Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 15
Starting the Great Adventure

The character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be
measured by the standards of all times without misgiving
or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them,
judged by all of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally
perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to
human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached
by any other mere mortal.

Mark Twain. Preface––“Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

And so began this strange ride; the strangest that was ever made. There were a thousand perils to be encountered: great rivers to be crossed; great forests infested by wolves to be traversed; trackless spaces of a country, half of which was hostile––full of every danger of war, to be covered.

Jeanne had been told many times of the risks of the journey; but, happy in the knowledge that she was at last on her way to the Dauphin, no peril, no danger seemed formidable. She had no fear of marauding bands, nor did she feel anxiety concerning the conduct of her companions. A great peace filled her soul. She had begun her work. How it was all to end for her she neither foresaw nor asked; she only knew what she had to do. So light hearted did she appear that Bertrand de Poulengy wondered at it. Jeanne noticed him regarding her curiously.

“What is it, messire?” she asked.

“It will be a hard, tiresome ride, Pucelle.”

“I know, messire.”

“To sit in the saddle long hours is most fatiguing. Have you been accustomed to riding?”

“No, messire. I never rode at all until I came to Vaucouleurs.”

“You did not? I can hardly believe that, Pucelle.” He gave a glance of frank admiration at the slight, erect figure sitting her horse so martially. “You ride as though born to the saddle, which is well, for the journey will tax your endurance to the utmost. We stop to-night at the Abbey of Saint Urbain for rest and refreshment, but to-morrow and thereafter we shall be obliged to rest in the open fields. We must avoid the frequented roads and the cities held by the English, therefore we can not go to the inns. There will be many dangers.”

“What do you fear, messire?”

“That we shall never reach Chinon,” he answered gloomily. “The hazards are too great. I thought that the Captain would give us more of an escort, but we be but seven all told. Of what avail would such a small number be against an attacking force of freebooters?”

Joan on the Road to Chinon - Warrior Maid

But Jeanne turned a smiling face toward him; a face as blithe and bright as that of a fair youth.

“Have no fear,” she said, with calm confidence. “My brothers in Paradise will watch over us.”

“Will you really do what you say?” he questioned.

“I will do what I am commanded to do, messire. My brethren in Paradise tell me what I have to do. It is now four years since my brethren in Paradise and Messire told me that I must go forth to war to deliver the realm of France.”

But Poulengy, De Metz, and their companions had not the maiden’s confidence. Now that the irrevocable step was taken and they were actually embarked upon this wild adventure the chill of reflection was upon them. Was the girl really an inspired prophetess, or a witch? If the former, all would be well with them should they reach Chinon in safety; if the latter, they were liable to come to the gallows for bringing a witch to court. So many doubts and misgivings assailed them as they rode forward.

Far into the night they rode, stopping at length at the Abbey of Saint Urbain on the right bank of the Marne for rest. From time immemorial the Abbey had been a place of refuge, and it gave them a cordial welcome. Jeanne was glad to lay her wearied body upon the rude cot in the house set apart for the use of strangers, but she was up early next morning, and attended conventual mass; then she and her companions took horse again. Crossing the Marne by the bridge opposite Saint Urbain they pressed on towards France.

They were in more dangerous ground now, so they proceeded more stealthily. Bertrand de Poulengy and Jean de Metz, being hardened campaigners and accustomed to such expeditions, knew the by-ways, and were acquainted with the means necessary to travel quietly. Sometimes the days were sunlit, and the nights moonlit; at other times, there was rain, or sleet, or snow, but whatever the weather they rode and rode. Jeanne was always cheerful, always confident, always good-humoured. The King’s messenger, Colet de Vienne, Sire Bertrand and Jean de Metz were hot-headed, hot-hearted soldiers of fortune, neither over-scrupulous nor over-pious, but they learned to regard the young girl in their charge with reverence and awe. It was a feeling that strangely combined chivalry and religion. She was so devout, so clean-spirited, that there was nothing to be done but to believe in her goodness, her purity, and her faith. If they did not altogether believe in her visions they believed that she believed, and they came to think of her as nothing less than a saint.

