French have suffered disaster and disgrace. If this go on, the hearts of the soldiers will be as water, the purpose of the Lord will be hindered, and you, Seigneur, will be the cause, in that you have not hearkened unto me, nor believed that I am sent of Him.”
“How know you the thing of which you speak, girl?” asked De Baudricourt, startled at the firmness of her speech.
“My voices have told me,” she answered; “voices that cannot lie. The French have met with disaster. The English have triumphed, and I still waste my time in idleness here! How long is this to continue, Robert de Baudricourt?”
A new note had come into her voice–the note of the general who commands. We heard it often enough later; but this was the first time I had noted it. How would De Baudricourt take it?
“Girl,” he said, “I will send forth a courier at once to ride with all speed to the westward. If this thing be so, he will quickly meet some messenger with the news. If it be as you have said, if this battle has been fought and lost, then will I send you forth without a day’s delay to join the King at Chinon.”
“So be it,” answered the Maid; and turned herself to the chapel, where she spent the night in prayer.
It was Bertrand who rode forth in search of tidings, his heart burning within him. It was he who nine days later entered Vaucouleurs again, weary and jaded, but with a great triumph light in his eyes. He stood before De Baudricourt and spoke.
“It is even as the Maid hath said. Upon the very day when we returned to Vaucouleurs, the English–a small handful of men–overthrew at Rouvray a large squadron of the French, utterly routing and well-nigh destroying them. The English were but a small party, convoying herrings to the besiegers of Orleans. The ground was strewn with herrings after the fight, which men call the Battle of the Herrings. Consternation reigns in the hearts of the French–an army flies before a handful! The Maid spake truly; the need is desperate. If help reach not the Dauphin soon, all will be lost!”
“Then let the Maid go!” thundered the old man, roused at last like an angry lion; “and may the God she trusts in guard and keep her, and give to her the victory!”