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Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

A Heroine of France: The Story of Joan of Arc Chapter 14

How the Maid Cleared the King’s Way

We started forth from Selles, where the army which was to do this work had assembled. It was not so great a force as it would have been but for the hesitations of the King, and the delays imposed by his Council. For the men who had marched from Orleans, flushed with victory, eager to rush headlong upon the foe and drive them back to their own shores, had grown weary of the long waiting, and had been infected by the timidity or the treachery of those about the Court. They had melted away by little and little, carrying with them the booty they had found in the English bastilles round Orleans, glad to return to their homes and their families without further fighting, though had the Maid been permitted to place herself at their head at once, as she did desire, they would have followed her to the death.

Still, when all was said and done, it was a gallant troop that responded to her call and mustered at her summons. The magic of her name still thrilled all hearts, and throughout the march of events which followed, it was always the common soldiers who trusted implicitly in the Maid; they left doubts and disputings and unworthy jealousies to the officers and the statesmen.

The Maid went forth with a greater glory and honour than has, methinks, ever been bestowed upon woman before–certainly upon no humbly-born maiden of seventeen years. Some said that she was actually ennobled in her own person by the grant to quarter the lilies of France, and that her brothers ranked now amongst the knights and nobles. Others declared that she had refused all personal honours, and that she still remained a humble peasant, though so high in the favour of the King, and so great a personage in the realm.

As for me, I cared nothing for all this. To me she was always the Angelic Maid, heaven sent, miraculous, apart from the earth, though living amongst us and leading us on to victory.

To the army she was–and that was enough. She was the companion and friend of princes, nobles, and knights; but she was never as others were. An atmosphere of sanctity seemed ever to encompass her. All who approached her did her unconscious homage. None could be with her long without being conscious that she was visited by sounds unheard by them, that her eyes saw sights to which theirs were closed. We were to have added witness to this in the days which followed.

So here we were gathered at Selles upon that bright June morning, just one month after the relief of Orleans. The King had presented to the Maid a great black charger; a mighty creature of immense strength and spirit, but with something of a wicked look in his rolling eyes which made me anxious as he was led forward. The Maid in her white armour–its rent deftly mended, its silver brilliance fully restored–with her velvet white-plumed cap upon her head and a little axe in her hand, stood waiting to mount. But perhaps it was the gleaming whiteness of this slender figure that startled the horse, or else the cries and shouts of the populace at sight of the Maid excited him to the verge of terror; for he reared and plunged so madly as his rider approached that it was with difficulty he was held by two stalwart troopers, and we all begged of the Maid not to trust herself upon his back.

She looked at us with a smile, and made a little courteous gesture with her hand; then turning to the attendants she said:

“Lead him yonder to the cross at the entrance to the church; I will mount him there.”

Snorting and struggling, casting foam flakes from his lips, and fighting every inch of the way, the great charger was led whither the Maid had said. But once arrived at the foot of the cross, he suddenly became perfectly quiet. He stood like a statue whilst the Maid approached, caressed him gently with the hand from which she had drawn her mailed gauntlet, and, after speaking kindly words to him, vaulted lightly on his back.

From that moment her conquest of the fierce creature was complete. He carried her throughout that wonderful week with a gentleness and docility, and an untiring strength which was beautiful to see. The brute creation owned her sway as well as did men of understanding, who could watch and weigh her acts and deeds.

So, amid the plaudits of the people, the fanfare of trumpets, the rolling of drums, the rhythmical tread of thousands of mailed feet, we rode forth from Selles, led by the Maid, beside whom rode the King’s cousin, the Duc d’Alencon, now resolved to join us, despite his former hesitancy and the fears of his wife. He had marched with us to Orleans, but had then turned back, perhaps with the not unnatural fear of again falling into the hands of the English. This had happened to him at Agincourt, and only lately had he been released.

Perhaps his fears were pardonable, and those of his wife more so. She had sought earnestly to hold him hack from this new campaign; and, when she could not prevail with him, she had addressed herself to the Maid with tears in her eyes, telling her how long had been his captivity in England, and with how great a sum he had been ransomed. Why must he adventure himself again into danger?

The Maid had listened to all with gentle sympathy. Though so fearless herself she was never harsh to those who feared, and the appeal of the Duchesse touched her.

“Fear nothing, Madame,” she answered, “I will bring him back to you safe and sound. Only pray for him always–pray for us day and night. I will make his safety my special care. He shall return to you unharmed; but I pray you hinder him not from serving his country in this great hour of need.”

