Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 10
The First Step
Joan of Arc The Warrior Maid

On the subject of Jeanne’s sincerity I have raised
no doubts. It is impossible to suspect her of lying; she
firmly believed that she received her mission from her Voices.

Anatole France. “Joan of Arc.

From this time forth Jeanne’s family could not fail to notice the change that marked her bearing and appearance. Her eyes glowed with the light of a steadfast purpose, and the serene thoughtfulness of her countenance was illumined by a brightness that was like the rosy flush of dawn stealing upon the pale coldness of the morning. She was still simple in manner, but her shrinking timidity had vanished, and in its stead had come decision and an air of authority. She bore herself nobly, as became one who had been vested with the leadership of a divine mission. Yet of this outward expression of authority she was unconscious. The thought that filled her to the exclusion of all else was how she was to proceed to accomplish her task. For there were three things that she had to do for the saving of her country:

First: She must go to Robert de Baudricourt at Vaucouleurs.

Second: She must win back France from her enemies.

Third: She must lead the Dauphin to his anointing at Reims. How these things were to be brought to pass she did not know.

The walled town of Vaucouleurs lay some twelve miles to the northward of Domremy, and was the chief place of the district. Its captain, Robert de Baudricourt, was well known throughout the Valley of Colors. He was a blunt, practical man of the sword, who had married two rich widows in succession, and who had been fighting since he could bear arms, in the reckless wars of the Lorraine Marches. He was brave as a lion, coarse, rough, domineering, an ideal soldier of his time and country. Jacques D’Arc had had personal dealings with him in the Spring of the previous year when he had appeared before him to plead the cause of Domremy against one Guiot Poignant, and he had many tales to tell of the rough Governor. How could she approach such a man?

There was no hope of help at home. That she foresaw clearly as she recalled her father’s words concerning his dream. She knew that he would oppose her bitterly. Nor would her mother aid her, deeply as she loved her, to go contrary to her father’s will. Neither would they allow her to journey to Vaucouleurs unattended. The maiden made a mental review of the villagers in search of one to whom she might appeal for assistance, but rejected them sadly as their images passed before her. Clearly she must bide her time.

“But I must go soon,” she mused. “It is the will of God.”

Just at this juncture, when she knew not to whom to go, Durand Lassois, a cousin by marriage whom she called uncle because he was so much older than she, came to Domremy on a visit. Jeanne hailed his advent with eagerness. He lived with his young wife, who was Isabeau’s niece, in Bury le Petit, a hamlet lying on the left bank of the Meuse in the green valley, nine miles from Domremy, but only three from Vaucouleurs. Here was the help that she needed, for Durand was fond of Jeanne, and would do her bidding as unquestioningly as a mastiff obeys the child whom he adores.

So when Jeanne, taking him aside, asked him to take her home with him for a visit to her cousin, his wife, he assented readily.

“Aveline will be glad for you to come, Jeanne,” he said. “She is not well, and a visit from you will cheer her up.”

Jacques D’Arc made some objections when the subject was broached, but Isabeau was pleased and over-ruled them.

“It is the very thing,” she exclaimed. “The child has been in need of a change this long while. Nay, now, Jacques, say naught against it. She shall go. I wonder that we did not think of sending her there ourselves.”

“It must be for only a week, then,” said Jacques.

“A week is better than nothing,” spoke Durand Lassois. “Have no fear for her, Jacques. She shall be well looked after.”

So a few days later the uncle and niece started for Bury le Petit by way of the hill path beyond Greux. As they walked through the forest, fragrant with the breath of spring, Jeanne said abruptly:

“Uncle Durand, while I am at your house I wish you to take me to Vaucouleurs to see Sire Robert de Baudricourt.”

“You wish me to do what, child?” he asked in open-mouthed amazement.

“To take me to Vaucouleurs to see Sire Robert de Baudricourt.”

“What for?” demanded Lassois, staring at her.

“So that he may send me to the place where the Dauphin is, uncle. I must go into France to lead the Dauphin to Reims, that he may be crowned King there.”

Into the peasant’s honest face there came a troubled expression. Slowly he passed his hand across his brow, then stopped in the path and looked at her.

