A Heroine of France
By Evelyn Everett-Green
Public Domain Books
Chapter VI. How the Maid Came to the King.
So Guy de Laval had fallen beneath the spell of the Maid, even as we had done. He spoke of it to me afterwards. It was not because of her words, albeit she had plainly shown knowledge of that which he had been saying before her approach. It was not the beauty of her serene face, or the dignity of her mien. It was as though some power outside of himself urged him to some act of submission. An overshadowing presence seemed to rest upon him as with the touch of a hand, and he who had laughed at the idea of the restoration of miracles suddenly felt all his doubts and misgivings fall away.
We rode together back to our camp, and there we talked long and earnestly of many things. The Maid had much to ask of Sir Guy, but her questions were not such as one would have guessed. She never inquired how the Dauphin (as she always called him) had first heard of her, how he regarded her, what his Ministers and the Court thought of her mission, whether they would receive her in good part, what treatment she might expect when she should appear at Chinon.
No; such thoughts as these seemed never to enter her head. She was in no wise troubled as to the things which appertained to herself. Not once did a natural curiosity on this ground suggest such inquiries; and though we, her followers, would fain have asked many of these questions, something in her own absence of interest, her own earnestness as to other matters, restrained us from putting them.
It was of the city of Orleans she desired to know. What was the condition of the garrison? What were the armies of England doing? What was the disposition of the beleaguering force? Was any project of relief on foot amongst the Dauphin’s soldiers? Did they understand how much depended upon the rescue of the devoted town?
Guy de Laval was able to answer these questions, for he had himself ridden from Chinon to Orleans with messages to the Generals in the beleaguered city. He reported that the blockade was not perfected; that provisions could still find their way–though with risk, and danger of loss–into the town, and that messengers with letters could pass to and fro by exercising great caution, and by the grace of Heaven. He told her of the great fortresses the English had built, where they dwelt in safety, and menaced the town and battered its walls with their engines of war.
The garrison and the city were yet holding bravely out, and the Generals Dunois and La Hire were men of courage and capacity. But when the Maid asked how it came about that the English–who could not be so numerous as the French forces in the town–had been suffered to make these great works unmolested, he could only reply with a shake of the head, and with words of evil omen.
“It is the terror of the English which has fallen upon them. Since the victory of Agincourt, none have ever been able to see English soldiers drawn up in battle array without feeling their blood turn to water, and their knees quake under them. I know not what the power is; but at Rouvray it was shown forth again. A small force of soldiers–but a convoy with provisions for the English lines–overcame and chased to destruction a French army ten times its own strength. It is as though the English had woven some spell about us. We cannot face them–to our shame be it spoken! The glorious days of old are past. If Heaven come not to our aid, the cause of France is lost!”
“Heaven has come to the aid of France,” spoke the Maid, with that calm certainty which never deserted her; “have no fear, gentle knight. Let the Dauphin but send me to Orleans, and the English will speedily be chased away.”
“It will need a great army to achieve that, fair Maid,” spoke Sir Guy; “and alas, the King has but a small force at his disposal, and the men are faint hearted and fearful.”
“It is no matter,” answered the Maid, with shining eyes; “is it anything to my Lord whether He overcomes by many or by few? Is His arm shortened at all, that He should not fulfil that which He has promised? France shall see ere long that the Lord of Hosts fights for her. Will not that be enough?”
“I trow it will,” answered De Laval, baring his head.
It was not until the evening was drawing on that we entered the fortress of Chinon, where the King held his Court. A very splendid castle it was, and when, later in my life, I once visited the realm of England, and looked upon the Castle of Windsor there, it did bring back greatly to my mind that Castle of Chinon, with its towers and battlements overhanging, as it were, the river, and the town clustered at its foot.
We had delayed our approach that our wearied and way-worn men might rest and give a little care to their clothes and arms, so that we presented not too travel-stained and forlorn an appearance. We desired to do honour to the Maid we escorted, and to assume an air of martial pomp, so far as it was possible to us.
