Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Jeanne d'Arc: Her Life and Death Chapter 2

DOMREMY AND VAUCOULEURS.
1424-1429.

In the year 1424, the year in which, after the battle of Agincourt, France was delivered over to Henry V., an extraordinary event occurred in the life of this little French peasant. We have not the same horror of that treaty, naturally, as have the French. Henry V. is a favourite of our history, probably not so much for his own merit as because of that master-magician, Shakespeare, who of his supreme good pleasure, in the exercise of that voluntary preference, which even God himself seems to show to some men, has made of that monarch one of the best beloved of our hearts. Dear to us as he is, in Eastcheap as at Agincourt, and more in the former than the latter, even our sense of the disgraceful character of that bargain, le traité infâme of Troyes, by which Queen Isabeau betrayed her son, and gave her daughter and her country to the invader, is softened a little by our high estimation of the hero. But this is simple national prejudice; regarded from the French side, or even by the impartial judgment of general humanity, it was an infamous treaty, and one which might well make the blood boil in French veins.

We look at it at present, however, through the atmosphere of the nineteenth century, when France is all French, and when the royal house of England has no longer any French connection. If George III., much more George II., on the basis of his kingdom of Hanover, had attempted to make himself master of a large portion of Germany, the situation would have been more like that of Henry V. in France than anything we can think of now. It is true the kings of England were no longer dukes of Normandy–but they had been so within the memory of man: and that noble duchy was a hereditary appanage of the family of the Conqueror; while to other portions of France they had the link of temporary possession and inheritance through French wives and mothers; added to which is the fact that Jean sans Peur of Burgundy, thirsting to avenge his father’s blood upon the Dauphin, would have been probably a more dangerous usurper than Henry, and that the actual sovereign, the unfortunate, mad Charles VI., was in no condition to maintain his own rights.

There is little evidence, however, that this treaty, or anything so distinct in detail, had made much impression on the outlying borders of France. What was known there, was only that the English were victorious, that the rightful King of France was still uncrowned and unacknowledged, and that the country was oppressed and humiliated under the foot of the invader. The fact that the new King was not yet the Lord’s anointed, and had never received the seal of God, as it were, to his commission, was a fact which struck the imagination of the village as of much more importance than many greater things–being at once more visible and matter-of-fact, and of more mystical and spiritual efficacy than any other circumstance in the dreadful tale.

Jeanne was in the garden as usual, seated, as we should say in Scotland, at “her seam,” not quite thirteen, a child in all the innocence of infancy, yet full of dreams, confused no doubt and vague, with those impulses and wonderings–impatient of trouble, yearning to give help–which tremble on the chaos of a young soul like the first lightening of dawn upon the earth. It was summer, and afternoon, the time of dreams. It would be easy in the employment of legitimate fancy to heighten the picturesqueness of that quiet scene–the little girl with her favourite bells, the birds picking up the crumbs of brown bread at her feet. She was thinking of nothing, most likely, in a vague suspense of musing, the wonder of youth, the awakening of thought, as yet come to little definite in her child’s heart–looking up from her work to note some passing change of the sky, a something in the air which was new to her. All at once between her and the church there shone a light on the right hand, unlike anything she had ever seen before; and out of it came a voice equally unknown and wonderful. What did the voice say? Only the simplest words, words fit for a child, no maxim or mandate above her faculties–”Jeanne, sois bonne et sage enfant; va souvent à l’église.” Jeanne, be good! What more could an archangel, what less could the peasant mother within doors, say? The little girl was frightened, but soon composed herself. The voice could be nothing but sacred and blessed which spoke thus. It would not appear that she mentioned it to anyone. It is such a secret as a child, in that wavering between the real and unreal, the world not realised of childhood, would keep, in mingled shyness and awe, uncertain, rapt in the atmosphere of vision, within her own heart.

It is curious how often this wonderful scene has been repeated in France, never connected with so high a mission, but yet embracing the same circumstances, the same situation, the same semi-angelic nature of the woman-child. The little Bernadette of Lourdes is almost of our own day; she, too is one who puts the scorner to silence. What her visions and her voices were, who can say? The last historian of them is not a man credulous of good or moved towards the ideal; yet he is silent, except in a wondering impression of the sacred and the true, before the little Bearnaise in her sabots; and, notwithstanding the many sordid results that have followed and all that sad machinery of expected miracle through which even, repulsive as it must always be, a something breaks forth from time to time which no man can define and account for except in ways more incredible than miracle–so is the rest of the world. Why has this logical, sceptical, doubting country, so able to quench with an epigram, or blow away with a breath of ridicule the finest vision–become the special sphere and birthplace of these spotless infant-saints? This is one of the wonders which nobody attempts to account for. Yet Bernadette is as Jeanne, though there are more than four hundred years between.

