A Heroine of France: The Story of Joan of Arc Chapter 18
How I Last Saw the Maid
I had thought, when I started, to tell the whole tale of the
Angelic Maid and all the things which she accomplished, and all
that we who companied with her did and saw, both of success and of
failure. But now my brain and my pen alike refuse the task. I must
needs shorten it. I think my heart would well nigh break a second
time, if I were to seek to tell all that terrible tale which the
world knows so well by now.
Ah me! Ah me!–what a world is this wherein we live, in which such
things can be! I wake sometimes even yet in the night, a cold sweat
upon my limbs, my heart beating to suffocation, a terror as of
great darkness enfolding my spirit.
And is it wonderful that it should be so? Can any man pass through
such experiences as mine, and not receive a wound which time can
never wholly heal? And though great things have of late been done,
and the Pope and his Court have swept away all such stain and taint
as men sought to fasten upon the pure nature of the wonderful and
miraculous Maid, we who lived through those awful days, and heard
and saw the things which happened at that time, can never forget
them, and (God pardon me if I sin in this) never forgive. There are
men, some living still, and some passed to their last account, whom
I would doom to the nethermost hell for their deeds in the days of
which I must now write–though my words will be so few. And (with
horror and shame be it spoken) many of these men were consecrated
servants of the Holy Church, whose very office made the evil of
their deeds to stand out in blacker hues.
It is easy for us to seek to fasten the blame of all upon the
English, who in the end accomplished the hideous task; but at least
the English were the foes against whom she had fought, and they had
the right to hold her as an adversary whose death was necessary for
their success; and had the English had their way she would have met
her end quickly, and without all that long-drawn-out agony and
mockery of a trial, every step and process of which was an outrage
upon the laws of God and of man. No, it was Frenchmen who doomed
her to this–Frenchmen and priests. The University of Paris, the
officers of the Inquisition, the Bishops of the realm. These it was
who formed that hideous Court, whose judgments have now been set
aside with contumely and loathing. These it was who after endless
formalities, against which even some of themselves were forced in
honour to protest, played so base and infamous a part–culminating
in that so-called “Abjuration,” as false as those who plotted for
it–capped by their own infamous trick to render even that
“Abjuration” null and void, that she might be given up into the
hands of those who were thirsting for her life!
Oh, how can I write of it? How can I think of it? There be times
yet when Bertrand, and Guy de Laval, and I, talking together of
those days, feel our hearts swell, and the blood course wildly in
our veins, and truly I do marvel sometimes how it was that we and
others were held back from committing some desperate crime to
revenge those horrid deeds, wrought by men who in blasphemous
mockery called themselves the servants and consecrated priests of
But hold! I must not let my pen run away too fast with me! I am
leaping to the end, before the end has come. But, as I say, I have
no heart to write of all those weary months of wearing inactivity,
wherein the spirit of the Maid chafed like that of a caged eagle,
whilst the counsellors of the King–her bitter foes–had his ear,
and held him back from following the course which her spirit and
her knowledge alike advocated.
And yet we made none so bad a start.
“We must march upon Paris next,” spoke the Maid at the first
Council of War held in Rheims after the coronation of the King; and
La Hire and the soldiers applauded the bold resolve, whilst La
Tremouille and other timid and treacherous spirits sought ever to
hold him back.
I often thought of the words spoken by the Maid to those friends of
hers from Domremy, when she bid them farewell on the evening of
which I have just written.
“Are you not afraid, Jeanne,” they asked, “of going into battle, of
living so strange a life, of being the companion of the great men
of the earth?”
And she, looking at them with those big grave eyes of hers, had
made answer thus:
“I fear nothing but treachery.”
I wondered when she spoke what treachery she was to meet with; but
soon it became all too apparent. The King’s ministers were
treacherously negotiating with false Burgundy, some say with the
Regent Bedford himself. They cared not to save France. They cared
only to keep out of harm’s way–to avoid all peril and danger, and
to thwart the Maid, whose patriotism and lofty courage was such a
foil to their pusillanimity and cowardice.