“Truly, Bertrand, she comes from God,” declared De Metz one day upon his return from a town where he had gone in search of food. The party dared not enter the place for fear of detection. The news was broadcast over the country that the inspired Maid of Vaucouleurs was proceeding to the King under escort, and the knights feared an encounter with some band of the enemy. “She has not much money; that I know, yet she gave me alms to give to the poor. And this she does whenever we draw near to a town.”

“She is a saint,” avowed De Poulengy. “I think she must be inspired in very truth, Jean; else how is it that she stands the journey as she does? A little wearied she may be when we stop for rest, but do you note that she starts onward as blithely and gayly as though we had but just set forth?”

“Ay! I have noticed it. ’Tis as though she received manna from Heaven for her recuperation. Through many wild marches I have been, yet this one hath been the most trying. I fear ambuscades, Bertrand, and I would not have harm come to the Maid. I would rather lose life itself than have aught befall her.”

“And I, Jean. But I fear that all of our company do not agree with us. I overheard some words that Richard the Archer had with our two varlets this morning which shows their mind in manner most alarming. They also have noted the marvellous way in which the Maid has withstood the fatigues of the journey, and they declare that a mere maiden could not bear them as she does. In truth, they deem her a witch. We must be on our guard against them lest they try some trick against her.”

“The vile caitiffs! Can they not see that she is one of God’s saints?” exclaimed De Metz wrathfully. “I will go to them. I––”

“Nay, Jean; restrain yourself,” counselled the older man laying his hand lightly on the other’s arm. “Be not too severe in your judgment ’gainst the varlets. Time was, and not so long since, when we too were in doubt concerning the maiden. They may intend no harm, but I deemed it the part of wisdom to put you on guard. Let us say nothing, but watch and wait.”

“You are right, Bertrand.” De Metz spoke more quietly. “They may intend no harm, but ’tis well to be on guard. If they should attempt anything––” He paused, touching his sword significantly.

Poulengy nodded, and the two returned to the camp. As they made night marches they rested by day. For this day they had selected for camp a cove that lay between two shoulders of the winding hills on the banks of a swollen stream. Though a cold rain was falling there was no fire for fear of the enemy. The leafless boughs did little to ward off the rain, and there was not much comfort in the chill woods, so the party ate in silence the cold bread and meat which De Metz had obtained in the town. They but waited for the darkness that they might take to horse again. Richard the bowman was sentinel, and after the comfortless meal they all lay down on the wet ground to get what rest they could. They were aroused by a wild shout from the Archer, who rushed among them, crying:

“The English! The English are upon us!”

Instantly the two knights and the King’s messenger were upon their feet, and drawing their swords, threw themselves quickly before Jeanne. She alone was undisturbed, and merely rose to a sitting posture as the men breathlessly awaited the approach of the enemy. The knights’ servants, Jean de Honecourt and Julien, made as though about to flee when Jeanne spoke in her grave, sweet voice:

“Do not flee. I tell you in God’s name, they will not harm you.”

At this Richard the bowman, seeing that she was not afraid, burst out laughing. With a bound Jean de Metz had reached him, and had him by the throat.

“Varlet,” he cried, shaking the fellow angrily. “Know you not that there are perils enough about us without giving a false alarm? That loud outcry of yours may bring the enemy upon us. I am minded to fling you into that water.”

“I but did it to scare the witch,” muttered Richard sullenly, eyeing the swollen stream with whitening face. The water was dismally cold, and very deep at this point. “I meant no harm.”

But De Metz, enraged by the word “witch,” lifted him bodily, preparatory to carrying out his threat, when Jeanne’s soft tones arrested him:

“Do not so, my friend,” she said sweetly. “The jest was ill timed, ’tis true; but still it was but a jest. He could neither frighten nor harm me. None can do that until I have fulfilled my mission. Let him go.”

“You hear?” De Metz let the man slide slowly to his feet. “But that she pleads for thee thou shouldst drink deep of that water. See to it that thy acts are better, else it shall go hard with thee. Ay! or whoever attempts tricks, be they jest or earnest.”

He glared at the retainers so fiercely that they shrank from his gaze. There was no further attempt to frighten the maiden during the rest of the journey, and it was noted that she had no more devoted servitor than Richard the bowman.