After what intervals the vision returned we are not told, nor in what circumstances. It seems to have come chiefly out-of-doors, in the silence and freedom of the fields or garden. Presently the heavenly radiance shaped itself into some semblance of forms and figures, one of which, clearer than the others, was like a man, but with wings and a crown on his head and the air “d’un vrai prud’ homme“; a noble apparition before whom at first the little maid trembled, but whose majestic, honest regard soon gave her confidence. He bade her once more to be good, and that God would help her; then he told her the sad story of her own suffering country, la pitié qui estoit au royaume de France. Was it the pity of heaven that the archangel reported to the little trembling girl, or only that which woke with the word in her own childish soul? He has chosen the small things of this world to confound the great. Jeanne’s young heart was full of pity already, and of yearning over the helpless mother-country which had no champion to stand for her. “She had great doubts at first whether it was St. Michael, but afterwards when he had instructed her and shown her many things, she believed firmly that it was he.”

It was this warrior-angel who opened the matter to her, and disclosed her mission. “Jeanne,” he said, “you must go to the help of the King of France; and it is you who shall give him back his kingdom.” Like a still greater Maid, trembling, casting in her mind what this might mean, she replied, confused, as if that simple detail were all: “Messire, I am only a poor girl; I cannot ride or lead armed men.” The vision took no notice of this plea. He became minute in his directions, indicating exactly what she was to do. “Go to Messire de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs, and he will take you to the King. St. Catherine and St. Margaret will come and help you.” Jeanne was overwhelmed by this exactness, by the sensation of receiving direct orders. She cried, weeping and helpless, terrified to the bottom of her soul–What was she that she should do this? a little girl, able to guide nothing but her needle or her distaff, to lend her simple aid in nursing a sick child. But behind all her fright and hesitation, her heart was filled with the emotion thus suggested to her–the immeasurable pitié que estoit au royaume de France. Her heart became heavy with this burden. By degrees it came about that she could think of nothing else; and her little life was confused by expectations and recollections of the celestial visitant, who might arrive upon her at any moment, in the midst perhaps of some innocent play, or when she sat sewing in the garden before her father’s humble door.

After a while the vrai prud’ homme came seldom; other figures more like herself, soft forms of women, white and shining, with golden circlets and ornaments, appeared to her in the great halo of the light; they bowed their heads, naming themselves, as to a sister spirit, Catherine, and the other Margaret. Their voices were sweet and soft with a sound that made you weep. They were both martyrs, encouraging and strengthening the little martyr that was to be. “A lady is there in the heavens who loves thee”: Virgil could not say more to rouse the flagging strength of Dante. When these gentle figures disappeared, the little maid wept in an anguish of tenderness, longing if only they would take her with them. It is curious that though she describes in this vague rapture the appearance of her visitors, it is always as “mes voix” that she names them–the sight must always have been more imperfect than the message. Their outlines and their lovely faces might shine uncertain in the excess of light; but the words were always plain. The pity for France that was in their hearts spread itself into the silent rural atmosphere, touching every sensitive chord in the nature of little Jeanne. It was as if her mother lay dying there before her eyes.

Curious to think how little anyone could have suspected such meetings as these, in the cottage hard by, where the weary ploughmen from the fields would come clamping in for their meal, and Dame Isabeau would call to the child, even sharply perhaps now and then, to leave that all-absorbing needlework and come in and help, as Martha called Mary fourteen hundred years before; and where the priest, mumbling his mass of a cold morning in the little church, would smile indulgent on the faithful little worshipper when it was done, sure of seeing Jeanne there whoever might be absent. She was a shy girl, blushing and drooping her head when a stranger spoke to her, red and shame-faced when they laughed at her in the village as a dévote before her time; but with nothing else to blush about in all her simple record.

Neither to her parents, nor to the curé when she made her confession, does she seem to have communicated these strange experiences, though they had lasted for some time before she felt impelled to act upon them, and could keep silence no longer. She was but thirteen when the revelations began and she was seventeen when at last she set forth to fulfil her mission. She had no guidance from her voices, she herself says, as to whether she should tell or not tell what had been communicated to her; and no doubt was kept back by her shyness, and by the dreamy confusion of childhood between the real and unreal. One would have thought that a life in which these visions were of constant recurrence would have been rapt altogether out of wholesome use and wont, and all practical service. But this does not seem for a moment to have been the case. Jeanne was no hysterical girl, living with her head in a mist, abstracted from the world. She had all the enthusiasms even of youthful friendship, other girls surrounding her with the intimacy of the village, paying her visits, staying all night, sharing her room and her bed. She was ready to be sent for by any poor woman that needed help or nursing, she was always industrious at her needle; one would love to know if perhaps in the Trésor at Rheims there was some stole or maniple with flowers on it, wrought by her hands. But the Trésor at Rheims is nowadays rather vulgar if truth must be told, and the bottles and vases for the consecration of Charles X., that pauvre sire, are more thought of than relics of an earlier age.