So the Maid prevailed, and the Duc was entrusted with the command of the army, second only to the Maid herself, who was distinctly placed at the head of all–whose word was to be supreme; whilst the King’s fiat went forth that no Council should be held without her, and that she was to be obeyed as the head in all things!

And men like Dunois, La Hire, and the Chevalier Gaucourt heard this without a murmur! Think of it!–a campaign conducted by a girl of seventeen, who, until a few weeks before, had never seen a shot fired in her life! Ah; but all men remembered Orleans, and were not surprised at the King’s decree.

As we marched along in close array, we gathered many recruits by the way, notwithstanding that we were in the territory which had submitted to the English rule. Knights and gentlemen flocked forth from many a chateau to join themselves to the army of the miraculous Maid, whilst humble peasants, fired by patriotism and zeal, came nightly into our camp seeking to be enrolled amid those who followed and fought beneath her banner.

And so for three days we marched, our ranks swelling, our hearts full of zeal and confidence, till news was brought us that the Duke of Suffolk, one of the bravest and most chivalrous of English knights and soldiers, had thrown himself and his followers into Jargeau, and was hastily fortifying it for a siege.

This news reached us at Orleans itself, whither we had returned in the course of our march, to be received with wild acclamations by the people there. So loving were the citizens, that they were loth indeed to see the Maid set forth upon any mission which threatened danger to herself or her army; and their protestations and arguments so wrought upon many of the generals and officers, that they united to beg her to remain inactive awhile, and send to the King for fresh reinforcements before attempting any such arduous task.

The Maid listened with her grave eyes wide in amazement.

“You say this to me–here in Orleans! You who have seen what my Lord accomplished for us before! Shame upon you for your lack of faith–for your unworthy thoughts. We march for Jargeau at dawn tomorrow!”

Never before had we heard the Maid speak with quite such severity of tone and word. Her glorious eyes flashed with a strange lambent light. She looked every inch the ruler of men. All heads were bent before her. None dared speak a word to hinder her in her purpose.

The morrow saw us before Jargeau. Its walls were strong, it was well supplied with those great guns that belched forth fire and smoke, and scattered huge stone balls against any attacking force. But we had brought guns with us–great pieces of ordnance, to set against the city walls, and the Maid ordered these to be brought and placed in certain positions, never asking counsel, always acting on her own initiative, without hesitation and without haste, calm and serene; with that deep, farseeing gaze of hers turned from her own position to the city and back again, as though she saw in some miraculous vision what must be the end of all this toil.

“Mort de Dieu!” cried La Hire, forgetting in his wonder the loyally kept promise to swear only by his baton, “but the Maid has nothing to learn in the art of gunnery! Where hath she learnt such skill, such wisdom! We never had guns to place at Orleans! Where has the child seen warfare, that she places her artillery with the skill of a tried general of forces!”

Ah!–where had the Maid learned her skill in any kind of warfare? Had we not been asking this from the first? This was but another development of the same miracle. For my part I had ceased now to wonder at anything which she said or did.

At daybreak on the morrow the roar of battle began. The air was shaken by the crash and thunder of the guns from both sides. But it was plain to all eyes how that the cunning disposition of our pieces, set just where they could deal most effectively with a weak point in the fortifications, or a gateway less capable than others of defence, were doing far more hurt to the enemy than their fire did to us. For the most part their balls passed harmlessly over our heads, and the clouds of arrows were for us the greater danger, though our armour protected us from over-much damage.

But it was before Jargeau that the incident happened, which so many writers have told of the Maid and the Duc d’Alencon; how that she did suddenly call to him, nay more, drew him with her own hand out of the place where he had stood for some time near to her, saying in a voice of warning, “Have a care, my lord, there is death at hand!”

Another young knight boldly stepped into that very position from which she had snatched Alencon, and an instant afterwards his head was struck off by a cannon ball. The Maid saw and covered her eyes for a moment with her mailed hand.

“Lord have mercy on that brave soul!” she whispered, “but why did he not heed the warning?”

Well, the fighting round Jargeau was fierce and long; but the Maid with her standard held stubbornly to the place beside the wall which she had taken up, and at sight of her, and at the sound of her clear, silvery voice, encouraging and commanding, the men came ever on and on, regardless of peril, till the scaling ladders were set, and through the breaches torn in the walls by the guns, our soldiers swarmed over into the town, shouting with the shout of those with whom is the victory.

