Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 16
Jeanne Comes to Her King

Be not dismayed, for succor is at hand:
A holy maid hither with me I bring,
Which, by a vision sent to her from heaven,
Ordained is to raise this tedious siege.
And drive the English forth the bounds of France.

Shakespeare. Henry Sixth, First Part.

The King lay at Chinon, just six leagues from Fierbois, and Jeanne decided to write to him, asking permission to come to the town, for neither of the knights dared go further without his consent. Accordingly Sire Bertrand procured a scribe, and the maiden dictated the following letter:

“Gentle Dauphin,––I have ridden a hundred and fifty leagues to bring you aid from Messire, the King of Heaven. I have much good news for you, and would beg that out of your grace you will allow me to tell it to you in person. Though I have never seen you, yet I should know you in any disguise among a thousand. May God give you long life.

                                                                                                    “Jeanne the Maid.

Colet de Vienne, the King’s messenger, took the missive, and at once set forth at speed for Chinon. A day at least must pass before the answer could come back, so Jeanne availed herself of the privilege of hearing mass in the village church dedicated to Saint Catherine, one of her daily visitors.

It was the most famous sanctuary of the Saint, for here she received multitudes of pilgrims and worked great miracles. Her worship was warlike and national, and dated back to the beginning of French history. Jeanne lingered lovingly in the chapel, hearing three masses, and listening with delight to the stories of the miracles.

The next day, having received permission to proceed to Chinon, they mounted and faced toward the town, and the maiden’s heart beat fast. She was going to the King at last. That which she had dreamed for four years was being realized. She was going to the King, and her heart sang for joy.

The nearer the company drew to Chinon they saw with amazement that the country became poorer, for the Court and the men-at-arms had stripped it bare. For this reason the Dauphin could seldom abide long at one place, for he was so much better known than trusted that the very cord-wainer would not let him march off in a new pair of boots without seeing his money. There was a song which said that he even greased his old clouted shoon to make them last as long as he might. There were many stories told about his extravagance and consequent poverty. It was a poor prince to whom Jeanne was going.

It had been a long journey, as De Poulengy had said it would be, so that it was the eleventh day after leaving Vaucouleurs that they entered Chinon. It was March sixth, the fourth Sunday in Lent, and therefore Laetare Sunday. In far off Domremy the boys and the girls, the youths and the maidens would be going to the Fairy Tree and the Gooseberry Spring for the “Well Dressing.” They would eat their hard boiled eggs with the rolls their mothers had kneaded. Pierre would go and possibly Jean, though he was older than she. The country would be grey and leafless there; here there were already monitions of Spring. So Jeanne mused, but she did not let her thoughts wander long to her far off home and friends, for she was at last in Chinon, where the Dauphin abode.

The town was built upon a meadow beside the river Vienne, and was compactly walled. Behind it rose a high perpendicular ledge on which the castle stood, the finest in the realm of France. Behind its proud walls there breathed that King to whom she had been impelled to come by a miraculous love. Jeanne looked up at it with longing glance, but she must wait until permission was accorded before ascending the steeps which led to it, so, with a sigh, she turned her attention to the town.

Through narrow lanes of overhanging houses crowded to the hill beneath the castle buttresses they went, stopping at length at an inn near the castle kept by a woman of good repute. It was Lent, so the spits were idle, for at that time no one in Christendom neglected the church’s injunction concerning the fasts and abstinences of Holy Lent. So fasting Jeanne retired to the chamber assigned her, and spent the next two days in prayer while she waited to hear from the Dauphin.

Then the messenger, Colet de Vienne, came with the command that the two knights should come to the castle so that they might be questioned concerning the maiden. He said that the King had read the letter of Sire Robert, but would know more before admitting her to audience. Sire Bertrand heard the command with anger.

“Colet, is this in truth the King’s desire, or hath he been influenced to it by George la Trémouille? There be those who say that the Favorite cares for naught that is for the good of France, but is all for terms with Burgundy.”

“’Tis not for me to say that Charles is not master of his Court, Sire Bertrand,” replied the messenger warily. “Still, it might be admitted that La Trémouille does not care to have an inspired Maid appear who will arouse the King from his indolence. And the King hath other advisers of the Royal Council also who wish to know more of the damsel before she approaches him. ’Tis on their advice that he has sent for you.”

“But he hath the letter vouching for her from the Captain of Vaucouleurs,” exclaimed De Poulengy, with heat. “There will be delay, and yonder lies Orléans waiting the coming of the Maid; for by my faith! I do believe that she can raise the siege. Ay! and Jean here believes likewise. ’Tis our opinion that she hath been divinely commissioned so to do.”