At length, however, one does not know how, the secret of her double life came out. No doubt long brooding over these voices, long intercourse with such celestial visitors, and the mission continually pressed upon her–meaningless to the child at first, a thing only to shed terrified tears over and wonder at–ripened her intelligence so that she came at last to perceive that it was practicable, a thing to be done, a charge to be obeyed. She had this before her, as a girl in ordinary circumstances has the new developments of life to think of, and how to be a wife and mother. And the news brought by every passer- by would prove doubly interesting, doubly important to Jeanne, in her daily growing comprehension of what she was called upon to do. As she felt the current more and more catching her feet, sweeping her on, overcoming all resistance in her own mind, she must have been more and more anxious to know what was going on in the distracted world, more and more touched by that great pity which had awakened her soul. And all these reports were of a nature to increase that pity till it became overwhelming. The tales she would hear of the English must have been tales of cruelty and horror; not so many years ago what tales did not we hear of German ferocity in the French villages, perhaps not true at all, yet making their impression always; and it was more probable in that age that every such story should be true. Then the compassion which no one can help feeling for a young man deprived of his rights, his inheritance taken from him, his very life in danger, threatened by the stranger and usurper, was deepened in every particular by the fact that it was the King, the very impersonation of France, appointed by God as the head of the country, who was in danger. Everything that Jeanne heard would help to swell the stream.

Thus she must have come step by step–this extraordinary, impossible suggestion once sown in her dreaming soul–to perceive a kind of miraculous reasonableness in it, to see its necessity, and how everything pointed towards such a deliverance. It would have seemed natural to believe that the prophecies of the countryside which promised a virgin from an oak grove, a maiden from Lorraine, to deliver France, might have affected her mind, did we not have it from her own voice that she had never heard that prophecy[1]; but the word of the blessed Michael, so often repeated, was more than an old wife’s tale; and the child’s alarm would seem to have died away as she came to her full growth. And Jeanne was no ethereal spirit lost in visions, but a robust and capable peasant girl, fearing little, and full of sense and determination, as well as of an inspiration so far above the level of the crowd. We hear with wonder afterwards that she had the making of a great general in her untutored female soul,–which is perhaps the most wonderful thing in her career,–and saw with the eye of an experienced and able soldier, as even Dunois did not always see it, the fit order of an attack, the best arrangement of the forces at her command. This I honestly avow is to me the most incredible point in the story. I am not disturbed by the apparition of the saints; there is in them an ineffable appropriateness and fitness against which the imagination, at least, has not a word to say. The wonder is not, to the natural mind, that such interpositions of heaven come, but that they come so seldom. But that Jacques d’Arc’s daughter, the little girl over her sewing, whose only fault was that she went to church too often, should have the genius of a soldier, is too bewildering for words to say. A poet, yes, an inspiring influence leading on to miraculous victory; but a general, skilful with the rude artillery of the time, divining the better way in strategy,–this is a wonder beyond the reach of our faculties; yet according to Alençon, Dunois, and other military authorities, it was true.

We have little means of finding out how it was that Jeanne’s long musings came at last to a point at which they could be hidden no longer, nor what it was which induced her at last to select the confidant she did. No doubt she must have been considering and weighing the matter for a long time before she fixed upon the man who was her relation, yet did not belong to Domremy, and was safer than a townsman for the extraordinary revelations she had to make. One of her neighbours, her gossip, Gerard of Epinal, to whose child she was godmother, had perhaps at one moment seemed to her a likely helper. But he belonged to the opposite party. “If you were not a Burgundian," she said to him once, “there is something I might tell you.” The honest fellow took this to mean that she had some thought of marriage, the most likely and natural supposition. It was at this moment, when her heart was burning with her great secret, the voices urging her on day by day, and her power of self-constraint almost at an end, that Providence sent Durand Laxart, her uncle by marriage, to Domremy on some family visit. She would seem to have taken advantage of the opportunity with eagerness, asking him privately to take her home with him, and to explain to her father and mother that he wanted her to take care of his wife. No doubt the girl, devoured with so many thoughts, would have the air of requiring “a change” as we say, and that the mother would be very ready to accept for her an invitation which might bring back the brightness to her child. Laxart was a peasant like the rest, a prud’ homme well thought of among his people. He lived in Burey le Petit, near to Vaucouleurs, the chief place of the district, and Jeanne already knew that it was to the captain of Vaucouleurs that she was to address herself. Thus she secured her object in the simplest and most natural way.