Sir Guy had ridden on in front to announce our coming. He told me that the King was full of curiosity about the Maid, and that the ladies of the Court were consumed with wonder and amaze; but that the Prime Minister, De la Tremouille, was strenuously set against having aught to do with that “dreamer of dreams,” as he slightingly called her, whilst the King’s confessor was much of the same mind, in spite of what was reported about her from the priests who had seen and examined her.
There was no mistaking the sensation which our approach occasioned when at last we reached the walls of the Castle. Soldiers and townspeople, gentlemen and servants, were assembled at every coign of vantage to watch us ride in; and every eye was fixed upon the Maid, who rode as one in a dream, her face slightly raised, her eyes shining with the great joy of an object at last achieved, and who seemed unconscious of the scrutiny to which she was subjected, and unaware of the excitement which her presence occasioned.
For the most part deep silence reigned as we passed by. No acclamation of welcome greeted us, nor did any murmurs of distrust smite upon our ears. There was whispering and a rustling of garments, and the clank of arms; but no articulate words, either friendly or hostile, till, as we passed the drawbridge, one of the sentries, a great, brawny fellow, half French half Scottish, uttered an insult to the Maid, accompanying his words by a horrible blasphemy.
My hand was upon my sword hilt. I could have slain the man where he stood; but I felt the Maid’s touch on my shoulder, and my hand sank to my side. She paused before the sentry, gazing at him with earnest eyes, full of mournful reproach and sorrow.
“O Lord Jesu, forgive him!” she breathed softly, and as the fellow, half ashamed, but truculent still, and defiant, turned upon her as though he would have repeated either his insult or his blasphemy, she held up her hand and spoke aloud, so that all who stood by might hear her words:
“O, my friend, speak not so rashly, but seek to make your peace with God. Know you not how near you stand to death this night? May God pardon and receive your soul!”
The man shrank back as one affrighted. It was scarce two hours later that as he was crossing a narrow bridge-like parapet, leading from one part of the Castle to another, he fell into the swollen and rapid stream beneath, and was heard of no more. Some called it witchcraft, and said that the Maid had overlooked him; but the more part regarded it as a sign that she could read the future, and that things unknown to others were open to her eyes; and this, indeed, none could doubt who were with her at this time, as I shall presently show.
I had expected that Sir Guy would come to lead us into the chamber of audience, where we were told the King would receive us. But he did not come, and we were handed on from corridor to corridor, from room to room, first by one richly-apparelled servant of the Court, then by another.
Our men-at-arms, of course, had been detained in one of the courtyards, where their lodgings were provided. Only Bertrand and I were suffered, by virtue of our knighthood, to accompany the Maid into the presence of royalty; and neither of us had ever seen the King, or knew what his outward man was like.
But she asked no questions of us as to that, nor how she was to comport herself when she reached the audience chamber. Neither had she desired to change her travel-stained suit for any other, though, in truth, there was little to choose betwixt them now; only methinks most in her case would have provided some sort of gay raiment wherewith to appear before the King. But the Maid thought nought of herself, but all of her mission, and she held that this was a matter which could be touched by no outward adorning or bravery of apparel.
None who passed through the galleries and corridors of the Castle of Chinon in these days would have guessed to what a desperate pass the young King’s affairs had come. Music and laughter resounded there. Courtiers fluttered about in gorgeous array, and fine ladies like painted butterflies bore them company. Feasting and revelry swallowed up the days and nights. No clang of arms disturbed the gaieties of the careless young monarch.
If despair and desperation were in his heart, he pushed them back with a strong hand. He desired only to live in the present. He would not look beyond. So long as he could keep his Court about him, he would live after this fashion; and when the English had swept away the last barriers, and were at the very gates, then he would decide whether to surrender himself upon terms, or to fly to some foreign land. But to face the foe in gallant fight was an alternative which had never been entertained by him, until such time as he had received the message from the Maid; and then it was rather with wonder and curiosity than any belief in her mission that he had consented to receive her.
A pair of great double doors was flung open before us. We stood upon the threshold of a vast room, lighted by some fifty torches, and by the blaze of a gigantic fire which roared halfway up the vast chimney. This great audience chamber seemed full of dazzling jewels and gorgeous raiment. One could scarce see the faces and figures in the shifting throng for the wonder of this blaze of colour.
