Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 17
The Impossible Happens

To pray, we do not say with the lips, but to pray with
the whole sincerity of the heart, is to win an inexhaustible
source of moral strength. This we say simply from the
point of view of a man of science who only concerns himself
with the effects of a fact, and only considers truths
of observation and experience.

M. Siméon Luce. “Jeanne d’Arc à Domremy.

The next day, as Jeanne sat with the two knights discussing the audience of the evening before, here came the Sire de Gaucourt, former commander of Orléans. “Pucelle,” he said, bowing low before the Maid, “I come to you by order of the King, whose desire it is that you should leave this mean place and come to dwell in the Tower of Coudray, which is more proper lodging for you, and nearer to him. The friends who are with you shall accompany you, if such be your desire.”

“It is in truth my desire,” spoke the maiden quickly with an affectionate glance at Poulengy and Metz. “True and faithful friends have they proven themselves. Without their aid I could not have come to the King. They believed in me even before Sire Robert did. And they shall go with me to Orléans, if they wish.”

“We do wish,” came from the knights simultaneously. “To Orléans, or to any place that promises fighting for France.”

“Would that we were now bound for Orléans,” sighed Jeanne as the four set forth for the castle.

Up the steep approach to the castle they wended their way once more. And now, being daylight, it was seen that the long mass of embattled walls, of keeps, towers, turrets, curtains, ramparts, and watch-towers were three castles separated one from the other by dyke, barrier, postern, and portcullis. Arriving on the ridge of hill Sire de Gaucourt led them past the long line of machicolated battlements of the Middle Château where the King dwelt, and across the bridge of the inner moat. A curtain of stone connected a high tower on the moat bank with another battlemented tower built into the buttressed cliff wall. There was an archway in the curtain at the end of the bridge, through which they passed to the Tower of Coudray.

Ascending a stairway they paused at its top, for here the lieutenant of the tower, Guillaume Bellier, the King’s Major Domo, waited to greet them.

“You are to lodge with my own family, Pucelle,” he said, making Jeanne a deep obeisance. “My wife comes now to bear you to your chamber for rest and refreshment.”

As he spoke a pleasant faced woman came forward from an adjoining room, and greeted the maiden warmly. She showed plainly her surprise at Jeanne’s attire, but seemed charmed by her youth and beauty. Sire Bertrand gave a sigh of satisfaction as he saw the maiden depart in the lady’s company, and remarked to De Metz in a low tone:

“Glad am I to see the Maid in such good hands as those of Madame Bellier. She is a devout woman, and the two will take much pleasure in each other’s company. It hath gone to my heart to see such a mere girl without any of her own sex near her.”

“Yes; but she hath angel visitors to bring her comfort and solace, Bertrand, the like of which no other maid had ever before. I believe her in very truth to be a messenger from the blessed Saints that love France. Still, with you, I am glad that Madame Bellier hath her in her care.”

Jeanne’s chambers were in the upper story of the tower, and Lieutenant Bellier sent her for a servant one of his own pages, Louis de Coutes, sometimes called Mugot, who came from an old warrior family which had been in service of the house of Orléans for a century. Her two knights with their servants had chambers just beneath hers.

And now that the King had taken her under his charge people flocked to see her. Churchmen came to test her orthodoxy; Captains to ask her about her knowledge of war; and all the lords and ladies to question her concerning her mission, for it was dull at Chinon, and a witch was worth looking at any day. Jeanne was impatient to be about her work, but she answered them all so aptly, and was so gentle and simple, that all who met her grew to believe in her.

Many too were curious concerning the oak wood, asking if the Bois Chesnu were not in her country, for every one now recalled Merlin’s prophecy, and was impressed by it. Every day the King had her brought to him. He was weak and timorous, but her simple faith impressed him, as it impressed all who saw her, and her entire trust in him gave him some courage and self-reliance. He wished to give the Maid men-at-arms at once, as he had promised, but the Royal Council over-ruled him. The Counsellors acknowledged that it was not unusual for princes to have the counsel of devout women; that women in whom was the voice of God were not to be scorned; that even the kings of England were no less ready than the kings of France to heed the words of saintly men and women; still, it behooved him to proceed carefully in the matter, lest he should be charged with helping himself by witchcraft.

In the Middle Ages it was the custom for saints to speak with kings and for kings to listen to them, but sorcery was the unpardonable sin. Therefore, it was the opinion of the Royal Council that, before giving the maiden the men-at-arms for which she asked, she should be subjected to a more searching examination than any that had yet been made. And while the talk waged pro and con the fame of Jeanne grew and filled all mouths. She fired the zeal of the captains who came to see her, and shamed them into some hope of saving France; she charmed the ladies of the Court by her modesty; while the common people told wonderful stories of her piety, exploits and adventures. To bring this about in the short time that she had been in Chinon was no mean achievement for a girl of seventeen, but Jeanne, believing God to be the author of the whole work, wondered only that any one should hesitate for a moment to trust His messenger.