Yet the reader cannot but hold his breath at the thought of what that amazing revelation must have been to the homely, rustic soul, her companion, communicated as they went along the common road in the common daylight. “She said to the witness that she must go to France to the Dauphin, to make him to be crowned King.” It must have been as if a thunderbolt had fallen at his feet when the girl whom he had known in every development of her little life, thus suddenly disclosed to him her secret purpose and determination. All her simple excellence the good man knew, and that she was no fantastic chatterer, but truly une bonne douce fille, bold in nothing but kindness, with nothing to blush for but the fault of going too often to church. “Did you never hear that France should be made desolate by a woman and restored by a maid?” she said; and this would seem to have been an unanswerable argument. He had, henceforth, nothing to do but to promote her purpose as best he could in every way.

It would not seem at all unlikely to this good man that the Archangel Michael, if Jeanne’s revelation to him went so far, should have named Robert de Baudricourt, the chief of the district, captain of the town and its forces, the principal personage in all the neighbourhood, as the person to whom Jeanne’s purpose was to be revealed, but rather a guarantee of St. Michael himself, familiar with good society; and the Seigneur must have been more or less in good intelligence with his people, not too alarming to be referred to, even on so insignificant a subject as the vagaries of a country girl–though these by this time must have begun to seem something more than vagaries to the half- convinced peasant. And it was no doubt a great relief to his mind thus to put the decision of the question into the hands of a man better informed than himself. Laxart proceeded to Vaucouleurs upon his mission, shyly yet with confidence. He would seem to have had a preliminary interview with Baudricourt before introducing Jeanne. The stammering countryman, the bluff, rustic noble and soldier, cheerfully contemptuous, receiving, with a loud laugh into all the echoes, the extraordinary demand that he should send a little girl from Domremy to the King, to deliver France, come before us like a picture in the countryman’s simple words. Robert de Baudricourt would scarcely hear the story out. “Box her ears,” he said, “and send her home to her mother.” The little fool! What did she know of the English, those brutal, downright fighters, against whom no élan was sufficient, who stood their ground and set up vulgar posts around their lines, instead of trusting to the rush of sudden valour, and the tactics of the tournament! She deliver France! On a much smaller argument and to put down a less ambition, the half serious, half amused adviser has bidden a young fanatic’s ears to be boxed on many an unimportant occasion, and has often been justified in so doing. There would be a half hour of gaiety after poor Laxart, crestfallen, had got his dismissal. The good man must have turned back to Jeanne, where she waited for him in courtyard or antechamber, with a heavy heart. No boxing of ears was possible to him. The mere thought of it was blasphemy. This was on Ascension Day the 13 May, 1428.

Jeanne, however, was not discouraged by M. de Baudricourt’s joke, and her interview with him changed his views completely. She appears indeed from the moment of setting out from her father’s house to have taken a new attitude. These great personages of the country before whom all the peasants trembled, were nothing to this village maid, except, perhaps, instruments in the hand of God to speed her on her way if they could see their privileges–if not, to be swept out of it like straws by the wind. It had no doubt been hard for her to leave her father’s house; but after that disruption what did anything matter? And she had gone through five years of gradual training of which no one knew. The tears and terror, the plea, “I am a poor girl; I cannot even ride,” of her first childlike alarm had given place to a profound acquaintance with the voices and their meaning. They were now her familiar friends guiding her at every step; and what was the commonplace burly Seigneur, with his roar of laughter, to Jeanne? She went to her audience with none of the alarm of the peasant. A certain young man of Baudricourt’s suite, Bertrand de Poulengy, another young D’Artagnan seeking his fortune, was present in the hall and witnessed the scene. The joke would seem to have been exhausted by the time Jeanne appeared, or her perfect gravity and simplicity, and beautiful manners–so unlike her rustic dress and village coif–imposed upon the Seigneur and his little court. This is how the story is told, twenty- five years after, by the witness, then an elderly knight, recalling the story of his youth.

“She said that she came to Robert on the part of her Lord, that he should send to the Dauphin, and tell him to hold out, and have no fear, for the Lord would send him succour before the middle of Lent. She also said that France did not belong to the Dauphin but to her Lord; but her Lord willed that the Dauphin should be its King, and hold it in command, and that in spite of his enemies she herself would conduct him to be consecrated. Robert then asked her who was this Lord? She answered, ’The King of Heaven.’ This being done [the witness adds] she returned to her father’s house with her uncle, Durand Laxart of Burey le Petit.”