“It may be that we are walking too fast, little one,” he said gently. “Your mother said that you had not been well, and ’tis known that the sun sometimes plays strange tricks with the wits.”

“I am not daft, uncle, nor hath the sun unsettled my wits.” Jeanne showed neither surprise nor vexation at his words. “Have you not heard that a woman should lose France, and that a Maid should save France?”

“I have heard it,” admitted Durand slowly. “What then, Jeanne?”

“I am that Maid, Uncle Durand. I shall save France.” She spoke in a tone of quiet conviction.

The man drew a long breath and stared at her. He had known the maid all her short life. Knew of her good deeds, her purity and truthfulness; knew that all that could be urged against her was the fault of going to church too frequently. So now, as he noted the clearness of her eyes and the calmness of her manner, he told himself that she believed what she said, and that whatever might be the nature of her affliction it was not madness.

“You must believe me, uncle,” spoke the girl pleadingly, “Have I not always been truthful?”

He nodded.

“I am so now. I am called of God to win back France from her enemies, and to lead the Dauphin to be crowned King at Reims. I go to the Captain of Vaucouleurs that he may grant men to me to take me to the gentle Dauphin. Will you take me to Sire Robert?”

Lassois did not reply. He could not. He stood for a long moment utterly incapable of speech. Jeanne went on in her soft, clear accents to tell him of her mission and of its divine origin. She was so earnest, she spoke with such assurance of the charge that had been laid upon her that in spite of himself Durand believed her. To the natural mind the wonder is not that angelic visitors come to the pure and good, but that they come so seldom. He leaned forward suddenly, and said:

“I’ll take you to Vaucouleurs, ma mie, if you wish to go. Jacques won’t like it, though. Have you thought of that?”

“I know, uncle, but it is the will of God. I must go,” she told him.

Involuntarily Lassois crossed himself. There was such a look of exaltation about the maiden that he felt as though he were in church.

“I’ll take you, Jeanne,” he said again. “But hark ye, child! there must be no word of your Voices at the house. Neither Aveline nor her parents would believe you.”

“There will be many who will not believe me, uncle,” sighed she. She thought of the dear ones at Domremy who would not, and sighed again. “Even Sire Robert will not.”

“Then why go to him?” he demanded bluntly.

“It is commanded,” she answered. “Later he will believe.”

So the compact was made, and Jeanne had found the way to make the first step toward the fulfilling of her mission, and the journey was finished without further incident. However, it proved not so easy to leave for Vaucouleurs as she supposed it would be. Lassois and his young wife lived with her parents, the wife’s mother being Isabeau’s sister was therefore Jeanne’s aunt. Both mother and daughter welcomed their young kinswoman with delight, and took such pleasure in her society that they were unwilling that she should leave them even for a day. Thus four days went by before Durand was able to fulfill his promise. It was managed at last, however, and the maiden’s heart beat high as they left Bury le Petit behind them, and set their faces toward Vaucouleurs. Being but a three mile journey it was quickly made. Though born and bred in the valley it was the first time that she had ever seen the grim little fighting town where Robert de Baudricourt upheld the Standard of the Lilies against that of the Leopard. Therefore she looked about her with natural curiosity.

The width of the valley lessened here. The hills pressed so closely upon the river that the meadows lay at the very feet of the town. Within the walls the buildings clustered round the base of a hill upon which stood the castle of the Governor and the church, overlooking the vast extent of hills and dominating the valley.

Without difficulty they entered the town, and climbed one of the narrow streets leading to the castle. The gates were open, for the bluff Captain was easy of access to his followers and townsmen. A number of soldiers were scattered about the courtyard burnishing armour, sharpening swords, and all as busy and merry as valiant men-at-arms should be. They cast curious glances at the pair, the rustic countryman and his fair companion, but on the whole were civil enough, permitting them to pass without hindrance into an ante-chamber of the castle.

“Shall I not speak to Sire Robert first, Jeanne?” questioned Lassois, who became all at once awkward and diffident. Secretly he hoped that the Governor would refuse to see his young kinswoman. He feared his ridicule. Jeanne shook her head.

