Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 8
Jeanne Receives a Gift and an Announcement

Great hearts alone understand how much
glory there is in being good.

A Saying of Old France.

Isabeau glanced toward the man who was nearing the cottage. He was clad in the frock of the Order of Saint Francis, and was carrying a heavy staff.

“’Tis one of the Grey Friars,” she exclaimed; “and supper is not yet started. I must hurry to get it upon the table, for he may be hungry.”

“If it is a Grey Friar let him get on to Neufchâteau,” grumbled Jacques. “They have a house there, and ’tis but five miles further on.”

“Jacques,” ejaculated his wife reprovingly, “what are you saying? The poor father may be weary. If he were a man-at-arms you would give him welcome.”

“If he were a man-at-arms he would have something worth hearing to tell,” retorted Jacques. In spite of his words, however, he rose as the friar came to the door, and saluted him but with scant courtesy.

“Pax vobiscum, my son,” said the friar humbly. “Perchance for the love of God you will give a poor brother of the Order of the Blessed Francis somewhat to eat, and a place to abide for the night. I have travelled far, and am aweary.”

“Enter, father,” spoke Jacques shortly. “Supper will soon be upon the table, and a bed shall be made for you.”

“Thank you, my son. A benediction upon you, and upon your house,” returned the priest so mildly that Jacques’ manner softened. He was not usually churlish to guests, unbidden though they might be; but he was anxious and uneasy over his daughter, and her fervid zeal for the church caused him to regard churchmen with temporary disfavor. At the monk’s tone, however, he threw wide the door and gave him a seat with more show of cordiality.

The friar had scarcely seated himself before Jeanne entered, bearing a flagon of fresh water and a cup which she carried directly to him. Bending low before him she said gently:

“Drink, good father. You must be thirsty.”

“I am, my child.” The Franciscan quaffed the water gratefully, saying, as he gave back the cup: “I have travelled many leagues, even from Rome, where I have been upon a pilgrimage.”

“From Rome?” ejaculated Jacques D’Arc, turning round with eagerness. “Hear you that, Isabeau? The holy man has been to Rome. Hasten with the supper; he must be hungry.” With this he busied himself to make the priest more comfortable. To make a pilgrimage to Rome cast a glamour of sanctity about him who made it, and exalted him in the eyes of all men.

Holy Man - Warrior Maid

Jeanne smiled as her father and mother bustled about the friar, and quietly occupied herself with preparations for the supper. It was soon ready, and eaten with all the hearty relish of honest, human hunger. After it was over the best place by the fire was given the friar––already the evenings were beginning to grow chill––and the family gathered around him. As has been said before, in return for their entertainment travellers were expected to regale their hosts with whatsoever news they might be possessed of, or with tales of their travels or adventures. The Franciscan proved to be most agreeable.

He told of his pilgrimage, and described at length the appearance of the holy city. He spoke also of having seen and spoken with the holy Colette of Corbie, that famous nun whose miracles of healing were then the wonder of the Christian world.

At this they crossed themselves, and were silent for a little from very awe from having among them a man who had been so favored. Then Isabeau, who was devoted to sacred things and saintly legends, said timidly:

“Perchance, good father, you have about you a relic, or a ring that hath been touched by the blessed Sister Colette?”

“Would that I had,” spoke the friar devoutly. “I would cherish it above all things, but I have not. It is true, however, that I have a ring. It hath not been blessed, nor does it possess power to perform miracles. Nathless, it does have great virtue, having been made by a holy man, and by reason of herbs, which have been curiously intermingled with the metal under the influence of the planets, is a sovereign charm against the Falling Sickness.”

Jacques looked up with quick interest.

“Let us see the ring, messire,” he said. “That is, if it please you.”

“It pleases me right well,” answered the friar, drawing a small ring from the bosom of his frock.

It was of electrum, a kind of brass at this time called the gold of the poor. It was an ordinary trifle, but to the peasant and his family it was rich and wonderful. There was no stone or seal, but a broad central ridge, and two sloping sides engraved with three crosses, and the names Jesus and Maria. Such rings were common; sometimes instead of the holy names there were figures of Saints, the Virgin Mary, or a priest with the chalice. A ring, an amulet, a relic that was supposed to be blessed, or to have virtue against disease appealed to the marvel loving part of their natures, so that the people eagerly sought such articles. They desired above all else to possess the precious thing, or that they might touch it with some treasured possession that some of its virtues might pass into themselves. So now Jacques’ eyes met those of his wife’s in a glance of understanding. Isabeau voiced the thought that filled them.