This brief and sudden preface to her career passed over and had no immediate effect; indeed but for Bertrand we should have been unable to separate it from the confused narrative to which all these witnesses brought what recollection they had, often without sequence or order, Durand himself taking no notice of any interval between this first visit to Vaucouleurs and the final one.[2] The episode of Ascension Day appears like the formal sommation of French law, made as a matter of form before the appellant takes action on his own responsibility; but Baudricourt had probably more to do with it than appears to be at all certain from the after evidence. One of the persons present, at all events, young Poulengy above mentioned, bore it in mind and pondered it in his heart.

Meantime, Jeanne returned home–the strangest home-going,–for by this time her mission and her aspirations could no longer be hid, and rumour must have carried the news almost as quickly as any modern telegraph, to startle all the echoes of the village, heretofore unaware of any difference between Jeanne and her companions save the greater goodness to which everybody bears testimony. No doubt, it must have reached Jacques d’Arc’s cottage even before she came back with the kind Durand, a changed creature, already the consecrated Maid of France, La Pucelle, apart from all others. The French peasant is a hard man, more fierce in his terror of the unconventional, of having his domestic affairs exposed to the public eye, or his family disgraced by an exhibition of anything unusual either in act or feeling, than almost any other class of beings. And it is evident that he took his daughter’s intention according to the coarsest interpretation, as a wild desire for adventure and intention of joining herself to the roving troopers, the soldiers always hated and dreaded in rural life. He suddenly appears in the narrative in a fever of apprehension, with no imaginative alarm or anxiety about his girl, but the fiercest suspicion of her, and dread of disgrace to ensue. We do not know what passed when she returned, further than that her father had a dream, no doubt after the first astounding explanation of the purpose that had so long been ripening in her mind. He dreamed that he saw her surrounded by armed men, in the midst of the troopers, the most evident and natural interpretation of her purpose, for who could divine that she meant to be their leader and general, on a level not with the common men-at-arms, but of princes and nobles? In the morning he told his dream to his wife and also to his sons. “If I could think that the thing would happen that I dreamed, I would wish that she should be drowned; and if you would not do it, I should do it with my own hands.” The reader remembers with a shudder the Meuse flowing at the foot of the garden, while the fierce peasant, mad with fear lest shame should be coming to his family, clenched his strong fist and made this outcry of dismay.

No doubt his wife smoothed the matter over as well as she could, and, whatever alarms were in her own mind, hastily thought of a feminine expedient to mend matters, and persuaded the angry father that to substitute other dreams for these would be an easier way. Isabeau most probably knew the village lad who would fain have had her child, so good a housewife, so industrious a workwoman, and always so friendly and so helpful, for his wife. At all events there was such a one, too willing to exert himself, not discouraged by any refusal, who could be egged up to the very strong point of appearing before the bishop at Toul and swearing that Jeanne had been promised to him from her childhood. So timid a girl, they all thought, so devout a Catholic, would simply obey the bishop’s decision and would not be bold enough even to remonstrate, though it is curious that with the spectacle of her grave determination before them, and sorrowful sense of that necessity of her mission which had steeled her to dispense with their consent, they should have expected such an expedient to arrest her steps. The affair, we must suppose, had gone through all the more usual stages of entreaty on the lover’s part, and persuasion on that of the parents, before such an attempt was finally made. But the shy Jeanne had by this time attained that courage of desperation which is not inconsistent with the most gentle nature; and without saying anything to anyone, she too went to Toul, appeared before the bishop, and easily freed herself from the pretended engagement, though whether with any reference to her very different destination we are not told.[3]

These proceedings, however, and the father’s dreams and the remonstrances of the mother, must have made troubled days in the cottage, and scenes of wrath and contradiction, hard to bear. The winter passed distracted by these contentions, and it is difficult to imagine how Jeanne could have borne this had it not been that the period of her outset had already been indicated, and that it was only in the middle of Lent that her succour was to reach the King. The village, no doubt, was almost as much distracted as her father’s house to hear of these strange discussions and of the incredible purpose of the bonne douce fille, whose qualities everybody knew and about whom there was nothing eccentric, nothing unnatural, but only simple goodness, to distinguish her above her neighbours. In the meantime her voices called her continually to her work. They set her free from the ordinary yoke of obedience, always so strong in the mind of a French girl. The dreadful step of abandoning her home, not to be thought of under any other circumstances, was more and more urgently pressed upon her. Could it indeed be saints and angels who ordained a step which was outside of all the habits and first duties of nature? But we have no reason to believe that this nineteenth-century doubt of her visitors, and of whether their mandates were right, entered into the mind of a girl who was of her own period and not of ours. She went on steadfastly, certain of her mission now, and inaccessible either to remonstrance or appeal.

