Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 9
The Charge is Accepted

I, too, could be content to dwell in peace,
 Resting my head upon the lap of love,
 But that my country calls.

Southey. “Joan of Arc,” Book I.
“Thou art the Maid.”

Over and over the young girl repeated the words in a maze of incredulity and wonder. That she, Jeanne D’Arc, should be chosen for such a divine commission was unbelievable. She was poor, without learning, a peasant girl who had no powerful friends to take her to the Court, and ignorant of all that pertained to war. Her judgment and common sense told her that such a thing could not be. True, the ancient prophecy of Merlin, the Magician, said that a maiden from the Bois Chesnu in the March of Lorraine should save France. True also was the fact that from her infancy she had played in that ancient wood; could even then behold its great extent from her father’s door. Yet, despite these actualities, it could not be that she was the delegated Maid.

So, while the archangel came again and again urging the high mission with insistency the girl protested shrinkingly. Time after time he said:

“Daughter of God, thou shalt lead the Dauphin to Reims, that he may there receive worthily his anointing.”

Again and again Jeanne replied with tears:

“I am but a poor girl, Messire. I am too young to leave my father and my mother. I can not ride a horse, or couch a lance. How then could I lead men-at-arms?”

“Thou shalt be instructed in all that thou hast to do,” she was told.

As time passed, unconsciously Jeanne became filled with two great principles which grew with her growth until they were interwoven with every fibre of her being: the love of God, and the desire to do some great thing for the benefit of her country. Her heart ached with the longing. So it came about that the burden of France lay heavy upon her. She could think of nothing but its distress. She became distrait and troubled.

Gradually, as the Voices of her Heavenly visitants grew stronger and more ardent, the soul of the maiden became holier and more heroic. She was led to see how the miraculous suggestion was feasible; how everything pointed to just such a deliverance for France. Her country needed her. From under the heel of the invader where it lay bruised and bleeding it was calling for redemption. And never since the morning stars sang together has there been sweeter song than the call of country. Ever since the Paladins of Charlemagne, as the Chanson de Roland tells, wept in a foreign land at the thought of “sweet France,” Frenchmen had loved their native land and hated the foreigner. What wonder then, that when the divine call came, it was heard and heeded?

She still resisted, but her protests were those of one who is weighing and considering how the task may be accomplished. Months passed. There came a day in May, 1428, when Jeanne’s indecision ended. She was sixteen now, shapely and graceful, and of extraordinary beauty.

It was a Saturday, the Holy Virgin’s day, and the girl set forth on her weekly pilgrimage to the chapel of Bermont, where there was a statue of the Virgin Mother with her divine child in her arms. Jeanne passed through Greux, then climbed the hill at the foot of which the village nestled. The path was overgrown with grass, vines, and fruit-trees, through which she could glimpse the green valley and the blue hills on the east. Deeply embedded in the forest the chapel stood on the brow of the hill, and she found herself the only votary. She was glad of this, for to-day Jeanne wished to be alone. Prostrating herself before the statue, she continued long in prayer; then, comforted and strengthened, she went out of the chapel, and stood on the wooded plateau. To all appearance she was gazing thoughtfully off into the valley; in reality she waited with eager expectancy the coming of her celestial visitants.

Very much like a saint herself Jeanne looked as she stood there with uplifted look. There was in her face a sweetness and serenity and purity that reflected her spiritual nature. Her manner was at once winning, inspiriting and inspired. She did not have long to wait for the appearance of Saint Michael. Long communing with her Saints had robbed her of all fear in their presence, so now when the archangel stood before her Jeanne knelt, and reverently kissed the ground upon which he stood.

“Daughter of God,” he said, “thou must fare forth into France. Thou must go. Thou must.”

For a moment Jeanne could utter no reply. She knew that the command must be obeyed. She had sought the retirement of the forest that she might inform her saints that she accepted the charge, and she most often met them in the silence and quiet of the fields, the forest, or garden. She had sought them to tell them of her decision, but at the thought of leaving her father, her mother, her friends, and the valley she loved so well, her courage faltered. Faintly she made her last protest:

“I am so young,” she said. “So young to leave my father and my mother. I can sew; can use with skill either the needle or the distaff, but I can not lead men-at-arms. Yet if it be so commanded, if God wills it, then I––” Her voice broke, and she bent her head low in submission before him.