“Then why fret about telling the King what ye believe?” asked Colet. “He questioned me, and I spoke freely concerning her goodness, and the safety with which we had made the journey.”

“You are right,” uttered De Poulengy. “Why fret indeed? ’Tis only because it seems to me that were I King I would seize upon anything that held a hope for so distressed a kingdom.”

“’Tis what frets us all, Bertrand,” said Jean de Metz. “That is, all who care for the King and France. Know you not that La Hire, the fiercest soldier of the Armagnacs, says, ‘Never was a king who lost his kingdom so gay as Charles?’ But lead on, Colet. ’Tis the King’s command, and we must go to him. Perchance good may come from it after all.”

“That it may. And know for your comfort, both, that deputies from Orléans, having heard of the Maid, are here in Chinon praying that the King may not refuse the aid, but will send the Maid to them at once.”

“Now that is good,” ejaculated Sire Bertrand. “I can go with better grace now. Come, Jean.”

Seldom has a king lived who deserved greater contempt than Charles Seventh. Lazy, idle, luxurious, and cowardly, he was the puppet of his worst courtiers. Most of the money that he could raise was spent in voluptuous living or given to favorites. But at that time however contemptible a king might be, his personality was important to his kingdom. So that Charles Seventh was France to his people; the image and sacred symbol of France.

In his favor it may be said that he was very devout, and his piety was sincere. He was generous to others,––and to himself. He was “well languaged and full of pity for the poor.” From time to time he would seem to be moved by the thought that, despite his helplessness and inability to do anything, he was still the man who ought to do all. But he was weak, a slave to his favorites, blind to their defects; ready to suffer anything from them. It was small wonder then that De Poulengy dreaded the King’s advisers. He and De Metz returned soon to the inn to report to Jeanne the result of the interview.

“’Tis pity that the King is not the only person who governs the realm,” spoke Sire Bertrand with disgusted weariness. “But no! the whole Royal Council must give consent ere he can admit you to an audience, Pucelle. There are certain of the counsellors who advise against seeing you, declaring that your mission is a hoax. Some say that you are a witch, and for Charles to receive a witch into his presence would endanger his person, and greatly discredit his majesty. There are still others who favor seeing you; and Yolande, Queen of Sicily and the king’s mother-in-law, declares openly that since Sire Robert sent letters introducing you, which you carried through many leagues of hostile provinces, fording many rivers in manner most marvellous so that you might come to him, the King ought at least to hear you. By my faith, Yolande is the best adviser and the best soldier that the King has. So there the matter rests; but he ought to see you.”

“Which he will, messire. Have no doubt of that. He will hear and see me soon.”

“Yes; in time, Pucelle. But ere that time comes certain priests and clerks, experts in discerning good spirits from bad, are to examine you. They follow us, do they not, Jean?”

De Metz nodded. “If I mistake not they come now,” he said.

“In God’s name, why do they not set me about my work?” exclaimed Jeanne impatiently.

Almost immediately steps were heard without the chamber, and the hostess of the inn entered, bowing low before several imposing ecclesiastics and their clerks.

Jeanne rose, and courtesied; standing in reverent attitude during the entire interview. The visitors showed their astonishment plainly in finding that the renowned Maid of Vaucouleurs was such a mere girl. The senior bishop acted as spokesman for all.

“Are you the maid concerning whom letters have come to the King from Vaucouleurs?”

Jeanne bowed her head in assent.

“And you in truth made that long perilous journey to speak with the King?”

“Yes, messire.”

“You seem o’er young for such a fatiguing march. You are, I should judge, not over sixteen?”

“Seventeen, messire.”

“Have you, as ’tis said, a message for the King?”

“Yes, messire,” returned the maiden briefly.

“Tell it to us. We in turn will bear it to the King.”

Jeanne drew herself up at this, and stood regarding them calmly.

“I cannot, messire,” she said at length. “It is for the gentle Dauphin alone to hear. To him, and to none other, will I tell it.”

“Maiden,” said the senior bishop earnestly, “the King hath many counsellors who are wise and learned men. It is their opinion that he ought not to see you until he learns the nature of your mission. If you in truth have aught that is good for him to hear, it were best to tell it us. That is, if you desire admission to his presence.”

“Is not the Dauphin master of his presence? Is it not his to say who shall, or who shall not be admitted to him?” demanded the maiden in such open eyed wonder that the prelate looked confused.

“Certainly,” he said hastily. “But he sends certain of his friends to see if those who seek admission are worthy to enter his presence. Be advised, my child, and tell us why you wish to see him.”

For a long moment Jeanne stood looking at him as though she saw him not; then suddenly her face became transfigured with joy, for the Light shone beside her, and she bowed her head. The Voice that she waited for came instantly:

“Tell of thy mission, Daughter of God,” it said. “But of that which concerns the Dauphin speak not. Rise, and answer boldly. We will aid thee.”