It was towards the beginning of Lent, as Poulengy tells us, that the decision was made, and she left home finally, to go “to France” as is always said. But it seems to have been in January that she set out once more for Vaucouleurs, accompanied by her uncle, who took her to the house of some humble folk they knew, a carter and his wife, where they lodged. Jeanne wore her peasant dress of heavy red homespun, her rude heavy shoes, her village coif. She never made any pretence of ladyhood or superiority to her class, but was always equal to the finest society in which she found herself, by dint of that simple good faith, sense, and seriousness, without excitement or exaggeration, and radiant purity and straightforwardness which were apparent to all seeing eyes. By this time all the little world about knew something of her purpose and followed her every step with wonder and quickly rising curiosity: and no doubt the whole town was astir, women gazing at their doors, all on her side from the first moment, the men half interested, half insolent, as she went once more to the chateau to make her personal appeal. Simple as she was, the bonne douce fille was not intimidated by the guard at the gates, the lounging soldiers, the no doubt impudent glances flung at her by these rude companions. She was inaccessible to alarms of that kind–which, perhaps, is one of the greatest safeguards against them even in more ordinary cases. We find little record of her second interview with Baudricourt. The Journal du Siège d’Orleans and the Chronique de la Pucelle both mention it as if it had been one of several, which may well have been the case, as she was for three weeks in Vaucouleurs. It is almost impossible to arrange the incidents of this interval between her arrival there and her final departure for Chinon on the 23d February, during which time she made a pilgrimage to a shrine of St. Nicolas and also a visit to the Duke of Lorraine. It is clear, however, that she must have repeated her demand with such stress and urgency that the Captain of Vaucouleurs was a much perplexed man. It was a very natural idea then, and in accordance with every sentiment of the time that he should suspect this wonderful girl, who would not be daunted, of being a witch and capable of bringing an evil fate on all who crossed her. All thought of boxing her ears must ere this have departed from his mind. He hastened to consult the curé, which was the most reasonable thing to do. The curé was as much puzzled as the Captain. The Church, it must be said, if always ready to take advantage afterwards of such revelations, has always been timid, even sceptical about them at first. The wisdom of the rulers, secular and ecclesiastic, suggested only one thing to do, which was to exorcise, and perhaps to overawe and frighten, the young visionary. They paid a joint and solemn visit to the carter’s house, where no doubt their entrance together was spied by many eager eyes; and there the priest solemnly taking out his stole invested himself in his priestly robes and exorcised the evil spirits, bidding them come out of the girl if they were her inspiration. There seems a certain absurdity in this sudden assault upon the evil one, taking him as it were by surprise: but it was not ridiculous to any of the performers, though Jeanne no doubt looked on with serene and smiling eyes. She remarked afterwards to her hostess, that the curé had done wrong, as he had already heard her in confession.

Outside, the populace were in no uncertainty at all as to her mission. A little mob hung about the door to see her come and go, chiefly to church, with her good hostess in attendance, as was right and seemly, and a crowd streaming after them who perhaps of their own accord might have neglected mass, but who would not, if they could help it, lose a look at the new wonder. One day a young gentleman of the neighbourhood was passing by, and amused by the commotion, came through the crowd to have a word with the peasant lass. “What are you doing here, ma mie?” the young man said. “Is the King to be driven out of the kingdom, and are we all to be made English?” There is a tone of banter in the speech, but he had already heard of the Maid from his friend, Bertrand, and had been affected by the other’s enthusiasm. “Robert de Baudricourt will have none of me or my words,” she replied, “nevertheless before Mid-Lent I must be with the King, if I should wear my feet up to my knees; for nobody in the world, be it king, duke, or the King of Scotland’s daughter, can save the kingdom of France except me alone: though I would rather spin beside my poor mother, and this is not my work: but I must go and do it, because my Lord so wills it.” “And who is your Seigneur?” he asked. “God,” said the girl. The young man was moved, he too, by that wind which bloweth where it listeth. He stretched out his hands through the gaping crowd and took hers, holding them between his own, to give her his pledge: and so swore by his faith, her hands in his hands, that he himself would conduct her to the King. “When will you go?” he said. “Rather to-day than to-morrow,” answered the messenger of God.

This was the second convert of La Pucelle. The peasant bonhomme first, the noble gentleman after him; not to say all the women wherever she went, the gazing, weeping, admiring crowd which now followed her steps, and watched every opening of the door which concealed her from their eyes. The young gentleman was Jean de Novelonpont, “surnamed Jean de Metz”: and so moved was he by the fervour of the girl, and by her strong sense of the necessity of immediate operations, that he proceeded at once to make preparations for the journey. They would seem to have discussed the dress she ought to wear, and Jeanne decided for many obvious reasons to adopt the costume of a man–or rather boy. She must, one would imagine have been tall, for no remark is ever made on this subject, as if her dress had dwarfed her, which is generally the case when a woman assumes the habit of a man: and probably with her peasant birth and training, she was, though slim, strongly made and well knit, besides being at the age when the difference between boy and girl is sometimes but little noticeable.