But there was no dais on which the King was seated in state, as I had expected. No figure stood out conspicuous in the throng as that of royalty. I gazed at one and another, as we stood in the doorway, our eyes still half dazzled by the glare of light and by the brilliance of the assembled company, but I could by no means distinguish the King from any of the rest. Many men, by their gorgeous raiment, might well be the greatest one present; but how to tell?
All were quiet now. They had fallen a little back, as though to gaze upon the newcomer. Smiling faces were turned upon us. Eager eyes were fastened upon the Maid’s face. She stood there, with the glare of the torches shining over her, looking upon the scene with her calm, direct gaze, without tremor of fear or thought of shame.
One of the great Seigneurs–I know not which–came forward with a smile and a bow, and gave her his hand to lead her forward.
“I will present you to the King,” he said; and made in a certain direction, as though he would lead her to a very kingly-looking personage in white and crimson velvet, blazing with diamonds; but ere he had taken many steps, the Maid drew her hand from his, and turning herself in a different direction, went forward without the least wavering, and knelt down before a young man in whose attire there was nothing in any way gorgeous or notable.
“Gentle Dauphin,” she said, in that clear voice of hers which always made itself heard above other sounds, though at this moment a great hush prevailed throughout the audience chamber, and wondering eyes were fixed full upon the Maid, “God give you good life, and victory over your enemies!”
Astonishment was in the young man’s face; but he took the Maid by the hand, and said:
“You mistake, fair damsel; it is not I that am the King. See, he is there; let me take you to him.”
But she would not be raised; she knelt still at his feet, and the hand which he had given her she held to her lips.
“Gentle Dauphin, think not to deceive me. I know you, who you are. You are he to whom I am sent, to win you the victory first, and then to place the crown of France upon your head. It is you, and none other, who shall rule in France!”
The young man’s face had changed greatly now. A deep agitation replaced the former smile of mockery and amusement. Several of the courtiers were exchanging meaning glances; in the hush of the hall every spoken word could be heard.
“Child, how dost thou know me?” asked the King, and his voice shook with emotion.
Her answer was not strange to us, though it might have been so to others.
“I am Jeanne the Maid,” she replied, as if in so saying she was saying enough to explain all; “I am sent to you by the King of Heaven; and it is His Word that I have spoken. You shall be crowned and consecrated at Rheims, and shall be lieutenant of the King of Heaven, Who is King of France, but Who wills that you shall reign over that fair realm!”
“Have you a message from Him to me?” asked the King, speaking like a man in a dream.
“Ay, verily I have,” answered the Maid, “a message which none but you must hear; for it is to you alone that I may tell it.”
Then the King took her by the hand, and raised her up, gazing at her with a great wonder and curiosity; and he led her behind a curtain into a deep recess of the window, where prying eyes could not see them, nor inquisitive ears overhear her words.
And so soon as they had disappeared there, a great hum and buzz of wonder ran throughout the hall, and we saw Sir Guy detach himself from a knot of gay courtiers, and come hastily towards us.
“Is it not wonderful!” he cried. “And I had feared that she would be deceived, and that the mockers would have the laugh against her in the first moment. Though how they looked for her to have knowledge of the King’s person I know not. Surely none can doubt but that she is taught by the Spirit of God.”
“It was done to prove her!”
“Ay, it was the thought of De la Tremouille, who has ridiculed her pretensions (the word is his) from first to last. But it was a thought welcomed by all, as a passing merry jest. Thus was it that I was not permitted to come and lead you in. They did fear lest I should tell what was intended, and describe to the Maid the person or the dress of the King. And now none can doubt; and, in sooth, it may be a wondrous thing for His Majesty himself, and take from him for ever that hateful fear which I always do declare has helped to paralyse him, and hold him back from action.”
I lowered my voice to a whisper as I said:
“You mean the fear lest he was not the true son of the King?”
“Yes; his wicked mother hinted away her own honour in her desire to rob him of his crown. He has known her for an evil woman. Was it not likely he would fear she might speak truth? Those who know him best know that he has often doubted his right to style himself Dauphin or King; but methinks after today that doubt must needs be set at rest. If the Maid who comes from the King of Heaven puts that name upon him, need he fear to take it for his own?”