The maiden raised her head, and said gently:

“I have leave from ‘My Voices,’ messire, to tell you that I have two commands laid upon me by the King of Heaven. One, to raise the siege of Orléans; the other, to lead the Dauphin to Reims that he may be crowned and anointed there.”

The bishops heard her with amazement. They had not seen the Light, nor heard the Voice, but they saw that the maiden had received a communication of some kind, either from inward communion, or some celestial visitor. The senior bishop’s tones showed his wonder.

“Those are marvellous commands, my child. What sign can you give us that you can perform them?”

“I have not come to give signs,” cried Jeanne, her impatience flaring forth at this. “Give me men-at-arms, and let me show the work I am appointed to do.”

“Then will you relate how the commands were given to you?” questioned the bishop.

Briefly, because Jeanne never liked to talk much of her visions, the maiden told something concerning the matter. The whole of it she did not tell. Then followed questions pertaining to her manner of life, her devotion, her habits about taking the sacraments of communion and confession, and so on. To all of these she made answer freely, with such modest mien that the ecclesiastics finally withdrew, charmed by her simplicity and earnestness.

And now the delay was ended; for, as evening fell, there came the Count de Vendôme, a gracious nobleman richly attired, to escort her to the King. De Poulengy and De Metz rejoiced that there would be no further delay. Being personal attendants of Jeanne’s they were to accompany her to the castle. Count de Vendôme eyed the simple page attire of the maiden soberly. She was clad like the varlet of some lord of no great estate, in black cap with a little silver brooch, a grey doublet, and black and grey hose, trussed up with many points; the sword that Robert de Baudricourt had given her hung by her side. At first sight she might well have passed for a boy, she was so slender and carried herself so erectly. There was admiration in the nobleman’s glance as he surveyed her gracious figure, but his words were grave:

“Will you attend the audience in that garb, Pucelle?” he asked.

And Jeanne, remembering how De Metz with a like expression of countenance had asked a similar question when she wore her woman’s dress, laughed cheerily.

“This and none other, messire. For in this garb shall I do that which is commanded.”

So led by the nobleman and followed by the two knights the maiden started for the castle. Up a broad winding path they wended their way to the rocky ridge of hill along which the great walls of the castle, interrupted and strengthened by huge towers, stretched. It was old and great and strong, having been builded when the Romans were lords of the land, and was a favorite seat of English kings before it passed into the hands of the French. From the high drawbridge above the moat, which was twenty feet deep, there was a wide prospect over the town and the valley of the Vienne. Soldiers idled and diced just within the gate, though the dice were scarce discernible in the fast falling darkness. They ceased the play as Jeanne and her attendants came upon the drawbridge, and a murmur ran from lip to lip, for by this time all in Chinon knew of her.

“La Pucelle! La Pucelle! The inspired Maid from Vaucouleurs comes to see the King.”

At this soldiers and sentinels turned to gaze curiously at the girl. Suddenly one started from among his fellows, and came very close to her, peering impudently into her face.

“By all the saints, ’tis a pretty wench!” he cried. “May God send more such witches to Chinon. I––”

But angrily Jean de Metz swept him out of the way.

“Jarnedieu!” cried the soldier wrathfully, using the common oath of his class.

“Oh, dost thou jarnedieu?” cried Jeanne mournfully. “Thou who art so near death?”

Like one turned to stone the man stood, and then, as some of his comrades began to gibe at him, he came to himself and turned upon them in a rage.

“Think you that I heed what a mad woman says?” he shouted. “Nay; I defy her and her prophecies.” With this he uttered a loud laugh, and leaned back heavily against the low wooden pales of the bridge’s side, which were crazy and old. There was a crash; and down and down he whirled. The deep waters of the moat closed over him.

The soldiers looked grave and affrighted, and turned awed looks upon the maiden and her companions, who were just ascending the broad steps which gave entrance to the great hall of the King’s château, where the audience was to be held. Jeanne, being ahead with the Count de Vendôme, had not seen what had occurred, but she turned as the crash of the wooden pales sounded.

“What hath happened?” she questioned.

“Naught,” cried De Metz hastily, fearing that should he tell her it would disturb her calm, and he was timorous concerning the ordeal before the Maid. “The King should keep his bridge in better repair, for but now some of its wooden palings snapped in two.”

So without knowing that her prophecy had been fulfilled so soon the maiden passed on into the great hall. The audience chamber was crowded with curious courtiers and the royal guard, and the place shone with the lustre of fifty flambeaux. At the end of the vaulted room was a chimney of white stone in which a noble fire blazed, reflected by the polished oak boards of the floor.