In the meantime Baudricourt had not been idle. He must have been moved by the sight of Jeanne, at least to perceive a certain gravity in the business for which he was not prepared; and her composure under the curé’s exorcism would naturally deepen the effect which her own manners and aspect had upon all who were free of prejudice. Another singular event, too, added weight to her character and demand. One day after her return from Lorraine, February 12th, 1429, she intimated to all her surroundings and specially to Baudricourt, that the King had suffered a defeat near Orleans, which made it still more necessary that she should be at once conducted to him. It was found when there was time for the news to come, that this defeat, the Battle of the Herrings, so-called, had happened as she said, at the exact time; and such a strange fact added much to the growing enthusiasm and excitement. Baudricourt is said by Michelet to have sent off a secret express to the Court to ask what he should do; but of this there seems to be no direct evidence, though likelihood enough. The Court at Chinon contained a strong feminine element, behind the scenes. And it might be found that there were uses for the enthusiast, even if she did not turn out to be inspired. No doubt there were many comings and goings at this period which can only be traced confusedly through the depositions of Jeanne’s companions twenty-five years after. She had at least two interviews with Baudricourt before the exorcism of the curé and his consequent change of procedure towards her. Then, escorted by her uncle Laxart, and apparently by Jean de Metz, she had made a pilgrimage to a shrine of St. Nicolas, as already mentioned, on which occasion, being near Nancy, she was sent for by the Duke of Lorraine, then lying ill at his castle in that city, who had a fancy to consult the young prophetess, sorceress–who could tell what she was?–on the subject apparently of his illness. He was the son of Queen Yolande of Anjou, who was mother-in-law to Charles VII., and it would no doubt be thought of some importance to secure his good opinion. Jeanne gave the exalted patient no light on the subject of his health, but only the (probably unpleasing) advice to flee from the wrath of God and to be reconciled with his wife, from whom he was separated. He too, however, was moved by the sight of her and her straightforward, undeviating purpose. He gave her four francs, Durand tells us,–not much of a present,–which she gave to her uncle, and which helped to buy her outfit. Probably he made a good report of her to his mother, for shortly after her return to Vaucouleurs (I again follow Michelet who ought to be well informed) a messenger from Chinon arrived to take her to the King.[4] In the councils of that troubled Court, perhaps, the idea of a prodigy and miraculous leader, though she was nothing but a peasant girl, would be not without attraction, a thing to conjure withal, so far as the multitude were concerned.

Anyhow from any point of view, in the hopeless condition of affairs, it was expedient that nothing which gave promise of help, either real or visionary, should lightly be rejected. There was much anxiety no doubt in the careless Court still dancing and singing in the midst of calamity, but the reception of the ambitious peasant would form an exciting incident at least, if nothing more important and notable.

Thus the whole anxious world of France stirred round that youthful figure in the little frontier town, repeating with many an alteration and exaggeration the sayings of Jeanne, and those popular superstitions about the Maid from Lorraine which might be so naturally applied to her. It would seem, indeed, that she had herself attached some importance to this prophecy, for both her uncle Laxart and her hostess at Vaucouleurs report that she asked them if they had heard it: which question “stupefied” the latter, whose mind evidently jumped at once to the conviction that the prophecy was fulfilled. Not in Domremy itself, however, were these things considered with the same awe-stricken and admiring faith. Nothing had softened the mood of Jacques d’Arc. It was a shame to the village prud’ homme to think of his daughter away from all the protection of home, living among men, encountering the young Seigneurs who cared for no maiden’s reputation, hearing the soldiers’ rude talk, exposed to their insults, or worse still to their kindness. Probably even now he thought of her as surrounded by troopers and men-at-arms, instead of the princes and peers with whom henceforth Jeanne’s lot was to be cast; but in the former case there would have perhaps been less to fear than in the latter. Anyhow, Jeanne’s communications with her family were more painful to her than had been the jeers of Baudricourt or the exorcism of the curé. They sent her angry orders to come back, threats of parental curses and abandonment. We may hope that the mother, grieved and helpless, had little to do with this persecution. The woman who had nourished her children upon saintly legend and Scripture story could scarcely have been hard upon the child, of whom she, better than any, knew the perfect purity and steadfast resolution. One of the little household at least, revolted by the stern father’s fury, perhaps secretly encouraged by the mother, broke away and joined his sister at a later period. But we hear, during her lifetime, little or nothing of Pierre.