At her words the wonderful light burst into marvellous brilliancy. It drenched the kneeling maiden in its dazzling radiance, pervading her being with a soft, warm glow. The faith that power would be given her to accomplish what was required of her was born at this instant; thereafter it never left her. When the archangel spoke, he addressed her as a sister:

“Rise, daughter of God,” he said. “This now is what you must do: Go at once to Messire Robert de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs, and he will take you to the King. Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine will come to aid you.”

And Jeanne D’Arc arose, no longer the timid, shrinking peasant girl, but Jeanne, Maid of France, consecrated heart and soul to her country. The time had come when she must go forth to fulfill her incredible destiny.

Henceforth she knew what great deeds she was to bring to pass. She knew that God had chosen her that through Him she might win back France from the enemy, and set the crown on the head of the Dauphin.

It was late when at length she left the precincts of the chapel, and passed down the hill path, and on to the fields of Domremy. Pierre was at work in one of the upland meadows, and as he wielded the hoe he sang:

“Dread are the omens and fierce the storm,
O’er France the signs and wonders swarm;
From noonday on to the vesper hour,
Night and darkness alone have power;
Nor sun nor moon one ray doth shed,
Who sees it ranks him among the dead.

Behold our bravest lie dead on the fields;
Well may we weep for France the fair,
Of her noble barons despoiled and bare.”

It was the Song of Roland. The song that no French heart can hear unmoved. Jeanne thrilled as she heard it. Did Pierre too feel for their suffering country? Swiftly she went to him, and, throwing her arm across his shoulder, sang with him:

“Yet strike with your burnished brands––accursed
Who sells not his life right dearly first;
In life or death be your thought the same,
That gentle France be not brought to shame.”

Pierre turned toward her with a smile.

“How you sang that, Jeanne. Just as though you would like to go out and fight for France yourself.”

“I would,” she replied quickly. “Wouldn’t you, Pierrelot?”

Something in her tone made the boy look at her keenly.

“How your eyes shine,” he said. “And somehow you seem different. What is it, Jeanne? The song?”

“Partly,” she told him.

“Well, it does make a fellow’s heart leap.” The youth spoke thoughtfully. “It always makes me feel like dropping everything to go out to fight the English and Burgundians.”

“We will go together, Pierrelot,” spoke his sister softly. “We––”

“What’s that about going to fighting?” demanded their father, who had drawn near without being perceived. “Let me hear no more of that. Pierre, that field must be finished by sundown. Jeanne, your mother has need of you in the house. There is no time for dawdling, or singing. Go to her.”

“Yes, father.” Dutifully the maiden went at once to the cottage, while Pierre resumed his hoeing.

The conversation passed from the lad’s mind, but it was otherwise with Jacques D’Arc. He had heard his daughter’s words, “We will go together, Pierrelot,” and they troubled him.

The following morning he appeared at the breakfast table scowling and taciturn, making but small pretence at eating. Presently he pushed back from the table. His wife glanced at him with solicitude.

“What ails you, Jacques?” she queried. “Naught have you eaten, which is not wise. You should not begin the day’s work upon an empty stomach.”

“Shall I get you some fresh water, father?” asked Jeanne.

Jacques turned upon her quickly, and with such frowning brow that, involuntarily, she shrank from him.

“Hark you,” he said. “I dreamed of you last night.”

“Of me, father?” she faltered.

“Yes. I dreamed that I saw you riding in the midst of men-at-arms.”

At this both Jean and Pierre laughed.

“Just think of Jeanne being with soldiers,” exclaimed Jean. “Why, she would run at sight of a Godon.”

But there was no answering smile on the face of their father. According to his belief there was but one interpretation to be put upon such a dream. Many women rode with men-at-arms, but they were not good women. So now, bringing his fist down upon the table with a resounding thwack, he roared:

“Rather than have such a thing happen, I would have you boys drown her in the river. And if you would not do it, I would do it myself.”

Jeanne turned pale. Instantly it was borne in upon her that her father must not know of her mission. She knew that if now she were to tell of the wonderful task that had been assigned to her she would not be believed, but that he would think ill of her.

At this juncture her mother spoke, chidingly:

“How you talk, Jacques. What a pother to make over a dream. Come now! eat your breakfast, and think no more of it.”

But Jacques only reiterated his words fiercely:

“I would drown her rather than have a daughter of mine among soldiers.”

Jeanne glanced at her brothers, but their countenances were grave enough now, for they comprehended their father’s meaning. A sudden sense of aloofness, of being no longer part and parcel of her family, smote her. The tears came and overflowed her cheeks, for she was but a girl after all. To hide her grief she rose hastily, and ran to her own little room.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 10 Warrior Maid

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