One day she attended mass in the royal chapel, as was her daily custom, and when her devotions were finished she rose to find the King and a young nobleman standing beside her. Jeanne courtesied to the monarch, whereupon he said:

“We have brought our cousin, the Duke of Alençon, to see you, Jeanne. He hath great interest in the house of Orléans, having married the daughter of Duke Charles.”

“He is welcome,” spoke Jeanne simply. “The more of the blood royal there are here the better.”

“So we believe,” said the King, smiling. “It is our pleasure that you dine with us to-day, that our cousin may learn more of your mission.”

Again Jeanne bowed low, charming Alençon by her courtly manners. Then she and the Duke followed the King to the dining hall. La Trémouille, the King’s favorite, was present also. Barrel-like in appearance, a toper, and a usurer, loaning money to the King and the nobles at high interest, La Trémouille was a most important personage at Court. Dismissing the rest of the courtiers the King sat down at the table with the other three, the peasant maid not at all disturbed by being the guest of royalty. Yet but one short month agone she had been the guest of the humble Catherine le Royer, the wheelwright’s wife.

But Jeanne did not think of this. Her thoughts were for the Dauphin, and she was filled with the desire that he should govern wisely and well the realm which he held in trust from God. So she talked seriously to him, asking him to amend his life, and live after God’s will. He was to be clement, and to be a good lord to rich and poor, friend and enemy. If he would be all this the King of Heaven would do for him what he had done for his ancestors, and would restore him to his former estate.

And gazing into the bright, eager young face, flushed with courage and glowing with celestial ardor the King was thrilled, and longed to do kingly deeds and to be worthy of the blood of Louis, his saintly ancestor. After the dinner the four went to the meadows by the river, where Jeanne guided her horse and wielded her lance with so much skill that both the King and the Duke marvelled.

“’Tis but an indifferent steed you ride, Pucelle,” spoke Alençon, for Jeanne was still using the horse that De Baudricourt had bought for her. “I will send you another that shall bear you more worthily.”

The very next day he presented her with a magnificent black charger which Jeanne rode thereafter. It was the beginning of a warm friendship between the two. He became one of the maiden’s most enthusiastic supporters, and Jeanne grew fond of him not only because he was son-in-law to the Duke of Orléans, but because the English had done him wrong, and he had a good will to fight. Jeanne measured men by that standard. She had a wholesome, hearty contempt for men who skulked at Court and spent their time in idle pleasure while France lay under the heel of the invader. Alençon had but just returned to his home after being held captive by the English for three years. It was told of him that his captors had proposed to give him back his liberty and his goods if he would join their party, but he rejected the offer. He was young like her, and Jeanne thought that like her he must be sincere and noble.

In spite of her increasing influence over churchmen, and captains, and people, the King still wavered, influenced by the Royal Council and the favorite. La Trémouille, though indifferent to Jeanne, because he had not yet come to dread her power and to intrigue against her as he did a few months later, was disinclined to action, and had no intention of allowing Charles to shake off his indolence. So there were further delays while the King’s confessor and others examined the maiden daily. Though she was aware that these men questioned her by orders from the King, Jeanne did not talk freely, but answered discreetly concerning her mission.

“In God’s name, my fair duke, why do they ask so many questions instead of setting me about my work?” she asked piteously of Alençon one day after a visit from some of the bishops.

“Perchance ’tis natural for them to doubt,” replied the duke consolingly. “You will have to be patient, Jeanne, though there is much to try you in delay.”

“Patient, patient!” ejaculated Jeanne, who was eating her heart out with the desire to engage the enemy immediately at Orléans.

“Can Orléans hold out forever? Why do they not take Messire’s word as it comes to them? Daily do I pray to be delivered from these churchmen.”

Alençon laughed, but checked his mirth quickly at sight of the tears that were in Jeanne’s eyes.

“Endure a little longer, my friend,” he said gently. “I believe that the end of these many queries is in sight, though before it comes it has been decided to send you to Poictiers.”

“To Poictiers?” exclaimed Jeanne. “And why to Poictiers?”

“The Royal Council think it best for you to be examined by the learned Doctors there,” he explained. “They acknowledge that they can find no fault in you, but before giving you men-at-arms to go to Orléans they wish that the Church should pass upon your inspiration. When that is over I believe that there will be no further delay in sending you to Orléans.”

“What is the use in having learned men ask me questions when I know neither A nor B?” queried Jeanne, dashing the tears from her eyes. “But in God’s name, let us be going, since we must go. Much ado will be there, I know. But my Lord will help me. Now let us go, my bonny duke, in God’s strength.”