“Would you sell this ring, good father?” she asked.

“Nay; it is not for sale. I but showed it in lieu of a precious relic. ’Tis but a bauble compared to many holy relics that I have seen. Nathless, the ring hath its properties.”

Jacques handed the ring back to him with regret showing plainly on his honest face.

“That I am sorry to hear,” he said. “The little one here hath no charm against the Falling Sickness, and I am minded to buy it for her. She has been o’er quiet of late.”

The friar glanced at Jeanne, who had sat listening attentively to his stories with shining eyes. Then he smiled.

“If it is for this little maid who waited not to be bidden to bring me drink when I was weary and thirsty, I will sell,” he said. “Nay, not sell; but if ye are so minded to give alms for a convent that is being builded by the Sisters of Saint Claire, then may you have it. I know in very truth that it will prove efficacious against the Falling Sickness.” Again the priest smiled at Jeanne. There was naught about the pale purity of her face that denoted ill health, and therefore the good priest might speak with authority.

Jacques drew the girl to him, and taking the ring from the Franciscan fitted it to the third finger of her left hand.

“Do you like it, my little one?” he asked.

Jeanne’s eyes glistened. Like most girls she was fond of pretty things, and she had never had a ring. To her it was very precious.

“Are you in truth going to get it for me, father?” she cried.

“Yes.” Jacques nodded, pleased that she liked the trifle. “Isabeau, give the father the alms he wishes so that we may have the ring for the little one. It is given to you by both your mother and myself, my child,” he continued as Isabeau brought forth the alms for the friar. “Wear it as such, and may it protect you not only from the Falling Sickness but from other ills also.”

At this Jeanne threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him, then running to her mother kissed her also.

“It is so pretty,” she cried. “And see! it hath the two most holy names upon it.” Her glance rested lovingly upon the engraved characters.

“Let us see it, Jeanne,” spoke Pierre. “Sometime,” he whispered as she came to him to show it, “sometime I am going to give you a ring all by myself that shall be prettier than this.”

Jeanne laughed.

“Just as though any ring could be prettier than this, Pierrelot,” she said. “There couldn’t be one; could there, Jean?”

“Nenni.” Jean shook his head emphatically as he examined the ring critically. “I like it better than the one Mengette wears.”

“The Blessed Colette hath a ring which the Beloved Apostle gave to her in token of her marriage to the King of kings,” now spoke the Cordelier. “Many are there who come to Corbie to touch it, that they may be healed of their infirmities.”

Thus the talk went on; sometimes of the Saints and their miracles, then verging to the war, and the state of the kingdom. It was late when at length the family retired.

Jeanne was delighted with the gift. As a usual thing peasants did not bestow presents upon their families. Life was too severe in the valley, and necessities too hard to come by in the ferment of the war to admit of it. When next her Saints appeared, and Saint Catherine graciously touched the ring, Jeanne’s joy knew no bounds. Thereafter she was wont to contemplate it adoringly. But, while the ring might be sovereign against epilepsy, it did not rouse her into her oldtime joyousness.

She was very grave, very thoughtful, very earnest at this time. She went on thinking for others, planning for others, sacrificing herself for others, just as always before. She ministered to the sick and to the poor, and gave her bed to the wayfarer as always, performing all her duties with sweet exactness, but she was quiet and abstracted. For her Saints came with greater frequency than ever now, and constantly they spoke to her of her mission.

“What can they mean?” she asked herself. “What is it that I am to do?” But weeks passed before she was told.

The smiling summer merged into Autumn, the season of heavy rains. Brooks rushed down from the hills, and the Meuse was swollen into a torrent, deep and rapid, which overflowed its banks in shallow lagoons. The clouds grew lower, leaning sullenly against the Vosges hills. Fogs came down thick and clinging. The river was rimed with frost. Snow and sleet drove along the Marches, and it was winter. The Valley of Colors lay grave, austere, and sad; no longer brilliantly hued, but clothed in a garb of white which gleamed palely when the clouds were scattered by the rays of a red, cold sun. There was no travel along the highway, and the gray, red-roofed villages were forced to depend upon themselves for news and social intercourse.