Much time, however, was passed in these preliminaries. The final start was not made till the 23d February, 1429, when the permission is supposed to have come by the hands of Colet de Vienne, the King’s messenger, who attended by a single archer, was to be her escort. It is possible that he had no mission to this effect, but he certainly did escort her to Chinon. The whole town gathered before the house of Baudricourt to see her depart. Baudricourt, however, does not seem to have provided any guard for her. Jean de Metz, who had so chivalrously pledged himself to her service, with his friend De Poulengy, equally ready for adventure, each with his servant, formed her sole protectors.[5] Jean de Metz had already sent her the clothes of one of his retainers, with the light breastplate and partial armour that suited it; and the townspeople had subscribed to buy her a further outfit, and a horse which seems to have cost sixteen francs–not so small a sum in those days as now. Laxart declares himself to have been responsible for this outlay, though the money was afterwards paid by Baudricourt, who gave Jeanne a sword, which some of her historians consider a very poor gift: none, however, of her equipments would seem to have been costly. The little party set out thus, with a sanction of authority, from the Captain’s gate, the two gentlemen and the King’s messenger at the head of the party with their attendants, and the Maid in the midst. “Go: and let what will happen,” was the parting salutation of Baudricourt. The gazers outside set up a cry when the decisive moment came, and someone, struck with the feeble force which was all the safeguard she had for her long journey through an agitated country–perhaps a woman in the sudden passion of misgiving which often follows enthusiasm,–called out to Jeanne with an astonished outcry to ask how she could dare to go by such a dangerous road. “It was for that I was born,” answered the fearless Maid. The last thing she had done had been to write a letter to her parents, asking their pardon if she obeyed a higher command than theirs, and bidding them farewell.

The French historians, with that amazement which they always show when they find a man behaving like a gentleman towards a woman confided to his honour, all pause with deep-drawn breath to note that the awe of Jeanne’s absolute purity preserved her from any unseemly overture, or even evil thought, on the part of her companions. We need not take up even the shadow of so grave a censure upon Frenchmen in general, although in the far distance of the fifteenth century. The two young men, thus starting upon a dangerous adventure, pledged by their honour to protect and convey her safely to the King’s presence, were noble and generous cavaliers, and we may well believe had no evil thoughts. They were not, however, without an occasional chill of reflection when once they had taken the irrevocable step of setting out upon this wild errand. They travelled by night to escape the danger of meeting bands of Burgundians or English on the way, and sometimes had to ford a river to avoid the town, where they would have found a bridge. Sometimes, too, they had many doubts, Bertrand says, perhaps as to their reception at Chinon, perhaps even whether their mission might not expose them to the ridicule of their kind, if not to unknown dangers of magic and contact with the Evil One, should this wonderful girl turn out no inspired virgin but a pretender or sorceress. Jean de Metz informs us that she bade them not to fear, that she had been sent to do what she was now doing; that her brothers in paradise would tell her how to act, and that for the last four or five years her brothers in paradise and her God had told her that she must go to the war to save the kingdom of France. This phrase must have struck his ear, as he thus repeats it. Her brothers in paradise! She had not apparently talked of them to anyone as yet, but now no one could hinder her more, and she felt herself free to speak. A great calm seems to have been in her soul. She had at last begun her work. How it was all to end for her she neither foresaw nor asked; she knew only what she had to do. When they ventured into a town she insisted on stopping to hear mass, bidding them fear nothing. “God clears the way for me,” she said; “I was born for this,” and so proceeded safe, though threatened with many dangers. There is something that breathes of supreme satisfaction and content in her repetition of those words.

[1] She was, however, acquainted with the simpler byword, that France should be destroyed by a woman and afterwards redeemed by a virgin, which she quoted to several persons on her first setting out.

[2] I have to thank Mr. Andrew Lang for making the course of these events quite clear to myself.

[3] Mr. Andrew Lang thinks that this appearance at Toul was made after she had finally left Domremy, and when she was already accompanied by the escort which was to attend her to Chinon.

[4] Mr. Andrew Lang will not hear of this. He thinks the man was a mere King’s messenger with news, probably charged with the melancholy tidings of the loss at Rouvray (Battle of the Herrings): and that the fact he did accompany Jeanne and her little part was entirely accidental.

[5] Her brother Pierre is said by some to have been of the party. La Chronique de la Pucelle says two of her brothers. Mr. Andrew Lang, however, tells us that Pierre did not join his sister’s party till much later–in the beginning of June: and this is the statement of Jean de Metz. But Quicherat is also of opinion that they both fought in the relief of Orleans.

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