The very next day she set forth for Poictiers, attended by a large company, for many were eager to see how the peasant maid would acquit herself before the learned Doctors. Beside Alençon and her own knights there were certain veteran men-at-arms among the company; men who laughed at the idea that a mere girl of seventeen could raise the siege of Orléans. There were many courtiers, some who believed in the maid, and others who welcomed the diversion. The Queen’s mother, Yolande, who wished to see her daughter seated firmly upon the throne of France, and who believed in the simple shepherd maid, went also. But her presence did not console Jeanne, who fretted because so much valuable time was being wasted.

There were learned doctors at Poictiers, which was distant some fifty miles from Chinon. Men who, loyal to the King, had left the University of Paris as soon as the capital had fallen into the hands of the English, and followed the fortunes of Charles, choosing this town for their abiding place, and later founding a university there. It was the home of the Bar also, the great legal center, and here, if anywhere in Charles’s dominions, it seemed probable that men might be found able to distinguish between good spirits and bad.

On her arrival in the city Jeanne was lodged in the house of Maître Jean Robateau, the attorney general, a man of wealth and distinction, married to an excellent wife. The house was near the law courts, and had built into it a little chapel where Jeanne went at once to pray. It proved a haven of refuge in the days that followed.

The Archbishop of Reims presided over the Council which was soon held. The Council appointed a Committee of Investigation, and sent emissaries to Domremy to inquire into her previous history. The Committee included several professors of theology, an abbot, a canon of Poictiers, and one or two friars. Escorted by a squire this Committee went to interview Jeanne at Robateau’s house, for she was not formally examined before the whole board of Doctors. She came to meet them as they entered, but the sight of the priests irritated her. She had been subjected to so much questioning at Chinon that she was weary of it. It seemed so needless and futile. For working priests and for people in religion she held a sacred regard. For learned Doctors she had no use.

The squire, a young man of the sword named Thibault, pleased her better than the priests, for he was in military dress. She acknowledged the presence of the Committee with an obeisance, then went quickly to the squire and clapped him on the shoulder, comrade fashion.

“Would that I had many men of your way of thinking, friend,” she said.

“Maid,” spoke the abbot gravely, “attend now to what we shall say. We are sent to you from the King.”

“I know quite well that you are sent to question me,” spoke the maiden with spirit, “but of what avail is it? I know neither A nor B.”

At this the Committee began to ply her with questions.

“Why have you come to Court?” asked the abbot.

“I am come from the King of Heaven to raise the siege of Orléans, and to lead the Dauphin to Reims for his crowning and anointing,” she made answer.

“But what made you think of coming?” asked a professor of theology.

“Because of the great pity there was in Heaven for the realm of France, my Voices told me to come, nothing doubting,” replied the maiden earnestly.

“Your voices? What voices?”

Jeanne saw that much as she disliked to talk of her visions,––it was always of her mission and her Voices that she told,––there was need of some explanation. The grave Doctors listened attentively while she told something of her revelations, but not all. She was a peasant maid, ignorant, simple, her hands hardened with toil, her way of life humble and obscure, yet as she related her ineffable experiences she seemed a thing divine.

Having much food for thought they questioned her no more that day, and Jeanne retired to the chapel to seek comfort from her saints, who all this time continued to visit her daily, yet giving only the one constantly repeated command. The next day the Committee returned.

“You tell us,” said a professor of theology, “that God wishes to free the people of France from their distress. If He wishes to free them there is no need for the soldiers you ask for.”

“In God’s name,” exclaimed Jeanne with some irritation, “the men-at-arms will fight, and God will give the victory.”

There was a stir among the learned men at this answer. The professor who had asked the question smiled as though well pleased, while the King’s advocate murmured:

“No clerk of the court could have answered better.”

After the little flurry had subsided, one Seguin, a Carmelite friar of learning and repute, next took his turn. He was a native of Limoges, and spoke the dialect of his district.

“In what language, Pucelle, do these voices speak to you?”

Now this query seemed frivolous to Jeanne. She knew no language but French, so what other could the Voices use?

“In a better than yours,” she flashed, and there followed a general laugh, for the patois of Limoges was a common subject of ridicule.

“Do you believe in God?” continued the friar, nothing daunted by the mirth.

“More firmly than you do,” she replied seriously.

“Then you must know, Pucelle, that God does not wish us to trust you without some sign that you can do what you say. Gideon, for a sign, laid a fleece of wool upon the floor, and in the morning there was dew upon it so that he could wring a bowl of water from it, while all about the floor was dry; and the second night the fleece was dry and the floor was wet. So Gideon showed to the children of Israel, and it was his sign that he was from the Lord. We can not advise the King to risk his soldiers just on the strength of your simple word. What is your sign, Pucelle?”