“Let us go together, Uncle Durand. Go thou to thy master, the Sire Robert,” she added, turning to the page who now approached to learn what they wanted, “and tell him that Jeanne, the Maid, who comes with her uncle, would speak with him.”

“Ye must wait,” spoke the page pertly. “My master sits at meat.”

“Nathless thou wilt take the message,” spoke the girl so firmly and with so much of command that the youth’s insolent air became at once respectful. “My lord’s business is of importance. It must be attended to.”

The lad bowed, and left them. Soon he returned, saying:

“The Sire Captain says that you are to come to him. This way.” With this he conducted them through many a windy passage to the banqueting chamber.

A long table extended its length down the centre of the room, and around it were gathered the officers of the garrison. At the far end of this table stood a smaller one elevated above the other by a dais. At this table with three companions sat a brawny, gray-haired man whom Jeanne knew at once was the Governor.

Lassois, shy and ill at ease among so many gentles, stopped short just inside the door, and stood awkwardly twirling his cap in his hand. But Jeanne, who had been wont to tremble and blush before strangers, was in no wise abashed, but with noble and courteous bearing proceeded directly to the small table.

An involuntary exclamation of admiration escaped the rough soldier’s lips. The girl was clad in the ordinary red homespun frock of the peasant, and her abundant hair was entirely hidden under the coif worn by all women, but neither the poor dress nor the coif could conceal her beauty. So Robert de Baudricourt’s tones were as soft as his harsh voice would permit as he said:

“Thou art welcome, child. What wouldst thou have with me?”

“I am come to you, Sire Robert, sent by Messire,” she answered fearlessly, “that you may send word to the Dauphin and tell him to hold himself in readiness, but not to give battle to his enemies.”

A gasp of amazement came from Sire Robert. He did not speak, but, leaning forward, he regarded the maiden keenly. With perfect calm and self-possession she continued:

“Before mid Lent my Lord will grant him aid. But in very deed the realm belongs not to the Dauphin. Nathless it is Messire’s will that the Dauphin should be King, and receive the kingdom in trust. Notwithstanding his enemies the Dauphin shall be King; and it is I who shall lead him to his anointing.”

A moment of silence followed this startling announcement. Across the faces of the men-at-arms stole expressions of pity, then a murmur of compassion ran through the room as Sire Robert asked:

“Who is Messire?”

And Jeanne answered, “He is the King of Heaven.”

Now it happened that just before Lassois and Jeanne entered the hall the Governor and his men had been discussing the state of affairs in the country. It was noised about that the English were preparing for a new attack in force on the Dauphin’s territories south of the Loire. It was rumored also that the little wedge of loyal territory in which Vaucouleurs lay was to be the object of special attack by the Burgundians. That a young peasant girl, accompanied by a rustic, should calmly inform him that she should straighten out the difficulties of distressed France appealed to Robert as a huge joke. So, at her answer, he gave way to a great shout of laughter in which his men, as in duty bound, joined. Sire Robert had no sentiment, but was possessed of a coarse humour. Again and again the rafters rang with his merriment. When the hilarity had somewhat subsided he beckoned Lassois to draw near.

“Come hither, rustic,” he said. “Is this thy daughter?”

“No,” replied Durand tremblingly. “She is the daughter of Jacques D’Arc.”

“So?” Sire Robert scanned the maid with new interest. “See you, my man,” he said. “The girl is daft; clean daft. As witless an innocent as ever it has been my lot to behold. Whip her well, and send her home to her father.”

Whip her? Lassois turned a startled glance upon the Governor as though he had not heard aright. Whip Jeanne, who was so good and sweet? The very idea was profanation. Cowed and frightened he grasped the maiden’s arm.

“Come,” he whispered. “Let’s be going.”

But calmly, courageously Jeanne faced the Governor.

“I go, Sire Robert, but I shall come again. For it is you who are appointed by the will of Messire to send me with an escort of men-at-arms to the aid of the Dauphin. My Voices have said so.”

Mad though they deemed the maiden, the men-at-arms and their Captain were impressed by the girl’s gravity and noble bearing as she spoke. In silence, therefore, they permitted the pair to pass from the room.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 11 Warrior Maid

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