As we were thus speaking the Sieur de Boisi joined us. He was perchance more fully in the King’s confidence than any other person at Court, and he was kinsman to De Laval, with whom he had plainly already had much talk upon this subject. He drew us aside, and whispered a story in our ears.
“His Majesty did tell it me himself,” he said, “for there be nights when he cannot sleep, and he calls me from my couch at his bed’s foot, and makes me lie beside him, that we may talk at ease; and he told me, not long since, how that this trouble and doubt were so growing upon him, that once he had fasted for a whole day, and had passed the night upon his knees in the oratory, praying for a sign whereby he might truly know whether he were the real heir, and the kingdom justly his. For that were it not so, he would sooner escape to Spain or Scotland to pass his days in peace; but that if the Lord would send him a sign, then he would seek to do his duty by the realm.”
With awe we looked into each other’s faces.
“The sign has come!” whispered Bertrand.
“Truly I do think it,” answered De Boisi.
“Surely His Majesty will recognise it as such!” said Sir Guy.
“I see not how it can be otherwise; and it will be like a great load lifted from his heart.”
“And he will surely hesitate no more,” I said, “but will forthwith give her a band of armed men, that she may sally forth to the aid of the beleaguered Orleans!”
But De Boisi and De Laval looked doubtful.
“I know not how that will be. For there are many who will even now seek to dissuade the King, and will talk of witchcraft, and I know not what beside. The Abbes and the Bishops and the priests are alike distrustful and hostile. The Generals of the army openly scoff and jeer. Some say that if the Maid be sent to Orleans, both La Hire and Dunois will forthwith retire, and refuse all further office there. What can a peasant maid know of the art of war? they ask, and how can she command troops and lead them on to victory, where veterans have failed again and again? And then the King knows not what to reply–”
“But she hath given him wherewith to reply!” broke out Bertrand, with indignation in his tones. “She comes not in her own strength, but as the envoy of the King of Heaven. Is that not enough?”
“Enough for us who have seen and heard her,” answered Sir Guy; “but will it prove enough for those who only hear of her from others, and who call her a witch, and say that she works by evil spells, and has been sent of the Devil for our deception and destruction and undoing?”
“Then let them send for one of the Generals from Orleans, and let him judge for himself!” cried Bertrand hotly; “you say the city is not so closely blockaded but that with care and caution men may get in or out? Then let some one send and fetch one of these commanders; and if he be not convinced when he sees her, then he will be of very different stuff from all else who have doubted, but whose doubts have been dispelled.”
“In faith, that is no bad thought,” spoke De Boisi thoughtfully, “and I trow it might be possible of accomplishment. I will certainly speak with the King of it. He is young; he is not firm of purpose; his own heart has never before been set upon his kingdom. One cannot expect a man’s nature to change in a day, even though his eyes may have been opened, and his misgivings set at rest. If one of the Generals were won to her side, the troubles that beset us would be well-nigh overcome.”
A great clamour of sound from the larger audience chamber, from which we had retired to talk at ease, warned us now that the King and the Maid had appeared from their private conference. His face was very grave, and there was more of earnestness and nobility in his expression than I had thought that countenance capable of expressing. The Maid was pale, as though with deep emotion; but a glorious light shone in her eyes, and when the Court ladies and gallants crowded round her, asking her questions, and gazing upon her as though she were a being from another sphere, she seemed lifted up above them into another region, and though she answered them without fear, she put aside, in some wonderful way, all those questions which were intrusions into holy things, speaking so fearlessly and so simply that all were amazed at her.
She came to us at last, weary, yet glad at heart; and her first question was for her followers, and whether they had been lodged and fed. We supped with her at her request, and in private, and her face was very calm and glad, though she spoke nothing of what had passed between her and the King.
Only when Bertrand said:
“You have done a great work today,” did she look at him with a smile as she replied:
“My work hath but just begun, and may yet be hindered; but have no fear. The Lord has spoken, and He will bring it to pass. He will not fail us till all be accomplished.”