Veteran soldiers of the wars were there; counsellors, like the favorite La Trémouille, prelates, like the Archbishop of Reims, and trains of fair ladies with fine raiment and gay manners; all gathered to see the sorceress. A throng of men and women in velvet and cloth of gold, in crimson and azure such as she had never seen. A brilliant mob of vivid colors; a company of the noblest lords and ladies of France, their finery glowing in the flaring flames of many torches. The fans of the ladies fluttered; their high head-dresses, or hennins, towered above the head coverings of the men; a thousand unfamiliar hues and forms combined to dazzle the eyes and disturb the composure of a peasant girl.

But Jeanne was neither disturbed nor dazzled. Eagerly she looked to see the King. She did not care for the courtiers gazing so intently at her––some with amusement, some smiling, some sneering, the most of them sceptical, but all of them gazing at her with open curiosity; with surprise at her page’s attire, her man-at-arms shoes, and above all at her hair which, cut round like a page’s, flowed softly about her face. At this time no woman, of whatever rank, showed the hair. It was worn covered always in obedience to Saint Paul’s command. Jeanne saw the amusement, and wonder, and scepticism on the faces around her; saw but heeded them not; moving forward the while with her eyes fixed ever on the figure seated on the throne. Suddenly she stopped short with a stifled exclamation. The Count de Vendôme touched her arm gently.

“Kneel,” he whispered. “The King is before you.”

But Jeanne did not respond. She looked at him who was seated upon the throne, but made no obeisance. Instead she knitted her brows in thoughtful manner, then turned deliberately round and glanced searchingly about among the courtiers. A low murmur of astonishment ran through the room as all at once she moved quickly toward a group of courtiers, and pushing them aside knelt before a soberly clad young man hiding behind them.

“God give you good life, gentle Dauphin,” she said.

“But it is not I that am the King,” said he with smiling lips. “Yonder he sits upon the throne.”

“In God’s name, gentle Dauphin, say not so,” she said. “It is you and no other.” Then rising from her knees she continued: “Fair Dauphin, I am Jeanne the Maid. I am sent to you by the King of Heaven to tell you that you shall be anointed and crowned at Reims, and shall be lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is King of France.”

Charles’s face grew grave as he heard the words. The little masquerade planned for the amusement of the courtiers had failed; the jest was over. Solemnly he spoke:

“How know you this, Maid?”

“My Voices have told me. I have come to lead you to your anointing, but first I must raise the siege of Orléans. This, fair Dauphin, I can do if you will but give me men-at-arms. Out of your grace, I beg you to send me at once to Orléans.”

Touched by her perfect sincerity, her intense earnestness, her good faith, the King gazed musingly at her, and then asked:

“How shall I know that you can do this, Maid? What sign can you give?”

“My sign shall be the raising of the siege of Orléans; but, gentle Dauphin, I have another sign which is to be told to you alone.”

“Then tell it to me,” he said, drawing her into a window recess out of ear shot of the courtiers.

“Gentle Dauphin, when you prayed this morning in your oratory there was a great pain in your heart.”

“True;” nodded Charles.

“And you made a prayer there. Fair Dauphin, did you tell to any one the prayer that you made?”

“No,” he answered gravely. “I did not. ’Tis a prayer that concerns none but myself.”

Then quickly, earnestly, passionately, Jeanne spoke, addressing him familiarly as an inspired prophetess:

“Did you not pray that if you were the true heir of France, and that if justly the kingdom were yours, that God might be pleased to guard and defend you? But that if you were not descended from the royal House of France God would grant you escape from imprisonment or death by permitting you to go into the land of Scotland or Spain, that you might find refuge there?”

Charles’s face grew blank with amazement.

“I did pray that, exactly,” he admitted. “In my heart alone, without pronouncing the words. Speak on, Maiden. Is there aught from your heavenly visitors that would answer that prayer?”

“There is, gentle Dauphin. Know then, to ease thy heart, that I tell thee from Messire, that thou art the true heir of France, and son of the King.”

She made the strange statement so authoritatively, so impressively that the monarch’s countenance grew radiant. Those watching the pair wondered at the change, but none knew until long afterward what it was that the maiden had told him. Now he took Jeanne’s hand and bowed over it.

“I believe in you, Maid,” he said. “Though all should doubt yet do I believe. You shall have your men-at-arms, and go to Orléans.”

“Now God be praised,” exclaimed the maiden joyfully. “May he send you long life, oh fair and gentle Dauphin. Give me the men soon, I pray you, that I may be about my work.”

“You shall have your wish,” he said gently; and with this he led her back to the gaping courtiers.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 17 Warrior Maid

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