“In God’s name,” cried Jeanne, now thoroughly worn out, “I did not come to show signs in Poictiers; but lead me to Orléans with few or many men-at-arms, and I will show you the sign for which I am sent. Attend, and I will tell you also what is to happen in France: I will summon the English, and if they do not heed I will drive them from their siege. I will lead the Dauphin to his crowning and anointing at Reims; Paris will come into its allegiance to the rightful king, and the Duc d’Orléans will return from his captivity; so my Voices have told me.”

And of those who heard the words all lived to see the fulfillment of Jeanne’s prophecies save only the maiden herself. During her life but the first two came to pass.

“Why do you call the King the Dauphin, even as the foreigners do who deny him the right to the throne?” asked another.

“Because he is not the King until he is anointed and crowned with the sacred oil,” she answered.

And so daily for three weeks the questioning continued. Beside this formal and official examination of her faith and character, private inquests of all kinds were made concerning her claims. She was visited by every curious person, man or woman, in the town or its vicinity, and plied with endless questions, so that her simple personal story and that of her revelations became known to all the whole country round about. The two Queens, Yolande and her daughter Marie, with their ladies, took her in hand, and subjected her to an inquiry more penetrating still than that of the graver tribunals. They inquired into her history in every subtle feminine way, testing her innocence and purity. The women were especially interested about the male attire, and pressed this query. To the Queen’s mother, Yolande, she told the reasons.

“In the first place, your majesty,” said the maiden simply, “’tis the only dress for fighting, which, though far from my desires or from the habits of my life, is henceforth to be my work; this being the case, I am constrained to live among men-at-arms, and such dress is therefore more seemly.”

“True,” said the Queen thoughtfully; then presently she nodded an emphatic approval. “You are quite right, child. I see it. Others shall see it too.”

“And too,” spoke Jeanne, smiling at the Queen, “the habit matters nothing after all. I must wear it to do what I am commanded to do.”

Yolande went away charmed by the Maid, and reported the result not only to the waiting women, but also to the learned Council. “It was her belief,” she said, “that the child was sent from God.”

And so said all the women. Jeanne had ever the women with her. So also said many of the members of the Council who were growing more and more to believe in the girl. There were men who were disgusted with the cowardice and treachery of La Trémouille, and not unwilling to fight for France; the energy of such men was aroused by Jeanne’s enthusiasm.

Meantime the friars who had been sent to Domremy to investigate her former manner of living now returned to report that they had found no flaw in her character. At the end of the three weeks of daily examinations there came a day when Jeanne was summoned before the whole Board of Doctors to hear the judgment of the Council. The two faithful knights, Alençon, and other of her true friends went with her to give comfort should the verdict be adverse. But Jeanne was bright and smiling, never doubting for a moment that the result could be other than in her favor. The King and his adherents had come also, and Yolande, the Queen’s mother, beside a great audience of the people of the town.

After the formal opening, the Archbishop of Reims, who presided over the Council, rose and read the judgment.

“The case of the kingdom being desperate we, the members of the Council, believe that the King should not reject the Maid, nor should he lightly believe in her. But, in accordance with Holy Scripture, he ought to make trial of her by two ways, that is, first, by human wisdom, examining into her character, life, and intentions; and secondly, by devout prayer, asking a sign of some divine deed or ground of hope by which he may judge whether she is come by the will of God.

“The Maid’s character has been studied; inquiry has been made into her birth, past life and intentions; for she has been examined by clerks, churchmen, men of the sword, matrons and widows. Nothing has been found in her but honesty, simplicity, humility, maidenhood, and devotion.

“After hearing all these reports, taking into consideration the great goodness of the Maid, and that she declares herself to be sent by God, it is therefore determined by this Council that from henceforward the King should make use of her for his wars, since it was for this she was sent. The King then, ought not to prevent her from going to Orléans to show the sign of heavenly succor, and it is the opinion of this Council that she may go with the army under honourable superintendence.”

There was dead silence as the Archbishop concluded the reading. Dead silence as the people grasped the full significance of the verdict. The incredible thing had happened. The peasant Maid had triumphed over the learned Doctors, even as her own Saint Catherine had triumphed. To the young girl, barely seventeen, was delivered the marvellous task of raising the siege of Orléans.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a storm of applause. Charles rose from his seat and beckoned the maid to come to him. As she arose to obey the command, the Court and people rose and stood reverently as a mark of homage and respect. Charles himself, moved by knightly impulse to do a kingly deed, descended from the throne, and himself escorted her to the throne where all might see, then bent low over her hand as though she were the royal creature and he but the humble servitor.

But Jeanne, the tears of gladness streaming from her eyes, fell upon her knees and kissed his hand fervently. For Charles to her was France; France, represented, embodied, and made into a living thing––the France she was come to save.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 18 Warrior Maid

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