Again the Maid triumphed. Again the hearts of the English melted within them at the sight of the White Witch, as they would tauntingly call her, even whilst they cowered and fled before her. The French were swarming into the city; the great gates were flung open with acclamations of triumph; and the Maid marched in to take possession, her white banner floating proudly before her, her eyes alight, her cheeks flushed.

One of the young gentlemen not long since added to her household, Guillame Regnault by name, from Auvergne, a very knightly youth, a favourite with us all, came striding up to the Maid, and saluting with deep reverence, begged speech with her. She was never too much occupied to receive those who came to her, and instantly he had her ear.

“My General,” he said, “the Duke of Suffolk is close at hand. We pressed him hard, and it seemed as though he would die sword in hand, ere he would yield. But I did beg of him in his own tongues with which I am acquainted, not to throw away his noble life; whereupon he did look hard at me, pausing the while in thrust and parry, as all others did pause, for us to parley; and he said that he would give up his sword to THE MAID OF ORLEANS, and to none other. Wherefore I did tell him that I would run and fetch her to receive his submission, or take him to her myself. But then his mind did change, and he said to me, ’Are you noble?’ So I told him that my family was noble, but that I had not yet won my knighthood’s spurs. Then forthwith did he uplift his sword, and I read his meaning in his eyes. I bent my knee, and there and then he dubbed me knight, and afterwards would have tendered me his sword, but I said, ’Not so, gentle Duke, but I hear by the sound of the silver trumpet that the Maid, our General, is close at hand. Suffer me to tell her of what has passed, and I trow that she will herself receive your sword at her hands.’”

“You did well, Sir Guillame,” spoke the Maid, using the new title for the first time, whereat the youth’s face kindled and glowed with pleasure. “Bring the Duke at once to me here. I will receive his surrender in person.”

Truly it was a pretty sight to watch–the dignified approach of the stalwart soldier; tall, upright, a knightly figure in battered coat of mail; bleeding from several wounds, but undaunted and undauntable; and the slim, youthful white figure, with uncovered head, and a face regal in its dignity; and yet so full of sweet courtesy and honourable admiration for a beaten, yet noble foe. He gazed upon her with a great wonder in his eyes, and then, dropping upon one knee, tendered his sword to her, which the Maid took, held in her hands awhile, deep in thought, and then, with one of her wonderfully sweet smiles, held out to him again.

“Gentle Duke,” she said, “it hath been told me that you are known in France as the English Roland; and if so, I would be loth to deprive so noble a foe of his knightly weapon. Keep it, then, and all I ask of you is that you use it no more against the soldiers of France. And now, if you will let my gentlemen lead you to my tent, your hurts shall be dressed, and you shall receive such tendance as your condition requires.”

But I may not linger over every incident of that march, nor all the achievements of the Maid in the arts both of peace and of war. Towns and castles surrendered at her summons, or flung wide their gates at the news of her approach. Sometimes we fought, but more often the very sound of her name, or the sight of the white figure upon the great black horse was sufficient, and fortress after fortress upon the Loire fell before her, the English garrisons melting away or marching out, unable or unwilling to try conclusions with so notable a warrior, who came, as it were, in the power of the King of Heaven.

And not only did she achieve triumphs in war’s domains; she was equally victorious as a promoter of peace. For when the news was brought to us that the Comte de Richemont, Constable of France, but hitherto inimical to the King, desired to join us with a body of men, the Duc d’Alencon would have sent him away with insult and refused his proffer of help; but the Maid, with her gentle authority and reasonable counsel, brought him to a different frame of mind, and the Constable was received with a fair show of graciousness. And although in the days which immediately followed his aid was not of great importance (for when France had the Maid to fight for her she wanted none beside), yet in the time to come, when she was no longer there to battle for the salvation of her country, De Richemont’s loyal service to the King was of inestimable value, and had it not been for the Maid at this juncture, he might have been lost for ever to the French cause.

Her generosity shone out the more in that De Richemont was no friend to her; indeed, he had regarded her as little better than a witch before he came under the magic of her personality. His greeting to her was rough and blunt.

“Maiden,” he said, “they tell me that you are against me, and that you are a witch. I know not whether you are from God or not. If you are from Him, I do not fear you. If you are from the devil, I fear you still less.”

She looked him full in the face, gravely at first, but with a smile kindling deep down in her eyes. Then she held out her hand in token of amity.