So that though she led us to the very walls of Paris, and would
have taken the whole city without a doubt, had she been permitted,
though the Duc d’Alencon, now her devoted adherent, went down upon
his very knees to beg of the King to fear nothing, but trust all to
her genius, her judgment; he could not prevail, and orders were
sent forth to break down the bridge that she had built for the
storming party to pass over, and that the army should fall back
with their task undone!
Oh, the folly, the ingratitude, the baseness of it all! How well do
I remember the face of the Maid, as she said:
“The King’s word must be obeyed; but truly it will take him seven
years–ah, and twenty years now–to accomplish that which I would
do for him in less than twenty days!”
Think of it–you who have seen what followed. Was Paris in the
King’s hands in less than seven years? Were the English driven from
France in less than twenty?
She was wounded, too; and had been forcibly carried away from the
field of battle; but it was against her own will. She would have
fought through thick and thin, had the King’s commands not
prevailed; and even then she begged to be left with a band of
soldiers at St. Denis.
“My voices tell me to remain here,” she said; but alas! her voices
were regarded no longer by the King, whose foolish head and
cowardly heart were under other influences than that of the Maid,
to whom he had promised so much such a short while since.
And so his word prevailed, and we were perforce obliged to retreat
from those walls we had so confidently desired to storm. And there
in the church of St. Denis, where she had knelt so many hours in
prayer and supplication, the Maid left her beautiful silver armour,
which had so often flashed its radiant message of triumph to her
soldiers, and with it that broken sword–broken outside the walls
of Paris, and which no skill had sufficed to mend–which had been
taken from St Catherine’s Church in Fierbois.
It was not altogether an unwonted act for knights to deposit their
arms in churches, though the custom is dying away, with so many
other relics of chivalry; but there was something very strange and
solemn in this act of the Maid. It was to us a significant sign of
that which she saw before her. We dared not ask her wherefore she
did it. Something in her sad, gentle face forbade us. But I felt
the tears rising to my eyes as I watched her kneel long in prayer
when the deed was done, and I heard stifled sobs arising from that
end of the building where some women and children knelt. For the
Maid was ever the friend of all such, and never a woman or child
whom she approached, whether she were clad in peasant’s homespun or
in shining coat of mail, but gave her love and trust and friendship
Henceforth the Maid went clothed in a light suit of mail, such as
any youthful knight might wear. She never spoke again of her fair
white armour, or of the sword which had shivered in her hand, none
save herself knew how or when.
Alas! for the days of glory which had gone before! Why did we keep
her with the King’s armies, when the monarch’s ear was engrossed by
adverse counsel, and his heart turned away from her who had been
his Deliverer in the hour of his greatest need?
Methinks she would even now have returned home, but for the
devotion of the soldiers and the persuasions of the Duc d’Alencon,
and of some of the other generals, amongst whom the foremost were
Dunois and La Hire. These chafed equally with the Maid at the
supine attitude of the King; and the Duke, his kinsman, spoke out
boldly and fearlessly, warning him of the peril he was doing to his
kingdom, and the wrong to the Maid who had served him so faithfully
and well, and to whom he had made such fair promises.
But for the present all such entreaties or warnings fell upon deaf
ears. The time for the King’s awakening had not yet come.
Nevertheless, we had our days of glory still, under the banner of
the Maid, when, after many months of idleness, the springtide again
awoke the world, and she sallied forth strong in the assurance of
victory, whilst fortress after fortress fell before her, as in the
days of yore. Oh, how joyous were our hearts! Now did we believe
truly that the tide had turned, and that we were marching on to
But upon the Maid’s face a shadow might often be seen to rest; and
once or twice when I would ask her of it, she replied in a low,
“My year is well-nigh ended. Something looms before me. My voices
have told me to be ready for what is coming. I fear me it will be
my fate to fall into the hands of the foe!”
I would not believe it! Almost I was resolved to plunge mine own
dagger into her heart sooner than she should fall into the hand of
the pitiless English. But woe is me! I was not at her side that
dreadful evening at Compiegne, when this terrible mishap befell. I
had been stricken down in that horrid death trap, when, hemmed in
between the ranks of the Burgundians and English, we found our
retreat into the city cut off.