To all appearance life in the house of Jacques D’Arc went as peacefully, as serenely, as that of his neighbors, and in no wise differently. There was not one who suspected that Jeanne visited with saints and angels; that she walked with ever listening ear for the Voices to tell her what her divine mission was to be. No one suspected it, for even her youthful friendships continued, and she visited and was visited in turn by Mengette and Hauviette; often passing the night with one or the other of them as has been the fashion of girls since the beginning of time. Both the girls rallied her on her changed spirits.

“Every one says that you are the best girl in the village, but that you are odd,” Hauviette confided to her one day in winter when she and Mengette were spending the afternoon with Jeanne.

The latter glanced up from her spinning with a smile. “And what do you say, Hauviette?”

“I say that you are better than any of us,” answered her friend quickly. “Still,” she hesitated, and then spoke abruptly, “there is a change though, Jeanne. You are not so lively as you were. You never dance, or race with us, or play as you were wont to do. What is the matter?”

“I know,” cried Mengette. “She goes to church too much. And she prays too often. My! how she does pray! Perrin le Drapier told me that when he forgot to ring the bells for compline she reproached him for not doing his duty, because she loved to pray then.”

“Don’t you, Mengette?” asked Jeanne quickly.

“Oh, yes. Why, of course,” answered Mengette. “But I don’t give the sexton cakes to ring the bells when he forgets them. You are getting ready to be a saint, aren’t you?”

Jeanne blushed scarlet at this, and did not speak.

“She is that already,” broke in Hauviette. “Perhaps she does not feel like playing or dancing.”

“That’s it,” spoke Jeanne suddenly, giving her friend a grateful glance. “I don’t feel like it any more.”

“Then we shan’t ask you to do it any more,” declared Hauviette, who loved her dearly. “And you shan’t be teased about it, either. So there now, Mengette!”

“Oh, if she doesn’t feel like it, that’s different,” exclaimed Mengette, who was fond too of Jeanne in her own fashion. “But I do wish you did, Jeanne. There’s not half the fun in the games now as there was when you played. But I won’t say anything more about it. You’ll feel better about it by and by.”

So the matter was not referred to again by the two girls, though the change in Jeanne became more and more marked, as the days went by. Winter was nearing its close when at last she was told what her mission was to be. It was Saint Michael who unfolded it to her.

It was a cold morning, and the little maid had been to early mass. There had not been many present, and the house was cold, but the Curé smiled tenderly when he saw the small figure in its accustomed place, and Jeanne’s heart glowed in the sunshine of his approval. So she did not mind the chill of the church, but started on her return home in an uplifted and exalted frame of mind. To the child, nourished on sacred things, religion was as bread and meat. And then, all at once, the Light came.

It was of unusual splendor, and glowed with hues that stained the snow covered earth with roseate tints like those of the roses of Paradise. From the dazzling effulgence emerged the form of Saint Michael, clothed in grandeur ineffable. In his hand he held a flaming sword, and around him were myriads of angels, the hosts of Heaven whose leader he was. The old fear fell upon Jeanne at sight of his majesty, and she sank tremblingly upon her knees, covering her face with her hands. But when the tender, familiar:

“Be good, Jeanne, and God will help thee,” fell from his lips, she ceased a little to tremble.

Then with infinite gentleness the archangel began to speak to her of France, and the “pity there was for it.” He told her the story of her suffering country: how the invader was master in the capital; how he was all powerful in the country north of the Loire; how internally France was torn and bleeding by the blood feud between the Duke of Burgundy and the disinherited Dauphin; how great nobles robbed the country which they should have defended, and how bands of mercenaries roved and plundered. The rightful king soon must go into exile, or beg his bread, and France would be no more.

The young girl’s heart already yearned over the woes of her distressed country, but now it swelled almost to bursting as she heard the recital from angelic lips. The “great pity that there was for France” communicated itself to her, and she felt it in every chord of her sensitive nature. The great angel concluded abruptly:

“Daughter of God, it is thou who must go to the help of the King of France, and it is thou who wilt give him back his kingdom.”

But at this Jeanne sprang to her feet, astounded.

“I, Messire? I?”

“Even thou, Jeanne. It is thou who must fare forth into France to do this. Hast thou not heard that France ruined by a woman shall by a virgin be restored? Thou art the Maid.”

But terrified and weeping the girl fell prostrate before him.

“Not I, Messire. Oh, not I. It cannot be.”

“Thou art the Maid,” was all he said.

With this Jeanne found herself alone.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 9 Warrior Maid

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