“Brave Constable, this is well spoken. You have no cause to fear me. You are not here by my will, it is true; for I have enough men with me to do the will of my Lord; but since you have come for love of the Dauphin, who soon must be crowned King, you are welcome indeed; and I know that you will live to serve him faithfully, though in the present you have foes at Court who turn his heart from you.”

So again she saw what lay beyond our ken, and which the future has brought to light. Alas, that she never saw the day when the King threw off his supine fear and idleness, and played the man in the conquest of his kingdom, and when De Richemont fought like a lion at his side! Yet who dare say that she did not see and did not rejoice even then? If the light came only in gleams and flashes, surely it came to her charged with an infinite joy!

And now I must tell of the last exploit of this wonderful eight days’ triumphal march through a hostile country–that battle of Patay, where, for the first time, the Maid met the foe in the open, and directed operations not against stone walls, as in every case before, but against an army drawn up in a plain.

There had been marching and counter-marching which only a map could make clear. What matters it the route we pursued, so long only as our progress had been attended by victory, and the fortresses cleared of foes, so that the journey of the King could now be taken in safety? Yet there was one more peril to face; for the army so long expected, under Sir John Fastolffe, was now heard of somewhere close at hand. He had joined himself to Talbot, so it was rumoured, and now a great host was somewhere in our neighbourhood, ready to fall upon us if they could find us, and cut us to pieces, as they had done so often before–witness the fields of Crecy, Poictiers, and Agincourt!

For the first time there was uneasiness and fear in the ranks of the soldiers. They had infinite confidence in the Maid as a leader against stone walls, for had they not seen her take tower after tower, city after city? But she had never led them in the open field; and how could they expect to meet and triumph over the English, who had always vanquished them heretofore?

We knew not where the foe lay; all we knew was that it was somewhere close at hand; and so strong grew the fear in the hearts of Alencon and many others, that they begged the Maid to fall back upon the camp at Beaugency, and to wait there for further reinforcements. But she shook her head with decision.

“Let us find them first, and then ride boldly at them. Be not afraid; they will not stand. My Lord will give us the victory!”

And how did we come upon them at last? Verily, by a mere accident. We were marching in good order towards the great plain of Beauce, which at this time of the year was so thickly overgrown with vineyards and cornfields that we saw nothing of any lurking foe; and I trow that we were not seen of them, although a great host was lying at ease in the noontide heat, watching for our coming, I doubt not; but not yet drawn up in battle array.

A stag, frightened by our approach, broke from the thicket, and went thundering across the plain. All at once a shower of arrows let loose from English bows followed the creature’s flight, together with eager shouts and laughter, betraying the presence of the unsuspecting foe.

With a lightning swiftness the Maid grasped the whole situation. Here was an army, waiting to fight, it is true, but for the moment off its guard. Here were we, in order of march. One word from her, and our whole force would charge straight upon the foe!

And was that word lacking? Was there an instant’s hesitation? Need such a question be asked of the Maid? Clear and sweet rose her wonderful voice, thrilling through the hot summer air.

“Forward, my children, forward, and fear not. Fly boldly upon them, and the day shall be yours!”

She charged, herself, at the head of one column; but La Hire, in the vanguard, was before her. With shouts of triumph and joy the old veteran and his followers thundered into the very midst of the startled English, and we followed in their wake.

The Duc d’Alencon rode beside the Maid. His face was pale with excitement–perhaps with a touch of fear. He remembered the fight at Agincourt, and the wound received there, the captivity and weary waiting for release.

“How will it end, my General, how will it end?” he said, and I heard his words and her reply, for I was riding close behind.

“Have you good spurs, M. de Duc?” she asked, with one flashing smile showing the gleam of white teeth.

“Ah Ciel!” he cried in dismay; “then shall we fly before them?”

“Not so,” she answered; “but they will fly so fast before us that we shall need good spurs to keep up with them!”

And so, indeed, it was. Perhaps it was the sight of the elan of the French troops, perhaps the fear of the White Witch, perhaps because taken at unawares and in confusion, but the English for once made no stand. Fastolffe and his men, on the outer skirts of the force, rode off at once in some order, heading straight for Paris, but the braver and less prudent Talbot sought, again and again, to rally his men, and bring them to face the foe.

But it was useless. The rout was utter and complete. They could not stand before the Maid; and when Talbot himself had fallen a prisoner into our hands, the army melted away and ran for its life, so that this engagement is called the “Chasse de Patay” to this day.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 15

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