On they rode, and still on. Through gloomy woods, by threatened highways, and over swollen rivers the seven made their way. The enemy’s country was passed in time without mishap of any kind, and then on the morning of the tenth day out from Vaucouleurs they came to Gien on the River Loire. It held for the Dauphin, and Jeanne rejoiced for now, being in friendly territory, she could go to mass. She had felt neither fear nor anxiety during the march, but she had been distressed that she could not attend mass, which she was accustomed to doing every day. Being on God’s errand she wished constantly to ask His help.

“If we could, we should do well to hear mass,” she had repeated wistfully each day; but when the knights told her that it was too dangerous she had not insisted.

Gien was about forty miles above Orléans, and their danger was now almost over. Both Jeanne and the knights talked freely of her errand, and the news spread far and wide that a Maid was come from the borders of Lorraine to raise the siege of Orléans and lead the Dauphin to Reims to be crowned. Everywhere the people were excited over the tidings. In spite of the blockade men often slipped into Orléans, and messengers from Gien soon bore the story into the besieged city. It raised a great hope there, and its commander, the Count of Dunois, at once sent two of his officers to Chinon, whither he knew that the Maid was bound, to ask the King to send her to them soon.

The news that Jeanne learned concerning Orléans was most disquieting. The Battle of Herrings, fought at Rouvray, had been a most disastrous defeat for the garrison, and had brought both citizens and soldiers to despair. No time should be lost in going to the help of the leaguered city, so, after a short rest, Jeanne rode forward across the sandy Sologne and the flat country of Touraine.

The anxiety of Poulengy and Metz had taken a different turn. Believe in the maiden as they might they could not but wonder what reception they would meet at Court. Charles and his counsellors might think it all a fool’s errand, and the knights would be the laughing stock of their comrades. As they had become accustomed to doing they told these misgivings to Jeanne.

“Do not be afraid. You will see how graciously the fair Dauphin will look upon us when we get to Chinon,” she assured them confidently.

They were now in a country holding for the Dauphin, and naturally it would be supposed that it was friendly territory; this, however, was not the case. Indeed, it was after the passage of the Loire that they were exposed to the greatest danger. Far and wide the tidings had flown that a girl was coming toward the King with wonderful proffers of aid from Heaven and the Holy Saints. There were people about the King to whom such news was not welcome. Here also in the King’s country were freebooters who, when they pillaged travellers, asked not whether they were Armagnacs or Burgundians, and such men would not scruple to waylay the girl at a word from those about the King. So it happened that certain men-at-arms of the French party lay in ambush awaiting the appearance of Jeanne’s little company to surprise them. It was the intention to capture the maiden, cast her into a pit, and keep her there under a great stone trap door, in the hope that the King who had sent for her would give a large sum for her rescue. But of all this neither Jeanne nor her escort knew until long afterward.

Being in the Dauphin’s territory Jeanne rode fearlessly in front of the little company while the knights, who lacked her confidence, followed close behind, keeping a keen watch the while, for they were passing through a deep wood, and both Bertrand and De Metz were aware of the character of the miscreants who infested it. Suddenly, from out of the inner wood, there burst a party of men who with wild yells dashed forward and surrounded them. There was a clash of steel as the knights met the onset, when high above the noise of swords sounded Jeanne’s voice, clear and bell-like:

“Hold! Let not French blood be spilled by Frenchmen while the English wait us at Orléans. Forbear, friends! ’Tis not God’s will that you should slay each other.”

Involuntarily the men of both parties stayed their uplifted hands. The leader of the attacking band bent a searching, curious glance upon the maiden, which she met calmly and tranquilly. There was something winning and persuasive and convincing in her manner; something so pure and unearthly in her look that presently the man’s eyes dropped, and he hastily crossed himself.

“Pass on,” he said, and at a sign his fellows fell back, and the seven rode on in safety.

Sire Bertrand leaned over to Jean de Metz and spoke in an awed tone:

“Saw you that, Jean? Those rascals could do naught after she cried out. Truly the child is sent from God.”

“She is in very truth, Bertrand, but it needed not this to prove it. Witness how we have come these many leagues though threatened with dire perils without hap of any kind. ’Tis nothing short of miraculous.”

But Jeanne heard them wondering, and smiled at them.

“Marvel not,” she said. “God clears the way for me. I was born for this.”

And so they came to the green slopes of Fierbois, from which place they would proceed to Chinon, where the King lay.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 16 Warrior Maid

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