Was it treachery? Was it incapacity upon the part of the leaders of
the garrison, or what was the reason that no rush from the city
behind took the English in the rear, and effected the rescue of the
I know not–I have never known–all to me is black mystery. I was
one of those to see the peril first, and with Bertrand and Guy de
Laval beside me, to charge furiously upon the advancing foe, crying
aloud to others to close round the Maid and bear her away into
safety, whilst we engaged the enemy and gave them time.
That is all I know. All the rest vanishes in the mists. When these
mists cleared away, Bertrand and I were in the home of Sir Guy,
tended by his mother and grandmother–both of whom had seen and
loved well the wonderful Maid–and she was in a terrible prison,
some said an iron cage, guarded by brutal English soldiers, and
declared a witch or a sorceress, not fit to live, nor to die a
soldier’s death, but only to perish at the stake as an outcast from
God and man.
Months had passed since the battle of Compiegne. Fever had had me
fast in its grip all that while, and the news I heard on recovery
brought it all back again. Bertrand and Guy were in little better
case. We were like pale ghosts of our former selves during those
winter months, when, hemmed in by snow, we could learn so little
news from without, and could only eat out our hearts in rage and
With the spring came the news of the trial at Rouen–the bitter
hatred of Bishop Cauchon–the awful consummation he had vowed to
I know not whether it were folly to hope such a thing, but we three
knights made instantly for the coast and crossed to England, to
seek the ear of the young King there, and plead the cause of the
Maid before him. I need not say how our mission failed. I care not
to recall those sickening days of anxiety and hope deferred, and
utter defeat at the last.
Heartbroken and desperate we returned; and made our way to Rouen.
The whole city was in confusion. Need I say more? That very day,
within an hour, the Maid, the Messenger from God, the Deliverer of
the King, the Saviour of France, was to die by fire, to perish as a
heretic. And the King whom she had saved had not lifted a hand to
save her; the country she had delivered from a crushing disgrace,
stood idly by to watch her perish thus!
Oh, the shame!–the treachery!–the horror! Let me not try to write
of it. The King has striven now to make amends; but I wonder how he
feels sometimes when he sees the May sunshine streaming over the
fair earth–over that realm which he now rules from sea to sea,
when he thinks of the Maid who was led forth in that blaze of glory
to meet her fiery doom.
O God of Heaven look down and judge! How shall I tell of the sight
Suddenly I came upon it–mad with my grief, desperate with horror
and despair. I saw the face of the Maid again! I saw her upraised
eyes, and her hands clasped to her breast, holding thereto a rough
wooden cross, whilst someone from below held high in the air a
crucifix taken from some church and fastened upon a long wand.
The pile on which she stood was so high–so high; they said it was
done in mercy, that the rising clouds of smoke might choke her ere
the flame touched her. She was clad in a long white garment from
head to foot; her hair had grown and fell about and back from her
face in a soft cloud gilded by the sun’s rays. Her face was
rapt–smiling–yes, I will swear it–smiling, as a child smiles up
into the face of its father.
There was an awful hush throughout the wide place. Everything
reeled and swam before me; but I saw that face–that serene and
smiling face, wan and pale, but tranquil and glad and triumphant.
Then came the rush of smoke, and the glare of ruddy fire. A stifled
cry, like one immense groan rose from below–above in the reek and
blaze all was silent. But from out that fire I saw–yes, and
another saw it too (an English soldier, rushing to add a faggot to
the pyre, a token of his hate to the Maid), and it so wrought upon
him that he dropped his burden, fell upon his knees and was like to
die of the fear–I saw a white dove rise from the smoke wreaths of
that ghastly pile, hover a moment, just touched by the glare of the
fire, and then dart heavenwards as upon eagle’s wings.
Yes, I saw it. To the day of my death will I swear it. I saw what
she had seen in vision long ago; and upon my heart there fell a
strange sense of peace and calm. It had not hurt her–it had been
as she once said. Her saints had been with her to the end. She had
triumphed. All was well. Called of her Country, she had answered
nobly to the call. Her Country had awarded her a fiery death; but
in that fiery chariot she had ascended to the Lord, in whom she
trusted, hereafter to receive the crown of glory that fadeth not
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